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It’s more than just a cold fighter. Learn how to get more vitamin C in your diet.

This powerful antioxidant boosts your immune system. But that’s not all it does.

What does vitamin C do?

Also called ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an essential nutrient. It helps form cartilage, blood vessels, muscles and collagen in your bones. 

Unlike other vitamins that our bodies produce naturally, vitamin C levels need to be replenished each day. That means we need to get it through our diet.

So how much vitamin C do we need per day? Probably less than you’d think. “Males need 90 milligrams each day,” says Dr. Kevin Ly, a family medicine doctor at Geisinger’s Elysburg clinic. “And females need 75 milligrams daily.”

If you’re pregnant, you need 85 milligrams daily. And if you smoke, aim for an extra 30 milligrams each day.

Health benefits of vitamin C

Vitamin C helps nearly every system in your body. Getting your recommended dose each day:

  • Aids in healing wounds
  • Assists with iron absorption
  • Keeps your eyes healthy
  • Protects you from free radicals
  • Supports brain health
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Lowers stroke risk

If you’re not getting enough, you may bruise easily or have dry skin. “Vitamin C deficiency can also lead to fatigue and mood changes,” Dr. Ly says.

Need more? Head to the kitchen

Getting the right amount of vitamin C is easy. With a balanced diet, you can meet your daily requirement. Consider piling these foods on your plate:

  • Citrus fruit. You’ll find a variety of citrus fruit, like oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes and grapefruit, at most stores. Juice delivers the goods, too. “A small glass of orange or grapefruit juice gives you the recommended amount you need for the day,” says Dr. Ly.
  • Strawberries. Strawberries aren’t just for dessert. These tasty berries are versatile. Slice them into a salad, blend them into a smoothie, make them into salsa, add them to your yogurt or just eat a few plain.
  • Bell peppers. This colorful crop makes a great addition to salads, omelets or stir fries. Or, if you’re looking for a crunchy snack, try them raw with hummus or dip.
  • Kiwi. Think oranges have the highest amount of vitamin C? Think again. One kiwi has 64 milligrams of the nutrient, compared to an orange’s 51 milligrams. Add a few of these fuzzy fruits for a tangy vitamin boost on your next shopping trip.
  • Tomatoes. Whether you enjoy them raw, sun dried or cooked into pasta sauce, tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C. 
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. When planning your next meal, don’t forget to include one of them as a side dish.
  • Potatoes. Spud lovers, rejoice. These tasty tubers are an excellent source of vitamin C. One medium baked potato contains about 20 milligrams or about 25 percent of what you need in a day. Want an added nutrient boost? Try topping your potato with a spoonful of salsa.

Not a big fan of fruits or veggies by themselves? No problem. Try a soup or smoothie instead to reap all the benefits vitamin C has to offer.

Not sure what you need? “Your healthcare provider can point you in the right direction,” adds Dr. Ly. They’ll work with you to find the right dietary tweaks to help you live your healthiest life.

Next steps:

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Meet Kevin Ly, MD