Recently, I completed an analysis of the vitamin content of my food over a few days. Eating a wholefood, plant based diet, I thought my intake would be fabulous. For some, like vitamin A and folate, it was amazing, for others, like B12 which is only found in animal products and yeasts, it was non-existent. No real shocks there.
What did surprise me was the vitamin C content. Whilst pretty good, and above the official recommended daily intake (RDI), it was still only moderate in comparison to the levels that are thought to really promote health, 500mg or above.
I don’t want to get bogged down in figures or controversies surrounding vitamin C (as there are quite a few!!), but think there’s a few things worth pointing out. RDIs are established to state the amount of a vitamin or mineral you should have to prevent specific, identifiable diseases. In the case of vitamin C, it’s scurvy, a horrible condition that used to hit sailors out on the high seas for long periods of time without any fresh fruit or vegetables. You don’t actually need much vitamin C to prevent scurvy, so the current recommendation of 40mg/day is higher than absolutely necessary. Which is great, because vitamin C does much more than stop your gums from bleeding.
In the 1970s, research suggested that vitamin C could prevent the common cold; many people still believe this and religiously take vitamin C supplements. In fact, vitamin C is the most commonly purchased food supplement in the UK. However, since then, loads more research as been undertaken which disagrees with Pauling’s original conclusion.
What has been found is that vitamin C is a highly active anti-oxidant. A co-factor for many enzymes, it’s essential for key metabolic functions in the body, including processing fatty acids, controlling blood cholesterol levels and processing drugs and toxins in the liver. Vitamin C is attributed to improving a multitude of common complaints including allergies, arthritis, asthma, eczema, PMT, osteoporosis – the list goes on. Eating processed foods, high in fat and protein, and taking medication for acute and chronic illnesses further exposes our bodies to stress; it seems to me that good doses of vitamin C are essential for everyone!
I want to get my vitamin C from my diet rather than taking pills, so what are the best foods to eat? Everyone thinks that citrus fruits are the best source and whilst oranges and lemons are pretty well loaded with vitamin C, they are trumped by peppers and greens. I was amazed to discover that the best source by far is peppers – chilli, bell, all sorts and of all colours. This is swiftly followed by those marvellous greens – kale, spring greens, broccoli, watercress, sprouts – again the list can go on. The best fruits are actually blackcurrants and strawberries, which is great at this time of year in the UK, as strawberry season is upon us and I’m in strawberry heaven!! There’s nothing quite like a freshly picked, succulently sweet British strawberry!
By including more of these vitamin C packed foods its pretty easy to increase vitamin C intake – almost triple it. And of course, all fruits and vegetables contain a whole array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help our bodies not only function more efficiently, but heal from within.