Understanding Vitamin C and its health benefits

Growing up in small town India, I have spent many a holidays climbing gooseberry and tamarind trees and relishing on the tangy fresh fruit. One of my uncles loved oranges so much that he was evangelizing the fruit to all around.

While reading books of historic naval expeditions, one frequently comes across men perishing to the disease of Scurvy. A glance at the history of Australia and you find that Captain Cook ensured that his men had adequate supply of vitamin C through several means. So did the ships that transported hundreds of banished convicts from Britain to Australia, laden on huge ships. By then, the sailors knew the importance of Vitamin C and they carried with them enough quantities of citrus fruits and bought fresh sea food and vegetables wherever they stopped. Captain Cook is definitely credited as one among the first persons to address the topic of vitamin C deficiency and its importance in long voyages. What does scurvy do, that sailors dreaded it so much? Well, apparently, deficiency in Vitamin C results in bleeding gums and bruising, weakness and sometimes skin rash initially. It soon develops to severe symptoms like reduced red blood cells and at times bleeding from the skin. Mental instability is also part of these symptoms. Just imagine how such sailors would have been tolerated on board, in those times.

This vitamin has been in the limelight of late for its massive role in building immunity among people. Its use as a prophylactic during the recent Covid-19 times cannot be adequately highlighted. People took to eating gooseberries, lemons, oranges and even popping Vitamin C supplements with a view to strengthen immunity which was so crucial to face the worldwide pandemic.

Healthy foods

Indian cuisine makes generous use of citrus fruit and foods rich in Vitamin C in its daily food including lemons, tamarind, gooseberries, pineapple, grapes, oranges, etc. Even Papaya, cabbage, strawberry and several other fruits and vegetables are rich in Vitamin C. Beginning with a recommended daily allowance of 15 mg for children between 1 and 3 years of age, an adult’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is around 2000 mg per day. 

This means that a couple of sour fruits must be included in your food every day if you want to reap the benefits of Vitamin C. Strangely, no animal source can really provide you with the adequate doses of Vitamin C because either it is not present much in meat and also because the vitamin gets destroyed by cooking. So raw fruits and vegetables are the best source of this precious vitamin. Vitamin C can neither be produced by nor stored in the body for long time and gets flushed out through fluids in the body (being water soluble), it has to be consumed fresh every day in adequate dietary doses.

Recent research has highlighted that Vitamin C could very well be a miracle to cure certain mental illnesses like seizures. People inflicted with Septicimia (blood poisoning) can be treated by an intravenous dose of Vitamin C. Diabetics also benefit from a dose of Vitamin C when urine spreads into bodily system (Osmotic diuresis). 

What is the importance of Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, that even our forefathers knew about?

  • Well, they knew that this vitamin plays a key role in the repair of damaged tissues and also enzymatic production of neurotransmitters.
  • Vitamin C plays a vital role in the health of our bones, tissues, teeth and collagen (the same one that keeps skin tight and younger looking!)
  • Consumption of the required amount of Vitamin C helps prevent bleeding gums, weak teeth, skin problems, getting afflicted with scurvy and several other ailments associated with it. It helps keep your heart healthy, strengthens skin and teeth and gums, keeps you away from mental disorders like dementia and Alziemers and provides host of other health benefits.
  • It is very surprising that of all foods, one green chilli pepper contains a whopping 109 mg of vitamin C, which is close to 121% of daily dietary requirement! Guavas also contain massive amounts of this vitamin- 228 mg for 100 gms of guava fruit. Blackcurrants, thyme, plums, cherries, spinach (a cup of raw mustard spinach gives you a mind boggling 227 mg of Vitamin C. Lychees, parsley, kiwis and many such fruits have a rich content of vitamin C. So it’s just a matter of choice that you include these fruits and veggies in your regular daily diet to get the required daily dose. Funnily enough, vitamin C is readily absorbed to an extent of 70 to 80% in our body when taken up to 30 to 180 mg per day. However, the body’s absorption capacity drastically drops when consumption is in excess of 1 gram per day. Being highly water soluble, it is flushed out of the body through urine.

Ongoing research suggests that a daily dose of vitamin C in the right amounts may in fact, through its anti oxidant functions, limits the damage caused by free radicals in the body and thereby prevent the development of certain kinds of cancers and cardiovascular diseases, which are caused mainly due to oxidative stress. Just a month of vitamin deficiency can start showing symptoms of scurvy. However, one can always stay away from it by active consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin C is water soluble and hence do not dunk cut fruits and vegetables in water for long time before consuming. Rather, wash the fruits and vegetables and pat dry before cutting and consume fresh.

Since cooking (heat) destroys the vitamin, avoid cooking these vegetables, and consume them in raw form as much as possible. Especially the fruit. Encourage kids to try different fruits and vegetables and use decoration as a tool to entice them if needed. Not just kids, even adults need the nutrition that a host of colorful fruits, veggies and nuts have to offer.

Staying healthy is a choice we make. It all depends on what we put on the plate and what inside our stomach. After all, being healthy doesn’t come by chance.

Disclaimer: The views in this post are solely of personal opinion. If you need or are looking for a professional opinion, I recommend you seek a healthcare professional or a dietician for more details. 

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