Most of us have heard tales of sailors getting scurvy on their long sea voyages. Fruit was scarce on ships in the 16th century for obvious reasons and, because of vitamin C’s important function in collagen production, the lack of it wreaked havoc on sailors. When we think of collagen, we probably think of lotions that claim to “boost collagen” and make us look younger. Now imagine you have close to zero collagen production — the effects of this include bleeding gums, unhealed wounds, tooth loss and even death. Anyone can see that vitamin C is absolutely essential for humans.
Vitamin C Today
While scurvy is not common anymore, mild vitamin C deficiencies still exist, and long-term effects can alter quality of life and disease states. Interestingly, vitamin C is an antioxidant. This means that it clears out “free radicals” in our bodies that would otherwise cause damage. Also, vitamin C plays a role in synthesizing fatty acids for energy. With low levels of it, you may feel tired, depressed or unmotivated.
Vitamin C in Our Foods
Knowing all of these functions of vitamin C, there are very important things to consider to make sure you're getting enough of it. Yes, orange juice is a great source — but there is one tricky point to this, and that is that many popular, ready-to-drink brands actually do not have much vitamin C in them, even if it states it on the label.
The ready-to-drink orange juices start out with less vitamin C, and lose even more (or all of it) as they near their expiration date. This is because once it's exposed to air, vitamin C deteriorates. The solution: Buy frozen orange juice! It's cheaper and lasts longer, and freezing preserves the vitamin C levels.
If you buy non-frozen orange juice, consume it within one week of opening to preserve as much of the vitamin as possible. A one-cup serving per day will give you the recommended daily value. Add in some raw red bell peppers, papayas, and maybe even just some more oranges, and your body will be a free radical-fighting machine!
Remember to eat vitmain C-rich foods immediately after preparing, as their vitamin content will decrease after just a few minutes of oxygen exposure.
Less fatigue, improved mood, better skin quality — the list goes on. Vitamin C is truly a vital antioxidant!
Reference: Stability of ascorbic acid in commercially available orange juices. Authors: Johnston CS, Bowling DL. Published in Journal of the American Dietetic Association.