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Vitamin C: what are the best foods and how much do you need per day?

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Your guide to vitamin C-rich foods to include in your diet and support your immune system.

Keeping up a strong immune system is essential to fight off colds, flu and germs. We’ve all known that for a while now – it’s why we automatically reach for fizzy orange effervescent tablets or start eating citrus fruit as soon as we start feeling a little run down.

But it’s the vitamin C in these go-tos that is really working the magic. It’s an essential nutrient that helps to grow and repair our cells, “accumulating in immune cells to help you fight infection,” explains nutritionist Cheryl Telfer. Vitamin C is also an ‘antioxidant’ as it can repair cells that have been damaged. 

No wonder it makes us feel so good.

How much vitamin C do we need?

The recommended dose of vitamin C is 40mg a day, but the NHS says that any dose under 1000mg a day is safe. 

“I would recommend being consistent with your intake rather than only focusing on it when you’re sick. If you’re unwell, you can up your dose slightly, but too much can cause diarrhoea and stomach ache,” says Cheryl. 

Best vitamin C foods: kale

Foods high in vitamin C

“It is possible to get all the vitamin C we need in our diet. However, it doesn’t store very well in some foods, so the longer the food has been picked and when we cook certain foods they can lose some of the vitamin,” says Cheryl.

The best way to combat that is to get a big variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Those highest in vitamin C include:

  • Kale, which can have 18mg per cup
  • Fresh herbs, like parsley and thyme
  • Citrus fruits, like oranges and lemons
  • Peppers, particularly yellow and orange varieties, which can have up to 137mg per vegetable
  • Blackcurrants, with 100g containing around 180mg 

As vitamin C is absorbed and got rid disposed of by the body very quickly, it’s best to space your intake out throughout the day to ensure consistently high levels of the nutrient, Cheryl says. explains.

Vitamin C food pairings

Vitamin C aids with iron absorption, so Cheryl also explains that it can be useful to eat foods that are high in both nutrients together. Meat with vegetables or an orange with a couple of squares of dark chocolate is enough to help you boost iron levels along with your vitamin C – and a pretty delicious dinner and dessert combo. 

Essentially, we need to make sure that our diet includes all of the different nutrients to support each other and our bodies. “It’s about having a holistic approach,” adds Cheryl. 

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Images: Getty / Unsplash

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).