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Food First: Vitamin C


Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin known for its antioxidant potential in the body. Antioxidants are essential for the elimination of free radicals which can cause damage and dangerous inflammation. Vitamin C is also essential for the synthesis of collagen and neurotransmitters, and aids in iron absorption [i, ii].

Daily Recommendations

Women aged 19 and older: 75 mg/day 
Men aged 19 and older: 90 mg/day

In cancer patients, the use of high dose antioxidants such as vitamin C is highly controversial. Vitamin C in high doses has the potential to negate the cancer fighting properties of common chemotherapy drugs [i, iii]. These high doses are almost exclusively found in supplement forms of vitamin C, and it is almost impossible to consume enough food to reach these high levels of the vitamin. While it is important to not consume too much vitamin C during treatment, that does not mean it should be avoided entirely. The beneficial properties of vitamin C can enhance iron absorption, improve wound healing and improve immune function.

Vitamin C Deficiencies

Vitamin C deficiency, also known as scurvy, is incredibly rare in the U.S. today. Deficiency usually results from decreased vitamin C intake over the course of many weeks. Cancer patients are at no greater risk for developing a vitamin C deficiency than the general public [ii]. There is only reason for concern if intake of food has dropped below normal for an extended period of time. Signs of scurvy include inflammation or bleeding of the gums, fatigue, weakness, poor wound healing and weakening of connective tissues. Over time, a vitamin C deficiency can also impact iron absorption and lead to iron deficiency anemia [i].

**If instructed by a medical professional to take a vitamin or mineral supplement, it is important that these instructions are followed. In some cases, food sources of vitamins and minerals will not be sufficient for addressing nutritional inadequacies.**

Sources of Vitamin C

Below is a list of the most common food sources of vitamin C [i]:

  • Red Pepper
  • Oranges and other citrus fruit
  • Kiwifruit
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cantaloupe
  • Green peas
  • Strawberries
Vitamin C-rich Recipe: Vitamin C Superfruit Salad
  1. 1 1 ½” piece ginger, peeled, finely grated
  2. 1/3 cup carrot juice
  3. 2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
  4. ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  5. A pinch of salt
  6. 2 ½ pounds of mixed citrus fruit (oranges, blood oranges, clementines and/or grapefruit)
  7. 1 mango, peeled and cut into 1 ½” pieces
  8. 2 kiwis, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
  9. Crushed red pepper flakes
  10. Flaky sea salt (optional)
  11. Extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
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  1. In a small bowl, mix together ginger, carrot juice, lime/lemon juice, turmeric and salt.
  2. Remove the peel and white pith from the citrus fruit and slice into irregular rounds.
  3. In a shallow bowl, spoon in half of the carrot dressing. Arrange the citrus, kiwi and mango into the bowl and drizzle the remaining dressing over the top.
  4. Top with crushed red pepper, sea salt and olive oil. Enjoy!
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Savor Health https://savorhealth.com/
[i] Vitamin C: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals 2018; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/.

[ii] Vitamin C. 2017; https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/vitamin-c.

[iii] Heaney ML, Gardner JR, Karasavvas N, et al. Vitamin C antagonizes the cytotoxic effects of antineoplastic drugs. Cancer Res. 2008;68(19):8031-8038.

Rebecca MacLean

Rebecca MacLean is a dietetic intern and graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University. Rebecca received her undergraduate degree in Human Nutrition and Food Science with a minor in Sustainable Food Systems from the University of Maine. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys home cooking and spending as much time as possible in the outdoors. She currently resides in New York City.

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