Vitamin C

How many times have you heard it said that taking large amounts of vitamin C will prevent or cure a cold? Science has yet to prove this it true, but vitamin C is important in fighting infections. Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) works as an antioxidant to protect our bodies from damage, is involved in the growth of our bones, tendons, ligaments and skin and increases the absorption of iron from our foods (particularly from vegetarian sources).

 How much vitamin C do we need?


Age (years)

Vitamin C (mg/day)

Infants and toddlers



Children and adolescents



  9-18 40
Adults 19-70+ 45
Pregnant women 14-18 55
  19-50 60
Breastfeeding women 14-18 80
  19-50 85
* Recommended Daily Intake

Who needs more and why?

Smoking causes vitamin C to be used up much more quickly by the body, so smokers need to add an extra 35 milligrams per day to the RDI because of the great stress on their lungs form oxidative damage and toxic by-products of cigarette smoke. Adding an extra piece of fruit to the daily diet would more than cover this extra requirement for vitamin C.

Vitamin C content of foods

Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables particularly citrus and kiwifruit.


Vitamin C (mg)

1 red capsicum


1 grapefruit


1 kiwifruit


10 strawberries


1 orange


1 boiled kumara


1 tomato


1 cup boiled silverbeet


Vitamin C deficiency

Severe deficiency of vitamin C can lead to scurvy, causing bleeding gums, poor wound healing and bone damage. This is why Captain Cook stocked up on vitamin C-rich limes to stop scurvy running rife amongst his sailors on long sea voyages. It is also why British sailors became known as ‘Limeys’ in North America. This deficiency is rare in New Zealand, although may occur very occasionally in older people. 

Vitamin C supplements

Vitamin C supplements are usually unnecessary as it is easy to obtain enough from common foods – see the table above. As vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, any excess will be excreted in your urine. While vitamin C toxicity is very rare, taking supplements containing more than 2,000 mg per day can lead to stomach upsets and diarrohea.

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Page reviewed April 2013