Friday, March 9, 2012

The Importance of Vitamin C

You’ve stored enough food to last your family over a year. Plenty of wheat, rice, oats, beans, oils, canned meat, and canned soups—you’ve even remembered the condiments! Give yourself a pat on the back. When you’re done soaking in the glow of a job well-done, take another look at your provisions. Did you provide plenty of calories, but not enough nutrients? Will your family’s stomachs stay full, but their nutrition suffer?

Turn back the clock a few centuries to when sailors were on the seas for months at a time, traveling from port to port. They, too, had to worry about long-term food storage. Although they usually carried enough food to stay alive (OK, maybe hardtack wasn’t delicious), their health suffered and they frequently became ill, and often died, from scurvy. Why? Because they didn’t yet know about vitamin C.

Vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid) plays a number of roles in the body, functioning as an antioxidant and also helping the body to absorb iron. Vitamin C is necessary for the production of a protein called collagen, which is an important part of connective tissue. Collagen serves as the “glue” which keeps our cells together and our bones and teeth in place.

The amount of vitamin C you need every day varies depending on your sex and your age. For example the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for one-year-olds is 15 mg; while those aged 19 and older require 75 mg (for females) and 90 mg (for males). But you need even more than this amount if you are a smoker.

As mentioned, a shortage of vitamin C leads to scurvy; a disease marked by a number of symptoms including loose teeth (which will eventually fall out). But you can have symptoms of a deficiency long before full-fledged scurvy develops. Some symptoms include joint pain; bleeding, swollen gums; and fatigue. Without enough vitamin C, wounds won’t heal because scars can’t form.

Most people know that citrus fruits (including oranges, lemons, and limes) are rich sources of vitamin C, but so are tomatoes, strawberries, and a number of vegetables (including spinach, potatoes, cabbage, and broccoli).

Heat and oxygen destroy vitamin C, so pick fresh, raw fruits and vegetables whenever possible because they are the richest sources of this important vitamin. But what if you can’t get fresh fruits and vegetables? Fortunately, vitamin C can be found in a number of canned foods, including some listed below. You’ll note that we have not included canned peaches, pears, or regular applesauce because their vitamin C content is low. Be sure to work some of the following foods into your storage plan. It also wouldn't hurt to stock up on multi-vitamins and multi-minerals, just to be sure your family is getting all of the nutrition they need.

Vitamin C Foods for Storage

Vitamin C (mg)
Applesauce, canned with added ascorbic acid (regular canned applesauce only contains 4.3 mg per cup)
One cup
Cranberry juice cocktail, bottled
One cup
Lemon juice, bottled or canned
One cup
Mandarin oranges, canned
One cup
Orange, raw, navel
One cup
Orange juice, canned
One cup
Pineapple chunks, canned, drained
One cup
Potato, baked
One, medium-sized
Potato, raw
One, medium-sized
Sauerkraut, canned
One cup
Spinach, canned
One cup, drained
Tomato juice, canned
One cup
Tomato sauce, canned
One cup
Tomatoes, canned, stewed
One cup

By the way, the sailors we mentioned earlier who were dying from scurvy finally got some help. On May 20, 1747, Dr. James Lind began a study involving twelve sailors suffering from scurvy. He divided the twelve men into six groups of two each and gave each group a different substance. One group received vinegar, another cider, another received two oranges and one lemon every day, and so on. By June 16, 1747 it was clear that the citrus fruits were improving the men’s health more than any other substance (some didn’t help at all). At the time, no one knew what the fruit contained or why it helped abate the scurvy, but we now know the substance was vitamin C. Read more about Dr. Lind at the James Lind Library (

Citrus Fruit

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