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Citrus Fruits and Vitamin C

A brief overview of the benefits of Vitamin C, and how to "squeeze" more citrus into your daily life.

One of the beautiful things about nature, and how we human beings fit into it, is that when we eat our natural foods in their natural season, they provide some timely benefits for our overall health and wellness.

In wintertime, for example, beautiful, brightly colored citrus fruits ripen on the trees, providing us with nutrients at just the right time of year.

Clementines, blood oranges, cara cara oranges, meyer lemons, key limes, pomelos, kumquats and grapefruits, among other citrus fruits, are packed with Vitamin C.

Everyone knows it's important to get enough, but in this article we'll take a look at some of the specific benefits of this vital nutrient, how much we need, and how to incorporate more of it in our daily lives.

Benefit 1 - Vitamin C is good for the immune system.

While Vitamin C may not necessarily prevent a cold, it can decrease the duration and severity of this common wintertime bug, if you do happen to come down with one.

We all know that stress, in its various forms, can depress the immune system, too.

At a time of year when colds and flus run rampant, keeping your defenses up is a huge asset. Vitamin C can help counteract the negative effects of stress, to keep your immune system strong and on guard.

Benefit 2 - Vitamin C improves blood circulation in the body.

Better blood circulation reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Given that these are among the most prevalent causes of premature death in the United States, it would behoove most people to find additional ways to get more Vitamin C in their diet.

Another pleasant benefit of improved blood circulation is that it brings more blood to warm the body's extremities -- all the way to your fingers and toes. That's especially nice for people with a particular sensitivity to the cold winter temperatures.

Benefit 3 - Vitamin C is involved in the body's production of collagen.

Collagen is an abundant protein in the human body, and it's the one responsible for structural support and elasticity in the skin, joints and connective tissue.

Your body has been producing its own collagen your whole life. It relies on Vitamin C, as well as zinc and copper, to bring together the specific amino acids (the building blocks of protein) required to form collagen.

So if you don't have enough Vitamin C in your diet, your body can't synthesize these components effectively.

When collagen declines, the skin wrinkles or takes on a crepe-like appearance. Hair and fingernails may break more easily.

Vitamin C is good for the skin in other ways, too.

Benefit 4 - Vitamin C counteracts free-radical damage caused by exposure to the sun and pollution.

Free radicals are supercharged oxygen molecules that bounce around in our bodies. In an effort to regain stability, they sometimes cause damage to our cells and even to our DNA, which can lead to cancer.

Free radicals can be created by a multitude of factors, such as an unhealthful diet, or exposure to the sun, toxic chemicals and other pollution, causing what is known as "oxidative stress" on the body.

Antioxidants, on the other hand, serve as protectors against this phenomenon. They capture free radicals and neutralize them before they can do any irreversible damage to our cells.

Even our natural digestive process creates some free radicals, which is one of the many reasons why eating antioxidant-rich, plant-based foods at every meal is so important for our health. 

Benefit 5 - Vitamin C is involved in the body's absorption of plant-based iron.

On a plant-based diet, the body can absorb all the iron it needs from plant sources, and Vitamin C assists in that process.

So if you're making a green smoothie with baby spinach, it's a great idea to include some citrus, such as an orange, in the recipe, to help your body absorb that non-heme iron.

Other fruits and vegetables also contribute to your total daily Vitamin C intake, as well, so if you're getting your iron from lentils, for example, you could consider tossing in a bell pepper, tomato, or leafy greens to maximize your absorption.

What's the optimal daily intake of Vitamin C?

The optimal daily amount of Vitamin C is 200 mg per day.

This is much more than the daily recommended allowance, which tends to be more of a "minimum" threshold.

200 mg is about the most Vitamin C your body can possibly absorb on any given day. Consume any more than that, and it will excrete the surplus through the urine or feces.

200 mg also happens to be, according to scientific studies, the level at which your risk of stroke is minimized, too.

This might sound like a lot of Vitamin C to get in one day, but actually on a plant-based diet, it's really quite easy.

How can we get enough Vitamin C?

Fruits

In wintertime, citrus may be the most seasonal and prevalent fruits. Grab a few clementines as an afternoon snack, or eat half a grapefruit for breakfast.

But other fruits, such as strawberries, mangoes, pineapple, kiwi, guava, papaya and avocados, are also great sources of Vitamin C.

When buying out of season, frozen fruit is an excellent option. You can make a smoothie like the one pictured above with lots of fresh and frozen fruit, and hit your optimal level of Vitamin C in one meal.

Vegetables

Broccoli and cauliflower, bell peppers, cabbage, snow peas, Brussels sprouts, kale, sweet potatoes, winter squash and tomatoes all contain a substantial amount of Vitamin C as well, providing delicious savory options for getting enough of this nutrient in your diet all year long.

The Minestrone Soup in the photo above is packed with Vitamin C from tomatoes, bell pepper and kale, and is a perfect wintertime meal. I teach this recipe in my Fresh Start course, along with the Vegetable Lentil Stew pictured above, if you'd like to learn to make them yourself.

Topical Skin Care Products

There are non-dietary ways to squeeze more Vitamin C into your life, too.

Science has shown that Vitamin C absorbed topically can impart benefits to the skin, such as improving the skin's collagen production, firmness and elasticity, and restoring a more youthful appearance. It can also reduce sun damage, lighten dark spots, and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

As with anything, it's extremely important to choose your products from a reliable source using only the safest ingredients.

Here's one I recommend personally, for pretty much everyone.

For an excellent youth-restoring antioxidant skin care treatment, I cannot speak highly enough about the Beautycounter Overnight Resurfacing Peel.

Used a few times a week, the gentle plant acids in this product helps turn over dead skin cells while lightening sun spots and reducing wrinkles.

It's simple to use: Apply it to clean skin at night, put a nighttime moisturizer on top, and then wash your face in the morning and wake up to glowing skin.

One last fun way to get more Citrus into your life

Do you love the smell of citrus fruits? I really do. This is why I love diffusing essential oils from citrus fruits while I'm working. I find it helps keep my mind clear, and emits a fresh, clean aroma in my workspace.

Here too, it's important to select trustworthy products that use only the best, safest ingredients.

I have an excellent essential oil resource for you if you'd like to learn more about them. My friend Stacy LaRow is super friendly and knowledgable. She can help you get started. You'll find her on Instagram at @theessentialcore, too.

Looking for more plant-based recipe inspiration? Check out some of the other recent posts on my blog:

Thai Green Curry

Instant Pot Lentil Soup

Chickpea Popcorn

Applesauce Bars

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