People of British descent who visit America sometimes find themselves being referred to by the slang term ‘limey’. Although no one likes to be called a name that sounds derogatory, this particular name may actually be a form of compliment, even if the speaker does not know why. In the eighteenth century, sailors of the British Royal Navy navigated the world in sailing ships, requiring weeks and months at sea with no fresh food to eat.
The vitamin C deficiency that resulted from this practice caused sailors to come down with a sometimes-deadly disease called scurvy. Scurvy results in bleeding, poor healing of wounds, hair and tooth loss and joint pain. Indeed the list of potential ailments due to a deficiency of vitamin C are numerous, including anemia, bleeding gums and nose, inability to fight infection and gingivitis, easy bruising, swollen and painful joints and weakened tooth enamel. In response, the British navy stocked their ships with lemons and limes and included the juice from these fruits in the meals of sailors on their ships. The ‘limeys’ were able to keep their vitamin C intake high enough for their sailors to stay healthy over long journeys.
Vitamin C is not manufactured by other elements inside the body, so we must rely on food sources to maintain an adequate supply. Thankfully, you can find a wide variety of foods that are rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C is water-soluble and it is not stored in the body. Excess amounts are flushed out through the urine, and we must maintain a steady supply to support normal growth and development.
Your body uses vitamin C to grow new tissue, particularly skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. This helps you to heal better from injuries and repair damage to cartilage and bones. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that helps to prevent damage from oxidizing agents or free radicals in the body. Its antioxidant properties extend beyond itself in that vitamin C helps to recover other antioxidants including vitamin E after they have been oxidized.
A healthy nutritious diet including a variety of vegetables and fruits with every meal should supply all of the vitamin C that you need. Long cooking cycles degrade the vitamin C in the food so fresh, raw fruits and vegetables are recommended. Green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach are excellent sources of vitamin C and other important nutrients. Other good choices of vegetables are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peppers, cabbage, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and squash such as butternut or acorn squash.
Fruits rich in vitamin C include citrus varieties such as oranges, grapefruit, limes, lemons and tangerines. Berries including blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries are also good sources. Other good fruit sources are kiwi fruit, mango, papaya, pineapple and watermelon. Packaged foods may be fortified with vitamin C. Read the labels of breakfast cereals and other packaged food carefully as many of these contain very high levels of sugar, which will create other problems that are best avoided. You might also see ascorbic acid or dehydroascorbic acid listed in the ingredients to help you identify vitamin C.
If fresh fruits are not available, supplementation may help you to sustain your vitamin C levels and keep your immune system strong. In addition, higher levels of vitamin C may be required if you are exposed to smoking or for women who are breastfeeding. It is believed that vitamin C helps to shorten the duration of a cold, but there is no evidence that it will prevent the cold itself.