Vitamin C – Best Foods and Recipes

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is known for its immune-boosting properties.  However, this nutrient has powers extending far beyond this!

This article will help you find foods and recipes that contain the most Vitamin C using the tools and charts used by Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass.

Vitamin C Food Chart

The chart below shows a range of popular foods in terms of vitamin C (per calorie) vs vitamin C (per serve).  Foods towards the right will provide more vitamin C per calorie, while the foods towards the top will provide more vitamin C in the serving sizes we typically eat them. 

For more detail, you can dive into the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer), check out the food lists of popular foods below or download longer lists in our Optimising Nutrition Community here.

Vitamin C is found in plant foods.  It is primarily concentrated in greens, citrus, and brightly coloured produce.  For this reason, it is not a nutrient of concern for someone on a plant-based diet if they’re consuming nutrient-dense foods.

Vitamin C Rich Foods (Per Serving)

The popular foods listed below will give you more vitamin C in the typical serving sizes we consume them in. 

  • brussels sprouts
  • yellow bell pepper
  • orange
  • red bell peppers
  • broccoli
  • kiwi fruit
  • cauliflower
  • mustard greens
  • strawberries
  • kale
  • cantaloupe
  • mango
  • clementine
  • green bell peppers
  • pineapple
  • cabbage 
  • bok choy
  • watermelon
  • mandarin

Vitamin C Rich Foods (Per Calorie)

Foods highest in Vitamin C per calorie tend to be green veggies like the ones listed below.

  • bell peppers
  • watercress
  • parsley
  • mustard greens
  • kale
  • bok choy
  • brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • kimchi
  • broccoli
  • cabbage (red)
  • strawberries
  • kiwi fruit
  • cabbage (green)
  • broccoli seeds (sprouted)
  • coriander leaf
  • orange
  • cantaloupe
  • clementine
  • pineapple

Vitamin C-Rich Recipes

The chart below shows our 1400+ NutriBooster recipes that we use in the Micros Masterclass plotted in terms of vitamin C vs protein %.  Recipes towards the right will help you boost your vitamin C with fewer calories.   Vitamin C is one nutrient that doesn’t correlate with protein.  So once you ensure you’re getting adequate protein, it might be worth reviewing the vitamin C in your diet.   

To dive into the detail, you can open the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer).  Then, click on each recipe to learn more about it and view a picture of the recipe. 

A selection of NutriBooster recipes that contain the most Vitamin C is shown below. 

Why is Vitamin C Important? 

  • Immune system support: Vitamin C helps the body produce white blood cells, which are important for fighting off infections and diseases.
  • Collagen production: Vitamin C plays a critical role in the production of collagen, a protein essential for the health of your skin, hair, nails, and bones.
  • Antioxidant properties: Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which means it helps protect cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals.  This can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.
  • Iron absorption: Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from plant-based foods and supplements.  Iron is an essential mineral that is important for producing red blood cells and preventing anemia.
  • Mood regulation: Vitamin C has been shown to play a role in regulating mood and reducing symptoms of depression.

Roles of Vitamin C in the Body

Many plant and animal species can synthesise their own vitamin C.  However, humans and certain mammals lack this ability.  For this reason, vitamin C is an essential nutrient for humans because we can’t make our own.  It is thought that humans lost the ability to make Vitamin C because it was so plentiful in our native diets during the time we evolved.

  • The body needs vitamin C to synthesise collagen, elastin, and other critical elements in our bone matrix, skin, tooth dentin, gums, blood vessels, and tendons. 
  • The body requires vitamin C to utilise other nutrients like B vitamins.
  • Vitamin C is infamously known as an antioxidant.  In this sense, it helps to protect against cellular damage from free radicals.
  • Our immune system requires vitamin C to protect against infections.  In addition, vitamin C is antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial, and it helps reduce the severity of allergic reactions.
  • Vitamin C is known for its detoxifying properties. 
  • Blood sugar regulation and glucose control require vitamin C.
  • We require vitamin C to convert cholesterol into bile acids.  Bile acids are produced by the body to process toxins and break down dietary fats.
  • Vitamin C is protective against various conditions, like cardiovascular diseases, cancers, joint disorders, cataracts, and even the common cold. 

What Happens if Vitamin C is Low?

Vitamin C is helpful for a variety of chronic health issues, including:

Vitamin C Supports Neurotransmitter Synthesis

Neurotransmitters are chemicals the body produces that trigger emotion, initiate movement, and initiate reactions.  Vitamin C is critical to help you make neurotransmitters like dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine that:

  • stop you from peeing at night,
  • prevent you from overeating,
  • make you happy,
  • improve your focus and motivation,
  • increase your sex drive,
  • stop your hair from going grey, and
  • boost your thyroid, adrenal and sex hormones. 

History of Vitamin C

Since the 1500s, we have known that fresh fruits and vegetables could prevent scurvy, or a condition that results from low vitamin C. Scurvy was a common killer of sailors on long voyages because of their inability to consume fresh produce.  As a result, sailors consumed sauerkraut, which contains adequate amounts of vitamin C, to stave off deficiency.

James Lind undertook the first documented, controlled trial to establish that citrus fruits prevented scurvy.  Subsequently, Vitamin C was the first vitamin to be discovered in 1912.  Vitamin C was later isolated in 1928 and synthesised in 1933.

Conditions that Increase Demand for Vitamin C  

Because fresh produce is more readily available in the modern food environment, Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) is rare today.  However,  you may still be at a higher risk of Vitamin C deficiency if you:

  • are not able to eat fresh or minimally processed foods (e.g., the elderly, low-income households, or someone suffering from an eating disorder),
  • are exposed to large amounts of toxins (e.g., have heavy metal toxicity, are recovering from mould exposure, have a chronic infection like Lyme),
  • use a lot of Advil, aspirin, or other NSAID pain relievers,
  • are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment,
  • suffer from conditions like autoimmunity or cancer resulting from compromised immunity,
  • are dependent on cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs, or
  • have a health condition like coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease that inhibits the absorption of nutrients.

Preserving Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient sensitive to alkalinity, heat, and light.  It remains stable in dry powder form but is highly unstable and degrades in food if mishandled.  Losses during processing can range from 10 to 90%.  Hence, it’s critical to focus on fresh food and avoid overcooking foods rich in vitamin C. 

Satiety Response to Foods with More Vitamin C

Our satiety analysis of Nutrient Optimiser users shows only a moderate satiety response to foods containing higher levels of Vitamin C.   People who consume foods with more vitamin C in their diet tend to consume around 14% fewer calories. 

The Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for Vitamin C is set at 30 mg per day with a Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of 45 mg per day.  This amount is just enough to counter deficiency and isn’t necessarily optimal.  In contrast, the median consumption of Optimisers is much higher at 150 mg per day. 

We do not see a greater satiety response from supplemental vitamin C.  In fact, amounts of vitamin C only achievable from supplementation tend to align with a higher calorie intake.  

So, while vitamin C supplements may be beneficial if you have a deficiency, supplementing vitamin C will not improve the satiety value of an otherwise nutrient-poor low, satiety diet. 

Vitamin C Side Effects, Toxicity, and Overdose

While many recommend high doses of Vitamin C for general health, the Upper Limit (UL) of Vitamin C is set at 2000 mg/day to account for gut tolerance.  Too much supplemental vitamin C has a laxative effect and will send you running to the toilet!

While an upper limit has been set for vitamin C, no known dose causes toxicity or overdose unless someone has a pre-existing condition.  Because vitamin C is water-soluble, excess amounts are excreted.  The body can also absorb only so much through the intestinal tract.

Because of vitamin C’s relationship with other nutrients, chronic high Vitamin C supplementation can lead to excess iron absorption (iron overload), which increases oxidative stress, Vitamin B12 deficiency, and dental enamel erosion. 

Optimal Vitamin C Intake 

Based on the robust satiety response data, we have set a stretch target of 350 mg/2000 calories for vitamin C. 

Once you start to get the hang of nutrient density, you could ‘level up’ by working to achieve these stretch targets to optimise your nutrition.  For more details, see:

Availability of Vitamin C in the Food System

Vitamin C availability has varied over time.  Today, a significant amount of Vitamin C is used as an additive in food to prevent browning.  Based on USDA data, there may have been an increase in Vitamin C fortification around 1970.

It is reasonably easy to get adequate vitamin C to meet the EAR and RDI from our modern food system.  However, you will need to go out of your way to focus on more nutrient-dense foods and meals if you want to achieve more optimal levels.


Vitamin C absorption depends on how much you’re getting through your diet.  If you consume high amounts of supplementation, your body will likely downregulate Vitamin C absorption.  In contrast, your body will absorb more vitamin C if the demand is high.  This is because your intestines regulate absorption based on body requirements.

Approximately 70%–90% of Vitamin C is absorbed in moderate intakes of 30–180 mg/day.  However, absorption falls to less than 50% at doses above 1.0 g/day.  Unmetabolised Vitamin C is excreted in the urine. 

It’s also worth noting that adequate Vitamin C is required to absorb non-heme iron successfully.

Vitamin C in Meat

Glucose and Vitamin C have similar chemical structures and compete for the same transporters in the cell membrane.  Both are escorted into the cells by the action of the hormone insulin.  

Thus, high glucose levels in your diet mean you will require more insulin and more Vitamin C to get glucose into the cell.  Based on this logic, it appears that a diet with less glucose may require less Vitamin C. 

Liver and organ meats contain some Vitamin C.  However, other meats are typically assumed to have no Vitamin C, and their content is typically not measured.  Fresh meat and fish contain some, although much is lost during cooking.  While people consuming lots of fresh meat do not appear to develop scurvy, there are anecdotal reports of people following a strict carnivore diet developing symptoms of scurvy. 

The minimum required Vitamin C intake to prevent deficiency is reasonably easy to obtain from eating fresh food on an omnivorous diet.  However,  if your diet has minimal glucose, your minimum requirement for Vitamin C may be even lower.  

Other nutrients commonly found in plant foods, such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, appear to be a more significant concern for people consuming only animal products.

It is unknown whether the lower Vitamin C intake on a carnivorous diet would affect iron absorption, given that iron availability would be high.

How Can I Calculate if I am Getting Enough Vitamin C? 

If you’re interested in determining if you’re getting the right amount of Vitamin C in your diet, you can check your nutrient profile using our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge

After a week of tracking your current diet in Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will give you a prioritised list of foods and NutriBooster recipes that will help you plug your current nutritional gaps, including selenium. 

Nutrient Density Starter Pack

We’re eager to make the process of Nutritional Optimisation as simple as possible.  So, to help you increase your intake of all the essential nutrients, including Vitamin C, when you join our free Optimising Nutrition Community, you’ll get a starter pack that includes:

Nutrient Series



Fatty acids

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