5 Tips to Increase Vitamin C Intake in Children
Surely as a mom, you’ve heard about vitamin C and its importance for children. And, without needing to be much of an expert, you know that it’s found in citrus juices and that it fights viral processes. But, also, did you know that a good part of this vitamin is lost while you prepare the juice or heat up a lemonade for a cold? Well, here are some tips to increase vitamin C intake and prevent its loss during storage and preparation.
Vitamin C fights viruses, but it’s also part of the proper growth and development of bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels. That’s why we must ensure a good intake. To do this, we mustn’t only select the foods that contain the greatest amounts but also prepare them properly.
Vitamin C and its functions
The chemical name of vitamin C is ascorbic acid, which dissolves well in water, so it belongs to the group of water-soluble vitamins. The most common way it’s found in food and the body is bound to certain minerals such as sodium and calcium to form ascorbate. This is a very unstable bond that reacts with other molecules to protect them from oxidation, while oxidizing itself.
Its antioxidant capacity means that it protects against damage from so-called free radicals in the body. In this way, it prevents diseases and promotes good health, as stated in the Oxygen magazine article in 2022. However, the ability of vitamin C to react with other molecules makes it very unstable during food preparation. Consequently, its properties are destroyed before it’s consumed.
Other functions of this vitamin are as follows:
- Boosts immune function: Particularly in children, it can improve resistance to infection and aid in recovery from illness, as explained in the journal Vitamins & Minerals in 2017.
- Enhances absorption of non-heme iron in vegetables: Helps prevent iron deficiency anemia in children.
- Participates in the formation of collagen: This is a protein that provides support and elasticity to connective tissues, bones, cartilage, blood vessels, and skin. A special 2017 issue of Nutrients magazine explains how vitamin C can help in the production of collagen.
Vitamin C intake recommendations for children and its main sources
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the recommended daily intake(RDI) for children aged 1 to 3 years is 15 milligrams; for those aged 4 to 8 years, 25; and for children aged 9 to 13 years, 45. These recommendations are based on a balanced and varied diet that includes foods rich in ascorbic acid.
In 2021, the journal Nutrients stated that worldwide, carambola (starfruit), guava, black currant, kiwi fruit, peppers, and strawberries are among the fruits with the highest vitamin C content. In addition, others are exceptional in their content, such as Kakadu plums from Australia, which provide almost 3 grams per 100 grams of fruit; and the acerola cherry, which has 825 milligrams.
Other vegetables include rosehips, cashew fruit, cantaloupe, broccoli, kale, fermented cabbage, and other leafy greens.
4 tips to increase vitamin C intake in children
The journal Food and Nutrition Science shares findings on the stability of vitamin C during vegetable and fruit processing. Based on these findings, here are some tips:
1. Prevent contact with oxygen
To prevent the oxidation of ascorbic acid, we must avoid the presence of environmental oxidants. One of them, and perhaps one of the most active, is oxygen. When preparing juices from fruits or vegetables that are sources of vitamin C, they should be extracted as quickly as possible and stored in a tightly closed container. This way, the amount of oxygen that enters the juice is limited. Also, it’s important to fill the container sufficiently so that no oxygen remains on the surface.
2. Store juices, fruits, and vegetables in non-metallic containers
If you want to keep the vitamin C as intact as possible, cut up whole fruits or vegetables and store them covered in plastic or glass containers. The same goes for juices. Why not in metal containers? Because metal ions, such as iron or copper, are good for accelerating the oxidation reaction of vitamin C.
3. Adding lemon or citrus juice to juices and chopped vegetables
Some foods have a sour taste and when measuring their pH, it ranges from 0 to 7. Alkaline foods have a pH ranging from 7 to 12. The results of an experimental test to measure the stability of vitamin C showed that an acidic pH of 4 accelerated the oxidation of the vitamin. But, in even more acidic conditions, with pH between 2 and 3, the reaction slowed down.
Practically speaking, orange juice with a pH between 4 and 5 accelerates the oxidation of ascorbic acid. But, by adding lemon juice, we lower the pH further and protect vitamin C. Another good way to preserve the ascorbic acid in fruits is to mix them with yogurt, as it’s a fermented product with low pH.
4. Protect against light
Ultraviolet (UV) light influences the rate of oxidation of various food components, such as vitamin C. The mechanism is complex, but according to a study by JAOCS chemists in 2019, natural antioxidants are susceptible to degradation by ultraviolet light. Therefore, it’s important to store foods that are sources of vitamin C in the dark, in the refrigerator, or in non-transparent containers.
Keep food away from heat
One of the main factors affecting the antioxidant capacity of vitamin C is exposure to heat. It degrades rapidly at high temperatures and prolonged times, such as during boiling.
A study published in the journal Food Science and Technology showed that the type of cooking applied to fruits and vegetables affects the stability of vitamin C to a greater or lesser degree. For example, steaming and microwave cooking retains 90% more vitamin C than boiling. Everything indicates that less contact with water and the use of lower temperatures favors the retention of vitamin C in food.
The bottom line regarding vitamin C intake in children
Remember to consult your pediatrician to evaluate the evolution of your child’s growth and development. Also, keep in mind that good results are obtained by eating a balanced and varied diet! However, you can rely on these tips to help your child boost their immune system, better absorb iron from vegetables, and maintain healthy bones, skin, and cartilage.
Don’t forget to maintain an adequate amount of vitamin C in the diet through a good selection of foods. And, above all, use techniques that keep it intact. Don’t store fruits, vegetables, or their juices in metal containers, and try to consume them as quickly as possible. If not, add lemon juice to preserve the vitamin for longer. Also, remove them from heat and don’t process them in places with a lot of sunlight or expose them to oxygen.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Carr A, Lykkesfeldt J. (2017). Vitamin C in Health and Disease. Special Issue published online in the open access journal Nutrients (ISSN 2072-6643) in 2017 (available at: http://www.mdpi.com/journal/nutrients/special issues/ vitamin c health disease)
- Ellong, Emy & Billard, Corinne & Adenet, Sandra & Rochefort, Katia. (2015). Polyphenols, Carotenoids, Vitamin C Content in Tropical Fruits and Vegetables and Impact of Processing Methods. Food and Nutrition Sciences. 6. 299-313. 10.4236/fns.2015.63030.
- Evans, Kervin & Appell, Michael & Goodell, John. (2019). Protection of Antioxidants, Vitamins E and C, from Ultraviolet Degradation using Feruloylated Vegetable Oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. 96. 10.1002/aocs.12255.
- Lee, S., Choi, Y., Jeong, H. S., Lee, J., & Sung, J. (2017). Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables. Food science and biotechnology, 27(2), 333–342. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10068-017-0281-1
- Maggini, S., Maldonado, P., Cardim, P., Newball, C.F., & Latino, E.R. (2017). Vitamins C, D and Zinc: Synergistic Roles in Immune Function and Infections. Vitamins & Minerals, 6:3 DOI: 10.4172/2376-1318.1000167
- Martemucci, G., Costagliola, C., Mariano, M., D’andrea, L., Napolitano, P., & D’Alessandro, A. G. (2022). Free Radical Properties, Source and Targets, Antioxidant Consumption and Health. Oxygen, 2(2), 48–78. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/oxygen2020006
- National Institute of Health (NIH). Vitamina C. Última revisión 18 de diciembre de 2019. Disponible en: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-DatosEnEspanol/