Time to bust a major health myth: When you feel a cold coming on, a vitamin C supplement will stop your sniffles in their tracks, right?
According to science, nope. It’s true that vitamin C may help keep the immune system strong and capable of fighting off infections, but you’re better off regularly eating vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables than taking a supplement when you’re already sick. A classic 2007 study looked at 11,350 people who had symptoms of the common cold. Researchers gave some a vitamin C supplement and others a placebo. The researchers didn’t really find a difference between the groups: Peoples’ colds lasted just as long and were just as yucky.
Of course, vitamin C does more than just ward off the sniffles. It can help heal wounds, improve the absorption of iron, and protect cells from damage by free radicals. Eating foods rich in vitamin C (not supplements) may also help lower your risk of lung, breast, and colon cancers.
Here’s how much vitamin C you should aim for: Women over age 19 need about 75 mg a day, and men need 90 mg. During pregnancy, women should up their intake to 85 mg of vitamin C a day, and then get 120 mg of vitamin C a day while breastfeeding.
Oh, and if you smoke, you’ll want to add 35 mg of vitamin C to the numbers above. Cigarettes expose the body to more free radicals, so you’ll need extra vitamin C. (And obviously: Better yet, quit smoking altogether. Here are strategies to quit smoking you can try.)
To keep your immune system in top form, try these rich food sources of vitamin C.
Tomato juice: 130 mg of vitamin C in 6 oz
Red bell pepper: 95 mg of vitamin C in ½ cup
Papaya: 95 mg of vitamin C in 1 small fruit
Strawberries: 50 mg of vitamin C in ½ cup
Grapefruit: 40 mg of vitamin C in ½ cup
Raw broccoli: 30 mg of vitamin C in one spear
Cantaloupe: 30 mg of vitamin C in ½ cup cubes
Mango: 30 mg of vitamin C in ½ cup cubes
Red cabbage: 25 mg of vitamin C in ½ cup chopped
Cooked collard greens: 20 mg of vitamin C in ½ cup
Chalky vitamin C powders? Fuggetaboutit. Try this citrusy smoothie bowl with orange and cantaloupe for an all-natural, totally delicious boost of vitamin C.