Vitamin C

Why do you need it?

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is needed for the growth and repair of all the tissues in your body. It helps make a substance called collagen, an important protein in your skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. You also need vitamin C for wound healing and for healthy bones and teeth. On top of that, it helps your body absorb iron from food.

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, which means it helps protect your DNA – the genetic material in your cells – from damage linked to heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

It’s easy to get enough vitamin C from a healthy, varied vegan diet but if you eat mostly processed food, your levels might be low. Smoking cigarettes also lowers the amount of vitamin C in the body, so smokers need to have higher intakes. It’s best to get vitamin C from foods as vitamin C rich foods tend to have multiple health benefits and a supplement might not have the same effect.


Symptoms of deficiency include dry and splitting hair, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and bleeding gums, dry and scaly skin, slow wound-healing, easy bruising, nosebleeds, greater susceptibility to infection; a severe form of vitamin C deficiency is known as scurvy.

How much do you need?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 45 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C a day for adults aged 19 and over. The recommended intakes for infants, children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women are given below.

Recommended nutrient intakes for vitamin C. Click to read more…
Age groupRecommended nutrient intake
Infants and children
0-6 months25
7-12 months30
1-3 years30
4-6 years30
7-9 years35
Females, 19+45
Males, 19+45
Pregnant women55
Lactating women70
Source: WHO, FAO. 2004. Vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition. 2nd ed. Geneva: WHO.

Where to find vitamin C

The best plant-based sources of vitamin C are fruit and vegetables (including potatoes). Citrus fruits and juices are particularly rich sources of vitamin C but other fruits including guavas, papaya and mangoes are good sources too. 

  • Fruit: Guavas, papaya, oranges, pineapple, mangoes and tomatoes (especially when eaten raw) are all excellent sources of vitamin C that are widely available in Uganda. One (55 gram) guava contains 125 milligrams of vitamin C, almost three times your daily needs! A small papaya (157 grams) contains 96 milligrams and a thin (56 gram) slice of pineapple contains 27 milligrams. A whole tomato (125 grams) contains 17 milligrams of vitamin C.
  • Vegetables: Bell peppers and green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and amaranth leaves contain vitamin C, although the levels in these may not be as high as in fruits. A small red bell pepper (74 grams) contains 95 milligrams of vitamin C and 50 grams of raw spinach leaves (the amount you would put in a salad), contains 14 milligrams. 
  • Potatoes: These provide a valuable source of vitamin C because they are available for longer periods during the year than fruit. A medium-sized (180 grams) baked potato with skin contains around 17 milligrams of vitamin C which is nearly 40 per cent of your daily requirement. 

Fruit juice is not the best choice for vitamin C unless it’s freshly squeezed because commercial products tend to be pasteurised (treated with high heat that destroys many nutrients) and is little more than just sweet water.