Why does Vitamin C Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

RachelMS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS

Read time: 3 minutes

What to know about meeting your and your child’s vitamin C needs

  • Learn why vitamin C is important for health

  • How much vitamin C is needed by age

  • What foods are good sources of vitamin C

What does vitamin C do?

Found in most fruits and vegetables, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant in the body, meaning it helps protect our cells from damage by harmful free radicals.1 Vitamin C also supports immune function, enhances the absorption of iron, and helps make collagen, which our bodies need to heal wounds.1

And while vitamin C does not prevent colds, research indicates that it may help reduce the duration that cold symptoms last.2

The good news is that vitamin C deficiency is rare. With that said, vitamin C inadequacy can occur in some people, such as those with very restrictive diets, those with a disease that causes malabsorption, or those who are smokers.5 However, if you regularly eat fruits and vegetables, you will likely be getting an adequate amount of Vitamin C.

How much Vitamin C is needed?

Below are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for vitamin C.

*Note that the numbers for infants are Adequate Intakes (AIs), since there is not enough data to establish an RDA. The AIs provide guidance to help get a level of vitamin C that is nutritionally adequate.1

  • Infants* 0 – 6 months: 40 mg

  • Infants* 7 – 12 months: 50 mg

  • Children 1 – 3 years: 15 mg

  • Children 4 – 8 years: 25 mg

  • Children 9 – 13 years: 45 mg

  • Adolescent boys 14 – 18 years: 75 mg

  • Adolescent girls 14 – 18 years: 65 mg

  • Adult men 19+: 90 mg

  • Adult women 19+: 75 mg

  • Pregnancy: 85 mg

  • Lactation: 120 mg

Individuals who smoke are recommended to add 35 mg to their relevant category.1

Food sources of vitamin C

In its natural state, vitamin C is primarily found in fruits (especially citrus varieties) and vegetables. Plant foods particularly high in vitamin C include bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, oranges, grapefruit, and kiwi.

Food-based vitamin C is prone to damage by heat (including when foods are cooked) and won’t store well over long periods of time, so it’s good to include raw, fresh vitamin C-rich foods in your regular diet.3,4

Called ascorbic acid or ascorbate in synthetic form, vitamin C can be its own standalone supplement and is commonly incorporated in most multivitamins or prenatals.1 It also appears as a preservative in many packaged foods.6

Vitamin C in your and your child’s diet

Vitamin C: Pregnancy and Lactation

While your needs for vitamin C go up slightly during pregnancy and breastfeeding, the goals are easily met by including multiple fruits and veggies in your everyday eating pattern. Eating a combination of both raw as well as cooked produce will help you get a wide range of nutrients.

Vitamin C: Your and your child’s diet

The good news is that both breastmilk as well as formula contain vitamin C. So your baby should be getting what they need during their first year of life.7,8

As soon as your little one begins eating solid foods, start introducing foods that are good sources of vitamin C. Fresh, uncooked fruits and veggies can be blended or diced to match the texture your little one can handle.

While raw produce are the best source of this nutrient, lightly cooked foods will also retain some of their vitamin C content.

Read more: How can I get my Baby to Love Veggies?

Tips for getting more vitamin C

Eat and offer your child a variety of fruits and vegetables every day

Produce should account for half of what you put on your plate. Try to have a vegetable with each meal and a fruit or vegetable with each snack to help boost your vitamin, mineral, and fiber intake.

If your little one turns up their nose at the food, try and try again! It may take up to 10 or more tastes of a food before your child begins to accept it.9

Learn about: The Division of Responsibility: Helping Avoid Picky Eating

Here’s a cheat sheet of foods with amounts of vitamin C by serving:

  • Red bell pepper, ½ cup raw: 95 mg

  • Orange, 1 medium: 70 mg

  • Kiwi, 1 medium: 64 mg

  • Green bell pepper, ½ cup raw: 60 mg

  • Broccoli, cooked, ½ cup: 51 mg

  • Strawberries, raw, ½ cup: 49 mg

  • Brussels sprouts, cooked, ½ c: 48 mg

  • Grapefruit, ½ medium: 39 mg

  • Cantaloupe, ½ cup: 29 mg

  • Cauliflower, raw, ½ cup: 26 mg

  • Tomato, raw, 1 medium: 17 mg

  • Spinach, cooked, ½ cup: 9 mg

  • Green peas, cooked, ½ cup: 8 mg

As you can see, it can be pretty easy to meet your vitamin C recommendations each day with a handful of produce!

Recipe and meal ideas to help increase vitamin C

Try some fun new recipes that are packed with vitamin C! Be sure to provide your little one with foods in a texture they can handle. Feel free to mash any of the below recipes up should your little one need a softer or smoother consistency.

Cream Cheese Pinwheels with Bell Peppers

Broccoli, Spinach & Avocado Baby Food Puree

Hidden Veggies Strawberry Smoothie

Orange Sunny Soup

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Meal Plan: Key Nutrients of Pregnancy

Meal Plan: Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding