While most people think of vitamin C as a supplement for when you get sick or something you get from orange juice, when we talk about it for kids, the focus is almost always on its ability to aid with iron absorption. Iron is a critical nutrient for young kids and vitamin C can help our bodies absorb more, especially from plant foods.
Many animals are able to make their own vitamin C, but humans are reliant on foods or supplements to get it. Labels list it as ascorbic acid which is the version commonly used in supplements and as a preservative.
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What does vitamin C do?
The body uses vitamin C in many different processes. It helps with the creation of collagen, a part of connective tissue, which makes it crucial for wound healing. Vitamin C can also act as an antioxident. It helps the immune system work properly which can help the body protect itself from disease. Lastly, it aids in the absorption of iron, specifically non-heme iron, which is primarily found in plant foods.
Where can you get vitamin C?
Vitamin C is found in mostly fruits and vegetables. We generally think of oranges and other citrus foods, but tomatoes and potatoes are some of the main sources in the American diet (1). It tends to decrease over time, so generally fresh fruits and vegetables will have a higher content. Cooking and heat can destroy some of the vitamin C in foods, because it is water soluble.
Eating fruits or vegetables will likely give your child all the vitamin C that they need, even if your child is mildly picky. 1/2 cup of red bell pepper provides 95 mg which goes above and beyond what a child will need. While a varied diet is always recommended, it’s still possible to meet your needs with limited variety.
The recommended intakes are based on the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). The RDA is estimated to meet the needs of 97-98% of all healthy individuals (1). The recommendations are higher than the amounts to just protect from deficiency. For infants 0-12 months, the recommended amounts are based on the amounts in breastmilk (2).
|0-6 months||40 mg|
|7-12 months||50 mg|
|1-3 years||15 mg|
|4-8 years||25 mg|
|9-13 years||45 mg|
What happens if you don’t get enough?
A deficiency is called scurvy. Symptoms start as fatigue, malaise and inflammation of the gums. It can progress, however, to poor wound healing, skin/hair changes, joint pain, and swollen and bleeding gums leading to tooth loss. Deficiency can also lead to a deficiency in iron. Children at the highest risk for deficiency include infants fed evaporated or boiled milk instead of breastmilk or formula, extremely picky eaters, and people who may have absorption problems.
Can you get too much?
The risks of excess vitamin C from foods alone is very low, however it can occur with supplementation. It can cause gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, nausea, and cramps due to some vitamin C that is not absorbed being left in the GI tract (5). The tolerable upper limits for children 1-3 years is 40 mg, for 4-8 years is 650 mg, and for 9-13 years is 1200 mg.
Vitamin C Rich Foods for Kids
- bell pepper (especially red)
- brussels sprouts
- green peas
There are other foods that may be fortified with vitamin C. You can check the label to determine if it has been added.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.