Ascorbic Acid is not Vitamin C
It’s time to address the industry lie that vitamin C and ascorbic acid are synonyms.
When I was studying for my dietetics degree, I remember my teacher explaining, “Anytime you see ascorbic acid on a label, it just means vitamin C.” There were no disclaimers or further explanation, and I took that information at face value. Unfortunately this is not entirely true.
Ascorbic acid is only a fraction of vitamin C
Naturally occurring vitamin C also includes rutin, bioflavonoids, and other factors and components. Ascorbic acid is an isolated component of vitamin C, which makes it useless on its own.
Most ascorbic acid on the market today is synthetic. This begs the question, from what is it being synthesized? Corn! More specifically GMO corn. (Side note: GMO isn’t necessarily bad, but it does mean there was human intervention when it was grown. So in this case, a man made vitamin component derived from a man made plant. In other words, very far removed from nature.)
Dangers of too much ascorbic acid
Dangers include digestive problems, kidney stones, thickening of the arteries, and the formation of genotoxins that can lead to cancer. There have even been reports of athletes experiencing diminished endurance when supplementing with ascorbic acid.
Why is ascorbic acid used instead of natural vitamin C?
The answer here is very simple: profit. It is more profitable to use synthetic ascorbic acid. Food companies add it to everything and give it the label “High in vitamin C” as a marketing ploy.
Where should we get vitamin C instead?
There are a few options here and it depends somewhat on your current diet. The fewer carbs you eat, the less vitamin C you need. This is because glucose interferes with the uptake of vitamin C by the cells, so less vitamin C is wasted when consuming fewer carbs.
If you are getting it from whole food sources, you actually need very little vitamin C to fight off issues like scurvy because you are getting the complete vitamin. Foods containing vitamin C include citrus fruit, berries, green peppers, kiwi, broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, winter squash, and liver. Liver is one source that is often overlooked because vitamin C is generally only associated with plant foods, but it contains around 20 mg per 3 oz serving.
Sailors treated scurvy with potatoes
Sailors who are cited as examples of too little vitamin C were able to fight off scurvy with vegetables containing vitamin C including potatoes. This might seem like an odd choice since potatoes are pretty low in vitamin C, but they had a pretty low carb intake overall, even with the potatoes, which lowered their requirement.