On Nutrition: Readers question vitamin C, food labels

As promised for this celebration of National Nutrition Month, our first installment of questions from readers:

Corliss J. from Tucson, Arizona, writes: “I would like to get more natural vitamin C from foods. I have a condition called ‘stomach dumping’ and also heartburn. Juicy sweet fruits cause digestive distress and heartburn. I take a 500 mg Ester-C tablet each day. Could you please suggest some foods that contain vitamin C but are not sweet, acidic or juicy? How much should I eat daily?”

Dear Corliss, the recommended daily allowance for vitamin C is currently 75 milligrams for adult women. And while many people like yourself take higher doses from supplements, it’s certainly possible to meet your vitamin C needs from food.

One SunGold kiwifruit, for example, contains 131 mg of vitamin C, while three-fourths of a cup of orange or grapefruit juice offers about 95 mg. If you don’t tolerate these juicy fruits, you can also get vitamin C in red or green bell peppers (95 and 60 mg per 1/2 cup, respectively), 1/2 cup cooked broccoli or strawberries (50 mg), 1/2 cup Brussels sprouts (37 mg) or even a medium baked potato (22 mg).

According to the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center at Oregon State University, our bodies best absorb vitamin C at doses up to 200 mg. And we can get that amount from five servings (about 2 1/2 cups) of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.

Although high doses of vitamin C appear to be safe, they can trigger digestive distress, especially if you exceed the current upper intake level of 2,000 mg a day, set by the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board.

Another reader, Paula, asks: “When choosing a premade food, such as bread or cracker, which components should guide you in order of nutrition: carbs, fat, fiber, sodium or calories? I have slightly elevated blood pressure or have been told to lose 5-10 pounds as I am pre-diabetic.”

First and foremost, look at the serving size, Paula. All the other information on the nutrition facts label is based on that amount. Stay with that serving size if you need to lose weight.

Next, since you have high blood pressure, hone in on the sodium content. If you can’t find a product with less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving, choose one with the lesser amount among your choices.

For bread, crackers and other grain foods, look for the words “whole grain” on the label. There is clear medical evidence, according to the Whole Grains Council, that whole grains can reduce your risk for diabetes and obesity, as well as heart disease and cancer.

Lastly, take a look at the fat content and choose a food with the least amount of saturated fat, ideally less than 2 grams per serving.

Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian nutritionist and syndicated columnist. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.” Email her at [email protected].