Vitamin C for Your Baby

The benefits of Vitamin C in the diet are many…

Vitamin C is:

  • essential for healthy growth and development
  • vital for many of the body’s functions – tissue growth, healing of wounds, and protection against the common cold, to name a few
  • an important anti-oxidant – it helps protect against some serious diseases
  • necessary to help your baby’s body effectively absorb iron and calcium from food – offer a piece of fruit with every meal
  • necessary to avoid a condition called scurvy – rare in the developed world – which in babies causes problems with growth.

Your baby, as with all humans, cannot make vitamin C – or store it – so you need to continuously provide a daily supply in his or her diet. During your baby’s first year, his or her vitamin C requirements are met by breast milk or formula milk, but as more solid foods become the main source of nutrition, then foods rich in vitamin C should be included as part of a daily, regular, balanced diet to meet your baby’s RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of vitamin C.

You may like to note that vitamin C from whole fruit is better for your baby than vitamin C from fruit juice – it is more easily absorbed and provides more fibre. Also, products labelled ‘fortified with vitamin C’ are no substitute for fresh fruit and vegetables.

All fruits and vegetables contain some vitamin C, but some have more than others…

Foods rich in vitamin C:

  • bell peppers – especially green ones
  • broccoli
  • cantaloupe melons
  • leafy greens
  • parsley
  • potatoes
  • citrus fruits*
  • kiwi fruit*
  • tomatoes*

Foods marked * may be best left from your baby’s diet until he or she is over 1 year of age.

Foods that contain useful amounts of vitamin C:

  • asparagus
  • blueberries
  • brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • courgettes (zucchini)
  • turnips
  • mango
  • papaya (paw paw)
  • watermelon
  • winter squash
  • cranberries*
  • pineapple*
  • raspberries*

Foods marked * may be best left from your baby’s diet until he or she is over 1 year of age.

Vitamin C dissolves in water and is also sensitive to light and heat – fruits and vegetables need to be stored and cooked in ways that preserve the greatest amounts of vitamin C:

  • Buy fruits and vegetables that are as fresh as possible – vitamin C is lost while the produce sits on the shelf. Local produce – especially from farmers’ markets – is best as it is not transported far.
  • Frozen or even canned may be preferable to buying produce that is not very fresh – even though some vitamin C is lost during processing.
  • Fully ripe fruits and vegetables contain more vitamin C than unripe.
  • Store fruits and vegetables in a cold, dark place – like the fridge – to minimize vitamin C loss.
  • Give your baby raw fruits and vegetables whenever possible – this will depend the food, and on your baby’s age, development stage, and sensitivities.
  • Cook your baby’s food and serve it to him fresh whenever possible, as freezing and thawing contributes to vitamin loss – however, homemade baby food from the freezer is still preferable to commercial baby food!
  • Most of the nutrients are stored in – or just under – the skins, so try to use unpeeled fruit or vegetables if this is appropriate for your baby.
  • Cook for the shortest time possible – just done rather than mushy. Overcooking will destroy the vitamin C content.
  • Steaming is better than boiling, as less vitamin C is lost.
  • Research indicates that cooking in a microwave retains even more vitamins than steaming – if you are not averse to microwaving your baby’s food.
  • If you boil fruits and vegetables, use the cooking water in a sauce or gravy to add back some of the vitamin C that has leached into the water.
  • Copper pots are believed to destroy the vitamin C content of fruits and vegetables – avoid using them.
  • Baking soda will cause nutrient loss, so don’t add it to improve colour – vegetables cooked for as short a time as possible will stay bright.

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