Is Your Vitamin C Actually an Imposter?

The next time you reach for your vitamin C supplement, a packaged organic treat or some OJ, you may want to think twice. Not because vitamin C isn’t good for you (because it is), but rather because your vitamin C supplement, although labeled as ‘Vitamin C’ is most likely synthetic. Shocking I know! For many years I would simply buy a Vitamin C supplement right off the shelf of the Health Food Store. I didn’t even think to ask if it was a ‘real’ and whole form of the vitamin….why wouldn’t it be?

The FDA and The Canadian Food and Drug Administration allow companies to label their vitamin supplement as Vitamin C, even though it is really ascorbic acid. In the EU ascorbic acid is aka E300.


What Exactly is Ascorbic Acid?

Technically and of course naturally speaking, ascorbic acid is the protective outer ring of the whole and natural Vitamin C.  The ascorbic acid in your favorite supplement however, comes from a lab! This ascorbic acid, which by the way is allowed to be labeled as ‘Vitamin C‘, came to life by a process that synthesizes corn glucose (corn syrup). To make matters worse, the corn used in this process is GMO unless other wise stated! 80% of the ascorbic acid on the market world wide is created in China.

Ascorbic acid was created because it is shelf stable whereas real vitamin C is destroyed with heat (read: pasteurization). For example, store bought orange juice is pasteurized beyond recognition and thus no longer contains it’s claim to fame: Vitamin C. Ascorbic acid was created to fill that void, allowing orange juice and other nutritionally devoid foods to be fortified with ‘vitamins’ and be called healthy yet again.  


Where Else is Ascorbic Acid Found?

On food labels, ascorbic acid is identified as such and is sometimes followed by ‘vitamin c’ in parenthesis. It plays many rolls some of which include a preservative (stabilizer), to extend shelf life and/or prevent discoloration. It is found in:

  • canned and processed foods as well as frozen potatoes products
  • meat/sausage – it works with nitrites to maintain a rosy color
  • baked goods – to preserve freshness
  • dried fruit snacks – to preserve freshness. Ex. these pitted, dried plums
  • wine, beer, fruit juices – to stabilize shelf life
  • in breakfast cereal and many other packaged products to add ‘fortify’ their nutritional content
  • in many products containing egg
  • etc…

Ascorbic Acid has many non-food uses as well. Because it is easily oxidized it is used to develop photographs. It is also used to remove metal stains (ie. iron) from fiberglass swimming pools and in the manufacturing of plastics! 


Then What Exactly is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C in its natural form is composed of many things with ascorbic acid being only one component: 

  • Rutin
  • Bioflavonoids (vitamin P)
  • Factor K
  • Factor J
  • Factor P
  • Tyrosinase
  • Ascorbinogen
  • Ascorbic Acid

Benefits of Real Vitamin C

The human body cannot create its own Vitamin C. The beauty is that real vitamin C from whole foods is naturally bioavailable.  It helps the body make collagen, an important protein used to make skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Complete Vitamin C is needed for healing wounds, and for repairing and maintaining bones and teeth. Studies also suggest that Vitamin C may also be helpful for:

  • Boosting immune system function
  • Maintaining healthy gums
  • Treating allergy-related conditions (ie. asthma, eczema)
  • Reducing effects of sun exposure, such as sunburn or redness
  • Alleviating dry mouth (a common side effect of antidepressant medications)
  • Healing burns and wounds
  • Decreasing blood sugar in people with diabetes
  • Improving vision  (Source)


How Do I Get Vitamin C into my Diet?

Natural, unadulterated Vitamin C is found in real food! S H O C K E R! I’m a big believer in getting our vitamins from real food first. Here’s a list of whole food sources of Vitamin C:

  • red bell peppers (contain twice the vitamin c of a green one)
  • raw milk
  • potatoes
  • onions
  • citrus fruits
  • peas
  • kiwi
  • strawberries
  • cantaloupe
  • spinach 
  • tomato
  • asparagus
  • kale
  • zucchini
  • watermelon
  • traditionally fermented fruits and vegetables (ex. sauerkraut)

If you do wish to take a supplement. We supplement with this whole food-based supplement from the Camu Berry. When you do need a vitamin C boost, these Vitamin C Gummies are a favorite of our family, particularly during the winter months and the best part is you can make them yourself!






University of Maryland Medical Center 

Herb, Nutrient and Drug Interactions

Dr Ben Kim

Alive Magazine

GMO Compass