January in Chicago is notoriously dreary, drab and bitter. At the first sign of a sniffle, many of us dash to the pharmacy to stock up on vitamin C supplements. Advertisements for those immune-boosting products sound convincing, but jazzing up your New Year's palette with vitamin C-rich foods is more cost-friendly and tastes much better.
Vitamin C is found in brightly hued plant products. Also an antioxidant, vitamin C helps our bodies ward off illness and infection. By getting vitamin C from whole foods as opposed to supplements we get the added health benefits from nutrients like fiber, folate and potassium. Citrus fruits, such as kiwi, pomegranate and grapefruit. are rich in vitamin C and add natural sweetness to homemade meals. Colorful vegetables and greens like sweet potato, broccoli and spinach also are excellent sources of the vitamin, and can be added to many recipes to boost bulk and flavor. Citrus and other vitamin C-filled foods are surprisingly versatile in the kitchen. For example, adding lemon or lime juice to herbal tea is a soothing remedy for a sore throat in winter. A squeeze of citrus juice or sprinkling of zest into a recipe allows you to reduce or eliminate salt while perking up the flavor. A light salad dressing or vinaigrette can be whipped up in no time by squeezing citrus into a few tablespoons of olive oil.
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So, will that extra vitamin C beat the common cold? Studies show that mega-dosing with vitamin supplements does not improve symptoms and those who used vitamin C supplements to treat a cold fell ill just as often as those who use a placebo.
However, since our bodies do not manufacture vitamin C on their own, it is important to have the vitamin in our diets, particularly to strengthen the immune system and fight off cold weather illnesses.
Turns out vitamin C makes us feel good in body and mind. Studies of people suffering depression show those people felt more relaxed and experienced fewer symptoms upon smelling citrus fragrances.
Are you getting enough of this nutrient in your diet? Try this recipe to add brighten up your winter meals.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.