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Vitamin C and Kids Gut Health: What Parents Need to Know

Vitamin C is commonly known in the nutrition world as a nutrient for immune support, but it can also have a crucial role in supporting gut health in kids as well. The gut microbiome has an important role in a kid’s development and can influence their risk for developing chronic diseases later in life [1]. Our kiddos experience rapid cognitive, physical, and social growth between the ages of one and six, therefore a nutrient-rich diet that includes Vitamin C can help set the foundation for both good gut health now and later in life [2]. In this blog, we'll review the connection between the role of Vitamin C and gut health and what parents need to know to set their kids up for a lifetime of health.

Vitamin C and Immunity

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is known for its immune supporting properties. It's a vital nutrient that supports a kid’s overall health by also helping in the absorption of iron and promoting healthy skin. But there's an aspect of vitamin C that often doesn't get the attention it deserves - its role in gut health.

Connection between Gut Health and Vitamin C

The gut, often referred to as the "second brain," is a complex ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, that play a role in digestive health, immunity, and even mood [3]. A balanced and diverse gut microbiome is essential for a kid’s health because it can influence everything from digestion to their immune system's effectiveness. Studies have found that inadequate Vitamin C intake in kids led to a great risk for intestinal inflammation [4]. Low Vitamin C intake is also linked to an increased risk for constipation [10].

Research Behind Vitamin C Benefits for Gut Health

  • Healthy Digestion: Vitamin C helps the body produce digestive enzymes that break down food and support better nutrient absorption [5]. Both iron and calcium absorb better in the body with an adequate Vitamin C intake [6].

  • Promotes Gastric Motility: Vitamin C supports gastric motility, which is the movement of foods through the digestive tract [8].

  • Gut Microbiome Balance: Studies find that Vitamin C improves total count of Bifidobacteria in the gut, which can promote a balanced gut microbiome for healthier digestion [7]. Populating the gut with good bacteria helps the gut microbiota composition and is associated with anti-inflammatory effects

  • Maintains Gut Lining Integrity: Vitamin C aids in the formation of collagen, a protein essential for maintaining the integrity of the gut lining. This ensures that the gut remains strong and resistant to damage from inflammation [9].

Begin Health Expert Tip Prebiotics can also help support your kiddo’s immunity by boosting good gut bacteria to promote a healthy digestion. Try mixing in a serving of Growing Up Prebiotics to your little one’s favorite Vitamin C-rich juice such as 100% orange juice or 100% grapefruit juice* for an extra fiber and immune boost. Every serving of Growing Up Prebiotics provides 3g of daily fiber that supports both digestive health and immunity.

*Opt for juices with no-added sugars to keep your little one’s added sugar intake to a minimum.

Vitamin C Sources for Kids

It's essential for our little ones to consume an adequate amount of vitamin C to support their immune system and gut health. As dietitians, we also recommend starting with whole food sources of nutrition first. Here are some kid-friendly sources of vitamin C:

  • Citrus Fruits: Oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines are packed with vitamin C and make for healthy snacks.

  • Strawberries: These berries are not only a delicious sweet treat but also a rich source of vitamin C.

  • Bell Peppers: Red, yellow, and green bell peppers are excellent choices. They can be sliced and included in salads or served with your little one’s favorite dip.

  • Kiwi: This small fruit is loaded with vitamin C and makes a great addition to fruit salads.

  • Broccoli: Kids may not always be fans of vegetables, but broccoli is a good source of vitamin C and can be prepared in various kid-friendly ways. Try roasting it to make it a fun crispy texture or blending it into soups.

  • Cantaloupe: Slices of cantaloupe are a refreshing and nutritious choice for a vitamin C boost.

Begin Health Expert Tip Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that the body doesn’t store it. Instead, the body will only absorb what it needs at the moment and flush out the rest via urine. In order to ensure there’s adequate Vitamin C in the body, it’s best to consume Vitamin C rich foods daily to get the most benefits.

RDA for Vitamin C by Age Group + Examples of Vitamin C Content in Foods

Age Group

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin C

Vitamin C Source + Percent Daily Intake Per Serving

Infants (0-6 months)

40 mg

Breast milk or infant formula can provide sufficient Vitamin C for this age group

Infants (7-12 months)

50 mg

¼ cup pureed strawberries, 40% RDA

Toddlers (1-3 years)

15 mg

½ cup orange slices, 102% RDA

Kids (4-8 years)

25 mg

1/4 cup red bell pepper slices, 119% RDA

Kids (9-13 years)

45 mg

½ kiwi, 102% RDA

Summary: Ensuring your kid’s gut health is a crucial aspect of their overall well-being. A balanced diet rich in vitamin C can help your little ones maintain a balanced gut microbiome, boost good gut bacteria, absorb nutrients such as iron, and support their overall immune system. Food sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, kiwis, broccoli, and cantaloupe.

References:

[1] Ronan V, Yeasin R, Claud EC. Childhood Development and the Microbiome-The Intestinal Microbiota in Maintenance of Health and Development of Disease During Childhood Development. Gastroenterology. 2021 Jan;160(2):495-506. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2020.08.065. Epub 2020 Dec 8. PMID: 33307032; PMCID: PMC8714606

[2] Bailey ADL, Fulgoni Iii VL, Shah N, Patterson AC, Gutierrez-Orozco F, Mathews RS, Walsh KR. Nutrient Intake Adequacy from Food and Beverage Intake of US Children Aged 1-6 Years from NHANES 2001-2016. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 3;13(3):827. doi: 10.3390/nu13030827. PMID: 33802295; PMCID:

[3] Ronan V, Yeasin R, Claud EC. Childhood Development and the Microbiome-The Intestinal Microbiota in Maintenance of Health and Development of Disease During Childhood Development. Gastroenterology. 2021 Jan;160(2):495-506. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2020.08.065. Epub 2020 Dec 8. PMID: 33307032; PMCID: PMC8714606.

[4] Fahim SM, Alam MA, Alam J, Gazi MA, Mahfuz M, Ahmed T. Inadequate Vitamin C Intake and Intestinal Inflammation Are Associated with Multiple Micronutrient Deficiency in Young Children: Results from a Multi-Country Birth Cohort Study. Nutrients. 2022 Mar 28;14(7):1408. doi: 10.3390/nu14071408. PMID: 35406021; PMCID: PMC9003322.

[5] Padayatty SJ, Levine M. Vitamin C: the known and the unknown and Goldilocks. Oral Dis. 2016 Sep;22(6):463-93. doi: 10.1111/odi.12446. Epub 2016 Apr 14. PMID: 26808119; PMCID: PMC4959991.

[6] Piskin E, Cianciosi D, Gulec S, Tomas M, Capanoglu E. Iron Absorption: Factors, Limitations, and Improvement Methods. ACS Omega. 2022 Jun 10;7(24):20441-20456. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.2c01833. PMID: 35755397; PMCID: PMC9219084.

[7] Hazan S, Dave S, Papoutsis AJ, Deshpande N, Howell MC Jr, Martin LM. Vitamin C improves gut Bifidobacteria in humans. Future Microbiol. 2022 Dec 8. doi: 10.2217/fmb-2022-0209. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36475828.

[8] Da Silva LM, da Silva RCMVAF, Maria-Ferreira D, Beltrame OC, da Silva-Santos JE, Werner MFP. Vitamin C Improves Gastroparesis in Diabetic Rats: Effects on Gastric Contractile Responses and Oxidative Stress. Dig Dis Sci. 2017 Sep;62(9):2338-2347. doi: 10.1007/s10620-017-4632-9. Epub 2017 Jun 21. PMID: 28639130.

[9] DePhillipo NN, Aman ZS, Kennedy MI, Begley JP, Moatshe G, LaPrade RF. Efficacy of Vitamin C Supplementation on Collagen Synthesis and Oxidative Stress After Musculoskeletal Injuries: A Systematic Review. Orthop J Sports Med. 2018 Oct 25;6(10):2325967118804544. doi: 10.1177/2325967118804544. PMID: 30386805; PMCID: PMC6204628.

[10] Rollet M, Bohn T, Vahid F, On Behalf Of The Oriscav Working Group. Association between Dietary Factors and Constipation in Adults Living in Luxembourg and Taking Part in the ORISCAV-LUX 2 Survey. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 28;14(1):122. doi: 10.3390/nu14010122. PMID: 35010999; PMCID: PMC8746799.

May Zhu, RDN

May Zhu, RDN

May is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition expert at Begin Health.



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