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Most of us associate vitamin C with citrus, like orange and lime.
After all, the term “limey” comes from a point in history when sailors would use lime and lime-juice to prevent scurvy.
Scurvy is a disease caused by extreme vitamin C deficiency, when the body loses the ability to synthesize collagen. If left untreated, scurvy is fatal.
Jonathan Lamb is a professor at Vanderbilt University and the author of the upcoming book Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery. Professor Lamb explains that scurvy affected nearly every voyage during the16th to the mid-19th century, when many Europeans set sail to explore the world. Scurvy killed thousands, causing their teeth to fall out and their skin to develop black sores. (1)
Professor Lamb also recounts the travels of Captain James Cook, who was given 7,860 pounds of sauerkraut to take with him on his journey. After over two years at sea, Captain Cook reported that no one died of scurvy. (2)
What is the connection?
What Is Vitamin C?
Sauerkraut made with red cabbage has close to 700 mg of vitamin C per cup! Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that protects against free radical damage and bolsters immune health.
Foods rich in vitamin C prevent scurvy because vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) is needed to make collagen, a protein that is essential to maintain connective tissue in the body. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant—it protects the body against stress and free radical damage.
Researchers have found high levels of vitamin C inside immune cells, which is the reason many people take vitamin C during an infection. The body also rapidly uses up available vitamin C during infection or stress, suggesting that it plays a critical role in immune system health. (3)
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) tells us how much vitamin C we need to avoid disease.
The RDA for adult men is 90 mg a day and 75 mg for adult women. Pregnant mothers should get at least 85 mg through diet, whereas lactating mothers should consume above 120 mg since much of their vitamin C concentrates in breast milk.
Sauerkraut: A Superior Source of Vitamin C
Raw cabbage on its own already contains moderate amounts of vitamin C—around 30 mg per cup.
When you ferment cabbage into sauerkraut, its vitamin C and antioxidant levels skyrocket. (4)
According to researchers at Cornell University, levels of antioxidants and vitamin C in sauerkraut range from 57 to 695 mg—with raw, fermented red cabbage having the highest levels of vitamin C, hitting almost 700 mg per cup.
Besides boasting high levels of vitamin C, sauerkraut also contains other antioxidants that protect against stress and fight disease. The beneficial probiotics in sauerkraut inoculate the gut and further fortify the immune system. Sauerkraut and other raw, fermented foods made with cabbage, like Kimchi, are true superfoods that have a long history of protecting the body when resources were scarce.
When fermenting cabbage at home, we recommend using a starter culture to ensure that your cultured veggies are filled with health-promoting probiotics.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Vitamin C is a superstar antioxidant, essential to support healthy connective tissue in the body. High levels of vitamin C have been detected inside immune cells, making vitamin C valuable to protect against stress and infection.
The RDA for vitamin C for adult men is 90 mg a day, 75 mg a day for adult women, 85 mg a day for pregnant women, and 120 mg a day for lactating women.
In the natural food form, red cabbage is a great source of vitamin C at roughly 30 mg per cup. When cabbage is fermented into sauerkraut, vitamin C and antioxidant levels soar. Vitamin C in sauerkraut can range from 57 to 695 mg, up to nearly 700 mg per cup in red cabbage sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is a potent raw, fermented food that has supported health throughout history when resources were scarce.
Body Ecology Tip: When making vitamin C-rich fermented cabbage at home, use a starter culture as a safe, healthy source of probiotics!
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- Lamb, J., & Rigby, N. (2013). The natural history of scurvy: an introductory note. Journal for Maritime Research, 15(1), 3-6.
- Carpenter, K. J. (1988). The history of scurvy and vitamin C. Cambridge University Press. P. 78.
- Wintergerst, E. S., Maggini, S., & Hornig, D. H. (2006). Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 50(2), 85-94.
- Chun, O. K., Smith, N., Sakagawa, A., & Lee, C. Y. (2004). Antioxidant properties of raw and processed cabbages. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 55(3), 191-199.
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