Vitamin C and baby nutrition

We all know it's found in oranges and can help fight off colds, but here's why your little one needs a regular supply of vitamin C

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Why do babies and children need vitamin C?

This vital vitamin is important for baby nutrition and needed for the growth and repair of cells throughout the whole body, so it’s important your little one gets enough in her diet.

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It helps bones and tissues heal from injuries, cuts or grazes and it’s important for the healthy function of the immune system, and fighting infections.

However, Vitamin C water-soluble, which means it doesn’t get stored by the body. Instead whatever isn’t used comes out in your tot’s wee, meaning your baby will need a regular source of vitamin C in her diet, to replenish what’s lost in her nappy or in the potty!

How can your baby get enough?

Vitamin C is found in many types of fruit and vegetables. While most mums know oranges are high in vitamin C, other fruits, such as strawberries, contain even more.

Other great sources of vitamin C include peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, sweet potatoes, peaches, berries and kiwi fruit.

As soon as your baby is starting to wean, her earliest foods can include rich sources of vitamin C. Try pureeing a single fruit or vegetable, such as sweet potato, squash or apple.

To minimise the loss of nutrients, finely cut and steam fruit and veg before mashing – as vitamin C is water soluble, it can be destroyed if you stew food for too long in water, so steaming is better than boiling.

Citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C, but some babies’ tummies are sensitive to the acidic content, so you might need to mix them with a softer tasting fruit, such as pear or apple. 

But too much fruit, and your baby may start to refuse vegetables, so make sure you offer a good mix of both.

Tomatoes are also excellent for vitamin C, so try a small amount of pureed tomato with some finely chopped up pasta, once your baby has moved on to lumpier solids.

I’ve heard vitamin C helps you absorb iron – is that right?

Yes, vitamin C enables the body to efficiently absorb iron, and makes iron-rich foods more effective.

Give your little one foods rich in both iron and vitamin C (such as broccoli), and offer fruit as a pudding after dishes containing iron-rich meat or pulses like lentils.

Can vitamin C protect little ones from colds?

Some scientific studies link vitamin C with reducing the length of common cold symptoms.

So, it’s definitely a good idea to make sure that your baby is getting her daily dose, to help avoid constant sniffles and coughs.

Can your tot get her vitamin C from fruit juice?

Many fruit juices are good sources of vitamin C. However, with babies and small children the sugar in natural fruit juice doesn’t make it a sensible drink to offer in the first year.

If you do offer it, it’s best to stick to mealtimes to help protect teeth, or try diluting with water (one part juice to 10 parts water).

Always read juice labels carefully to check both sugar and vitamin content (with some pasteurised or concentrated juice drinks, the vitamin C may be added back in afterwards).

What is the recommended daily amount of vitamin C for babies and children?

The Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) for babies under one year is 25mg of vitamin C a day, and over one year it’s 30mg, though you can go higher than this (the RDA for adults is 40mg).

What happens if you don’t get enough vitamin C in your diet?

Those lacking in vitamin C can get easily run down, have mouth problems like sore/bleeding gums, and find that they are prone to common illnesses on a regular basis.

Most of us have heard of scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. In the olden days, it was common in sailors who were at sea for long periods, without access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

Symptoms include loss of teeth and skin rashes. Fortunately it’s very rare for anyone today to be so lacking in vitamin C that they get scurvy.

(Even as far back as the 1700s, it was known that citrus fruits like limes could counter this condition!)

Is it possible to have too much vitamin C?

Yes, it is possible, though very rare as the body doesn’t store it. Signs of too much can include nausea, diarrhoea and tummy aches, so try to avoid giving your tot too much in one go.

Should your baby or toddler take a vitamin supplement?

The vitamins in infant formula milk should meet most of your baby’s nutrition needs…

But if she’s taking less that 500ml a day or she’s breastfeeding, then the government’s Food Standards Agency recommends that a supplement providing vitamin C, along with A and D (in the form of liquid drops), be taken from 6 months to age 2 years.

Your health visitor can advise you on what supplements you should be giving. 

Images: Getty Images

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