A Study in Scarlet
January 26, 2012


Allow me to geek out for a moment: this week in Biochem, we learned about scurvy, a disease that is caused by a lack of Vitamin C, or ascorbate. Famously, sailors on transoceanic voyages in centuries past were susceptible to scurvy, since they had little access to fresh fruits or vegetables. Advanced cases of scurvy lead to weakening of blood vessels, hemorrhaging, bleeding gums, wounds that don’t heal, and ultimate heart failure. Very mild cases can manifest themselves as irritability, fatigue, and frequent respiratory tract infections.

Most large mammals make large amounts of Vitamin C from glucose. Humans, however, don’t have the enzyme necessary for this conversion, so we’re reliant on dietary sources of Vitamin C, like citrus fruits, bell peppers, jicama, strawberries, grapefruit, brussels sprouts, broccoli, guava, kiwi, and canteloupe. Fortunately, these foods are seriously delicious: unfortunately, not all of us eat enough of them.

In 1998, a study of 230 college students at a state university revealed that 10% of them had a Vitamin C deficiency that could be classified as “serious.” Two of those students’ levels were low enough to suggest that they probably had scurvy. Yes, this was over ten years ago, but our country’s eating habits haven’t seemed to improve much since then.

To be honest, I wasn’t surprised when I read this dismaying statistic, because I’m a student again, and have firsthand exposure to the dearth of vegetables in most student diets! This fall, my biology class conducted a cardio statistics lab in which we were asked to categorize the fruit and vegetable intake in our diets: 1/2 to 1 cup, 1 1/2 to 2 cups, 2 1/2 to 3 cups, or more than 3 cups a day. About 2/3 of the class responded as consuming less than 2 cups of fruits and vegetables daily. While I’m sure this isn’t unusual by national standards, it did feel awfully low to me, and out of keeping with the fresh, nutrient-rich, plant-based diet I would recommend to most people.

When it comes to what and how people eat, change tends to come slowly. And it is most within reach when and if people can incorporate new foods without revolutionizing their whole diets; hence my “add first, subtract later” motto! One of the easiest ways to help people get more vitamins, minerals, and plant power into their diets without forcing too much oddity upon them (at first) is to introduce them to the power of vegetable and fruit juice, with all of it’s rich, concentrated vitamin stores. Yesterday, as I was thinking how I’d want to lend a hand to a Vitamin-C-deprived student, I thought about this juice.

And then I kept it all to myself Winking smile


Beet, Orange, and Ginger Juice

Serves 1

2 medium sized beets, with beet greens, if you like
3 navel oranges
2-3 inch knob ginger (I like it crazy spicy, but that’s me)

Juice all ingredients together in your juicer. Alternately, you an use a regular citrus juicer for the OJ part—that’s what I did, since I inherited my Yaya’s citrus juicer this month. She’d be so happy to know that I’m already using it for the crazy amount of lemon juice that gets produced in my wee kitchen:

IMG_0119 (525x350)

Yaya, this juice is for you. And so will be many others.

This juice is of course high in Vitamin C from the oranges and beets. But it’s also rich in gingerols, which are anti-inflammatory compounds, and in folate, fiber, magnesium, and potassium. Beyond that, it’s an excellent afternoon energizer (I should know—it saved me from the urge to take a post-lab nap). I recommend it highly!

How do you get your Vitamin C? And students, do you see the same kind of dietary patterns on your campuses? Georgetown has been touted for being quite healthy, so I’m curious about comparison.


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  1. Hey Gena! Do you peel your beets or find that the juicer is fine to handle the peel? I have the same juicer.

    My biggest worry about juicing is parasites and bacteria ie food poisoning from the raw food. I run cold in general, so I love my cooked veggies and soup broths. I’m so paranoid after a few bad experiences! 🙁

    PS My husband had scurvy in undergrad cause he was so cheap. Now he has a rule about one orange and one green at every lunch and dinner!

  2. A friend of my sister’s in college was diagnosed with Scurvy because he didn’t eat vegetables, and his diet consisted of Grilled Cheese/Mac n’ Cheese/Meat.

  3. Great minds think alike! Before I had even read this post I had not one but two beet juices with orange or pineapple and ginger yesterday. I always crave beet juice when I am feeling a little run down or under the weather, and the ginger is a great way to banish the cold on the West coast of Scotland… Good luck with the biochem.

  4. I remember the scurvy discussion from school! Isn’t that why Brit’s are called Limey’s? Their sailors discovered that eating limes prevented scurvy??

    Hope biochem is going well. I actually loved that class….

  5. I found Ainslie’s comment regarding hospital food very interesting. When I first began spending time shadowing in the ED, I was shocked by the nutritional habits of the hospital staff! I suspect I will be more than a little dismayed by my future medical school peers’ attitudes regarding nutrition, but then again, I grow more optimistic each time another med student/pre-med comments on this blog! On a related note, on my drive to work today they announced the breakfast and lunch options for my hometown middle and elementary schools :

    breakfast: bagel with cream cheese, OPTIONAL piece of fruit, milk
    lunch: french toast with sausage patty, OPTIONAL (and dismal!) fruit and vegetable offerings, milk

    These are the kids would most benefit from fruits and vegetables because they are much less likely to get them at home (especially in our Alaskan town where fresh fruits and veggies are extra costly)! My “Little Brother,” a 3rd grader on this lunch program, is clinically obese (he weighs more than I do!). We always do active things together but it breaks my heart when I see him struggling to climb one flight of stairs. Sorry for the rant, this issue really gets to me!

  6. Loved the geek out! I’m a student too, and I’m not surprised by those statistics. When you’re on the go with school, work, studying, and a social life, it’s hard to get fruits and vegetables into your diet. Actually anything good for you. I recently watch the documentary Sick, Fat, and Nearly Dead. (It’s free on Hulu). I was astounded by what juicing can do for you! There’s no way you could eat all those fruits and vegetables in one day, but when you juice it you can! Love the post. I’m gonna pin this and try it soon!

  7. I just watched the documentary Food Matters, and they were talking about how some believe high levels of vitamin c and nutrient therapy could cure cancer, among many other ills. They also talked about scurvy, etc. So interesting!

  8. To be honest, I think everyone I knew ate pretty darn well at uni. Although perhaps that’s to do with the overall socio-economic status of Canberra? Intriguing.

    P.S. Back in primary school, when I first learned about scurvy, all we were told is that you ate oranges to cure it. Glad to know other fruits and veg can be used as well! How terrifying that people who aren’t spending three months on a boat eating hardtack get it, though.

  9. When I was in holistic nutrition school, we did an assignment based around an, unfortunately, real life terrible, nutritionally devoid hospital menu. A few weeks later, a classmate told us a friend of hers was a nurse at that same hospital and that a patient who had been in the hospital for a month+ had recently been diagnosed with scurvy. Siiiiiiiigh. P.S. nice Holmes reference 😉

  10. I just bought a Vitamix today (on sale at Costco!) and I am SO excited to use it!! I know that I haven’t been getting in enough Vitamin C and am guilty of taking Emergen-C when I already have a cold (shameful, yes). I’m looking forward to stocking my freezer with frozen fruits and my fridge with kale and spinach so I can whip up some amazing smoothies.

  11. Do you have recommendations for affordable good juicers that can handle vegetables as well as fruits? I’ve been thinking about starting to “juice” but I can’t find a consensus (among Amazon reviews!) about any of the affordable (think student budget – I’m a teacher, and we make about as much as students!) juicers. Any helpful thoughts? (This juice looks/sounds amazing, by the way. I really want to drink it!).

  12. It is shocking that even med students don’t eat veg–I think I’d have a rough time with that in my face, it might make me more strident than I tend to be!

    But I love what you’re doing with yiayia’s juicer! I’m sure she’d approve. And that juice–they should sponsor you to pass it out.

    I actually supp vit C a little, an old habit from when I suffered a lot from constipation and generally wasn’t eating much. But I eat lots of greens, spirulina or chlorella pretty much every day, citrus this time of year, other fruit, etc…Shouldn’t be hard to get really… But beet, ginger, orange is droolsome–I may need to try even with no juicer here.

  13. Do you juice the beets raw? they are so hard in their raw form, I also don’t know if this holds any truth but I read somewhere it is dangerous to juice beets something about paralyzing vocal cords or something?

  14. I inherited my grandpa’s Vitamix a few years back. I couldn’t believe he had one! Bought it when he was 91 b/c he thought my grandma would make him smoothies. He also had flax seeds and a bunch of random health things in the fridge…too funny. 🙂

  15. We were just talking about Vitamin C and scurvy in biochem this week, too! Interesting stuff. I had NO idea that other mammals could make vitamin C from glucose until earlier this week. So cool!

  16. At this time of year I eat a grapefruit a day. I love winter for it’s Florida grapefruit. The rest of the year I indulge in enough fruit and veg that I’m not at all worried about consuming enough Vitamin C. On the other hand, do you think there is such a thing as too many veggies? I limit myself to a piece or two of fruit a day because I find it makes me crave sugary treats but am about to sit down to a dinner of a bunch and a half of kale chips, among other things. Is it possible to ‘OD” on veggies?

  17. ARGH! I just tried to add but.. I don’t think it worked! If this is a repeat, sorry.

    Here’s the question (sort of an ‘off topic’ on topic type of thing):

    Just discovered, through the use of an iphone app, that in my morning green smootie alone, I am consuming about 400% of my RDI for Vitamin A, and that’s just breakfast! I would guess that many of my daily meals and snacks would equal this amount. The issue: Vitamin A is a fat-soluable vitamin and can reach dangerous levels (albeit over months and months) in the body. If I am consuming this much each day, should I be worried? Is vitamine toxicity a concern for us semi-raw foodists? I had never even considered this before!
    Seems crazy to me…but I thought it was worth taking a look at.

  18. Ok so… a bit off topic…but not completely! Today, after having someone check out the nutrient breakdown of my daily green smoothie on their iphone. I discovered that in my smoothie alone I am getting 400% of my RDI of Vitamin A. At first, I think sounds GREAT!!! Then I realize that A is a fat-soluable vitamin…and that too much might not be such a good thing. And that’s just my breakfast! Its my guess that the ‘OD on Vita A’ is likely due to the 2 cups or so of raw Kale I add to this smoothie each morning..But, its just a typical green smoothie, nothing special and nothing different from the ones you are always creating on this blog. Hmmmmmmm now I’m left wondering…. Since I am eating mostly raw, I would say I am eating far more greens on top of this breakfast for lunch and dinner! Which all amounts to even more of these vitamins! SO the question is: is it possible to have too much of a good thing? I think it would be really great for you to touch on the over-consumption (?!) of certain vitamins and whether or not we ‘mostly’ raw foodies should be worried about this. The thought has never crossed my mind before…. is it really worth thinking about?

    • Alli,

      The type of Vitamin A found in plant foods like leafy veggies is beta carotene, which really isn’t Vitamin A at all, but a precursor to Vitamin A. That means your body can use beta carotene and transform it to make Vitamin A. The body will not convert all beta carotene to Vitamin A; only as much as it needs. The body can excrete leftover beta carotene because it is water soluble so you do not need to worry about beta carotene overdose. If you ingest huge amounts of beta carotene (such as through supplements) you can get an orange glow to your skin, because beta carotene has an orange pigment. But if you are only ingesting beta carotene through foods you will never need to worry about toxicity or orange skin. So enjoy your green smoothies! 🙂 This information is from Becoming Vegan, written by two registered dietitians (experts in nutrition) and from my own minor in Nutrition and Food Science I received from San Jose State University.

  19. Oh yum! I’ll be trying this juice ASAP. (I like crazy spicy ginger, too.) Beets are my recent favorite juice item, and I’ve been inhaling oranges by the truckload. It’s like you read my mind!

  20. I eat tonnes of greens, lemons, and other fruits, my vitamin C intake has never been a worry for me! I am sad to hear about the lack of fresh fruits and veggies in the diets of (really) the general population. I know that when I first started working with nutrition clients I was often shocked by the lack of vegetation. I go to a Holistic nutrition school right now, so I know that the diets of my fellow students are quite different from the diets of yours! Your juice looks amazing by the way, ginger and beet are a match made in juice heaven.

  21. I have been similarly shocked by the lack of nutritious eating on my campus, too! As >50% of my friends are pre-med, you would think they would at least pay attention more to eating fruits and veggies, whole grains, etc…. but nope! They think I’m the crazy one!

  22. The crazy thing about the vitamin C stuff is that it’s SO EASY to get Vit C. I mean, an orange, lemon, and although I’m not advocating it, a Hall’s Daily Defense Cough Drop has like 100% of your Vit C in it. Of all the Vitamins, that one is pretty easy…so that study is quite an eye opener about the state of affairs in our country.

    • having lived with an ED for a while, I used to be AFRAID to eat oranges because they had “too much sugar” needless to say that such distorted thinking because, rest assured, I’d go on sugar binges in that very same “thinking” (ED thinking isn’t thinking, yah?” but now I am not afraid of oranges and they help with iron absorption as well which is also a problem for me 🙁 bring on the Vitamin C! Love your pics Gena!

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