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
Beet, Orange, and Ginger Juice
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:
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.