When we think of vitamin C, we think of citrus fruits that are generally not available during the northern winter months. Nuts and seeds are the main fare for most northern winter-philic mammals. This means many of us are getting a lot of vitamin E with very little vitamin C during the winter—which may be more of an issue than it sounds!
Vitamin C and E have a unique relationship (that is just beginning to be understood), which suggests that they need to be taken together. Nuts and seeds are loaded with fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamin E), which require vitamin C to protect them from damage and oxidation.1
So, if we’re eating seasonally, how do we get vitamin C we need to protect fragile fat-soluble vitamin E that abounds in a winter harvest? Let’s dig in.
Water-soluble vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects more fragile, fat-soluble vitamin E (which is also an antioxidant). So when you have damaging oxidative stress or lipid (fat) peroxidation, vitamin E levels become exhausted fighting. The good news is that vitamin C can regenerate it!
Without vitamin C, vitamin E becomes depleted, unprotected, and terminally damaged, leaving the body without two of its most powerful antioxidants. One study linked a vitamin C and vitamin E deficiency to a host of health concerns, including weight gain, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol imbalances.1
Getting the required vitamin E is quite simple.
Common Fall-Harvested Sources of Vitamin E2
- Sunflower Seeds
Our northern hunter-gatherer ancestors got winter vitamin C by drying fruits and berries; eating certain fatty glands from game animals; and gathering winter squashes, pumpkins, cabbages, kale, and tuberous root vegetables.3, 4
Today, in addition to storing some local fall fruits, fall-harvested tubers, beets, carrots, potatoes, squashes, and onions for the winter, we have the luxury of eating southern-grown (but still winter-harvested) vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits and avocados, which are high in much-needed vitamin C.4-7
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The Forgotten Taste—Sour Citrus
According to Ayurveda, three tastes that should predominate in winter to balance vata and stabilize the nervous system are sweet, salty, and sour. Most of us get more than our share of sweet and salt, but few get enough sour to stay warm, insulated, and thriving during the winter months.
Fall-harvested and winter-eaten nuts and grains are considered sweet in nature. Salt, as we know, will melt snow and is a perfect antidote to the winter’s cold. But, how do we get enough of the vitamin C sour taste?
Sour is not a common favorite taste and perhaps this is why we insidiously become deficient in vitamin C in the winter. One report found as many as 23% of the population depleted in vitamin C.12 Lemons are winter-harvested and loaded with vitamin C, as are grapefruits (my third choice after limes), and oranges (but sadly, oranges have been hybridized to be too sweet).10
Squeezing a lemon on a salad, cooked veggies, your fish, or in your water or tea is a great regular habit to ensure you get the vitamin C you need to provide antioxidant protection of your fat-soluble vitamins—in particular vitamin E.1
The Sour Winter Wonder Berry
Perhaps the most powerful berry in the world, which researchers have named “the wonder berry,” is the amla fruit, aka Indian Gooseberry or amalaki (Emblica officinalis or Phyllanthus emblica). Depending on where in India the amla tree is located, the fruit is harvested between October and April and is considered a fall-winter-harvested berry. It has 10–20x more vitamin C than an orange, and during a season when vitamin C is harder to come by.8, 9, 11
The amount of vitamin C in amalaki has been debated, so I wrote a fairly comprehensive article on the subject. You can read up on it here.
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Amalaki is the dried version of the amla berry and because of its very sour, high vitamin-C taste, sources suggest that it naturally preserves the vitamin C when drying and is better absorbed than others forms of vitamin C.9
How Vitamin C Balances Vata
In the study mentioned above, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to protect fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamin E and other delicate fats) from being oxidized or going rancid. In the study, not only did vitamin C protect the fats, it regenerated depleted vitamin E.1 According to Ayurveda, fats balance vata.
Unfortunately, good fats—critical to balancing vata and the nervous system—are easily damaged. Because of the importance of these fats, it is not a mistake that sources of vitamin C (like lemons and amalaki) are used to help balance vata—their sour vitamin C content protects the good fats that maintain vata balance in the winter. Winter-harvested fruits like lemons and winter-harvested berries like amalaki are nature’s solution to balancing vata during winter.
In addition to being a winter source of vitamin C, offering the antioxidant protection for your fat-soluble vitamins, and providing support for weight balancing, blood sugar, blood pressure, and healthy cholesterol, amalaki is absolutely loaded with additional health and immune boosting benefits that are key for optimal winter health.1
So, how will you get your vitamin C and protect your fat-soluble vitamins this winter?