Lemons first achieved their healthy claim to fame onboard the ships of early explorers to help treat scurvy, a then-common disease among the sailors.
In 1747, James Lind found that lemons and oranges were extremely effective at treated the disease, which we know was caused by a vitamin C deficiency from months at sea without any fresh produce.
Lemons are rarely consumed as a stand-alone fruit due to their intense sour flavor but are extremely popular when used in smaller quantities and in combination with herbs and spices to lend a wonderful and dynamic flavor to many sauces, salad dressings, marinades, drinks and desserts.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of lemons and an in-depth look at their possible health benefits, how to incorporate more lemons into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming lemons.
Possible health benefits of lemons
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Lets take a look at the possible benefits of consuming lemons.
Lowering stroke risk
Lemons have an intense sour flavor but are popular when used in combination with herbs and spices for many sauces, salad dressings, marinades, drinks and desserts.
According to the American Heart Association, eating higher amounts of citrus fruits may lower ischemic stroke risk for women. Those who ate the highest amounts of citrus had a 19% lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed the least.1
Maintaining a healthy complexion
The antioxidant vitamin C, when eaten in its natural form or applied topically, can help to fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles and improve overall skin texture. Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the support system of your skin.
The risks for developing asthma are lower in people who consume a high amount of certain nutrients, one of these being vitamin C.
Increasing iron absorption
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in developed countries and a leading cause of anemia. Pairing foods that are high in vitamin C with foods that are iron-rich will maximize the body's ability to absorb iron. For example, squeeze lemon juice atop a salad with spinach and chickpeas (both a good source of iron).
Boosting the immune system
Foods that are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants can help the immune system battle germs that cause a cold or flu. Maintaining a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables is especially important during the winter months when physical activity levels tend to drop.
Consumption of fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like lemons decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Nutritional breakdown of lemons
According to the USDA National nutrient database, one raw lemon, without peel (about 58 grams) provides 17 calories, 0.6 grams of protein, 0.2 grams of fat, 5.4 grams of carbohydrate (including 1.6 grams of fiber and 1.5 grams of sugar, 51% of daily vitamin C needs as well as small amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.
One fluid ounce of lemon juice provides 7 calories, 0.1 grams of protein, 0.1 grams of fat, 2.1 grams of carbohydrate (including 0.1 grams of fiber and 0.1 grams of sugar) and 23% of daily vitamin C needs.
How to incorporate more lemons into your diet
Lemons should be picked at their peak ripeness because, unlike many other fruits, they do not ripen or improve in quality after being picked.
Lemons are often paired with fish, shrimp, scallops, chicken and in many Mediterranean dishes.
Lemons should be stored at room temperature away from direct sunlight.
Lemons pair well with savory as well as sweet dishes. They are often used with fish, shrimp, scallops, chicken and in many Mediterranean dishes, as well as desserts.
Try some of these healthy and delicious recipes using lemon:Lemon raspberry zucchini bars
Whole grain angel hair pasta with artichokes and lemon
Mango citrus banan-za smoothie
Spinach-pesto salad with farro
Lemon raspberry almond muffins
Lean green machine juice
Potential health risks of consuming lemons
Those with gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) may experience an increase in symptoms such as heartburn and regurgitation when consuming highly acidic foods such as citrus fruit, however individual reactions vary.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
If you enjoyed reading about the potential health benefits of lemons, take a look at our collection of articles about other fruits and vegetables.
Alternatively, read our article about the top 10 healthy foods for your daily diet.