Lemons are rarely consumed as a stand-alone fruit due to their intense, sour flavor, but they are extremely popular when used in smaller quantities and in combination with herbs and spices.
Lemons can lend a wonderful and dynamic flavor to many sauces, salad dressings, marinades, drinks, and desserts.
Lemons first achieved their healthy claim to fame onboard the ships of early explorers. They were consumed to help treat scurvy, a then-common disease among the sailors.
In 1747, James Lind found that lemons and oranges were extremely effective at treating the disease; we now know that scurvy is caused by vitamin C deficiency from months at sea without any fresh produce.
This Medical News Today Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of lemons, 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.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on lemons
Here are some key points about lemons. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
Possible health benefits of lemons
Lemons have an intense sour flavor but can add an extra dimension when used in combination with other flavors.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Below are some of the possible benefits of consuming lemons and the research to back up the theory.
Lowering stroke risk
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 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed the least. The study used data from 69,622 women over 14 years.
Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke; it is caused by a blood clot blocking the flow of blood to the brain.
Lead author of the study, Aedín Cassidy, Ph.D., said:
"Studies have shown higher fruit, vegetable, and specifically vitamin C intake is associated with reduced stroke risk. [...] Flavonoids [present in certain fruits and vegetable] are thought to provide some of that protection through several mechanisms, including improved blood vessel function and an anti-inflammatory effect."
As an excellent source of the powerful antioxidant vitamin C, lemons and lemon juice can help fight the formation of free radicals known to cause cancer.
However, research has provided mixed results as to the exact benefits of antioxidants in the prevention of cancer.
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 the skin.
The risk of developing asthma is lower in people who consume a high amount of certain nutrients, one of these being vitamin C. Although, further study is necessary.
A review published in Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology concluded:
"... it may be reasonable for asthmatic patients to test vitamin C on an individual basis if they have exacerbations of asthma caused by respiratory infections. More research on the role of vitamin C on common cold-induced asthma is needed."
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 maximizes 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 cold and 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 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 percent of daily vitamin C needs
Lemons also contain 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)
- 23 percent of daily vitamin C needs
How to incorporate more lemons into your diet
Lemon is often paired with fish, shrimp, scallops, and chicken.
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 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:
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.