Lemons are a popular fruit that people use in small quantities to add flavor to food. However, they rarely consume them alone due to their intense, sour taste.
Lemons give flavor to baked goods, sauces, salad dressings, marinades, drinks, and desserts, and they are also a good source of vitamin C.
One 58 gram (g) lemon can provide over 30 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is essential for health, and a deficiency can lead to health problems. The early explorers knew this and took lemons on their long voyages to help prevent or treat scurvy, a life threatening condition that was common among sailors.
This article looks at the nutritional content of lemons, their possible health benefits, ways to use them in food, and any potential health risks.
Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C and flavonoids, which are antioxidants.
Antioxidants help remove free radicals that can damage cells from the body.
These nutrients can help prevent diseases and boost health and wellbeing.
Here some of the possible benefits of consuming lemons.
1) Lowering stroke risk
A study of data from nearly 70,000 women over 14 years showed that those who ate the most citrus fruits had a 19% lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed the least.
Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It can happen when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
A 2019 population study showed that long term, regular consumption of foods that contain flavonoids might help protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, the study indicated that people who smoked or consumed a lot of alcohol were less likely to benefit.
2) Blood pressure
More research is needed to identify the role of lemon in this improvement and to discover whether consuming lemon can help reduce blood pressure since walking daily can also lower blood pressure.
Which other foods can help lower blood pressure? Find out here.
3) Cancer prevention
Lemons and lemon juice are an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C.
Antioxidants may help prevent free radicals from causing cell damage that can lead to cancer. However, exactly how antioxidants can help prevent cancer remains unclear.
Which other foods are high in antioxidants? Find out here.
4) Maintaining a healthy complexion
Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the support system of the skin.
Sun exposure, pollution, age, and other factors can result in skin damage. A 2014 mouse study suggested that either eating vitamin C in its natural form or applying it topically can help prevent this type of damage.
What are the best foods for vitamin C? Find out here.
5) Preventing asthma
The authors found evidence that vitamin C also benefitted people with bronchial hypersensitivity when they also had a common cold.
However, they called for more research.
6) Increasing iron absorption
Iron deficiency is a leading cause of anemia.
Pairing foods that are high in vitamin C with iron-rich foods maximizes the body's ability to absorb iron.
However, a high intake of vitamin C can trigger gastrointestinal problems in people who are taking iron supplements. For this reason, it is best to obtain iron from dietary sources, such as beef liver, lentils, raisins, dried beans, animal meats, and spinach.
Squeezing a little lemon juice onto a salad containing baby spinach leaves can help maximize the intake of both iron and vitamin C.
Learn more here about iron deficiency anemia.
7) Boosting the immune system
One review found that, while vitamin C supplements do not appear the reduce the incidence of colds in a population, they may help reduce the length of time a cold lasts. Vitamin C may also help boost immunity in people who are undergoing extreme physical activity.
Squeezing a whole lemon into a glass of hot water with a large spoonful of honey makes a soothing drink for someone with a cough or cold.
Find some more home remedies for colds and flu here.
8) Weight loss
In a 2008 study, rodents who consumed lemon peel phenols with a high fat diet for 12 weeks gained less weight than those who did not consume lemon.
In 2016, 84 premenopausal Korean women with a high body mass index (BMI) followed a lemon detox diet or another diet for 7 days. Those who followed the lemon detox diet experienced greater improvements in insulin resistance, body fat, BMI, body weight, and waist-hip ratio than those on the other diets.
Further research is needed to confirm whether lemon can contribute to weight loss, and if so, how.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and an antioxidant.
If a person does not consume enough vitamin C, they will develop a deficiency, which is known as scurvy. It is rare in the United States, but it can affect people who do not have a varied diet.
Symptoms can start to appear within a month of not consuming vitamin C, and they include:
- malaise (a feeling of being unwell)
- inflammation of the gums or bleeding gums
- red patches on the skin due to blood vessels breaking beneath the surface
- joint pain
- slow wound healing
- loosening of teeth
Many of these happen when the connective tissues weaken due to the lack of vitamin C.
Since vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, people who are deficient in iron may also develop anemia.
Why do we need vitamin C? Find out here.
One lemon weighing 58 grams (g) contains:
- energy: 16.8 calories (kcal)
- carbohydrates: 5.41 g, of which 1.45 g are sugars
- calcium 15.1 milligrams (mg)
- iron: 0.35 mg
- magnesium: 4.6 mg
- phosphorus: 9.3 mg
- potassium: 80 mg
- selenium: 0.2 micrograms (mcg)
- vitamin C: 30.7 mg
- folate: 6.4 mcg
- choline: 3.0 mg
- vitamin A: 0.6 mcg
- lutein + zeaxanthin: 6.4 mcg
Current dietary guidelines recommend an intake of 75 mg of vitamin C per day for women aged 19 years and older and 90 mg per day for men.
Smokers need 35 mg per day more than nonsmokers.
Lemons also contain small amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, copper, and manganese.
How do antioxidants benefit our health? Find out here.
Unlike many fruits, lemons do not ripen or improve in quality after picking. People should harvest lemons when they are ripe and store them at room temperature away from direct sunlight.
Lemons pair well with both savory and sweet dishes.
The following healthful recipes use lemons:
- Whole grain angel hair pasta with artichokes and lemon
- Sticky lemon chicken
- Lemon raspberry almond muffins
Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto fish, shrimp, scallops, chicken.
Dress salads with fresh lemon juice and a small amount of olive oil with herbs instead of using a commercial product. Premade dressings often contain additional salt, sugar, and other additives, and they can be high in fat and calories.
Some people say that lemon water has a wide range of benefits, from weight loss to relieving depression.
In high enough quantities, the various nutrients in lemon may produce these health benefits.
However, consuming lemon water instead of juice or soda might be beneficial because it reduces a person's intake of sugar.
Drinking plenty of lemon water can also help prevent dehydration.
Should you follow the lemon detox diet? Find out here.
Lemons have a high acid content, so their juice may affect people with:
- Mouth ulcers: It can cause a stinging sensation.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): It can worsen symptoms, such as heartburn and regurgitation.
Learn more here about detox drinks and what they can and cannot do.
The nutrients in lemons offer several health benefits. However, it is difficult to obtain all the necessary nutrients from lemon due to its sour taste and high acid content.
However, consuming lemon juice as part of a varied diet that includes plenty of other fresh fruits and vegetables can make a person's diet more nutritious and healthful.
Is bottled lemon juice as nutritious as fresh lemons?
The 100% bottled lemon juice is suitable for some food preparation applications, such as canning, where the acidity of the product must be high enough to produce the desired reaction.
However, bottled lemon juice does not have the same vitamin C content as fresh lemon juice. It is important to note that vitamin C is sensitive to light and heat and will diminish rather quickly in fresh lemon juice if people do not store it in a cool, dark environment in a non-metal container.Kathy W. Warwick, RD, CDE Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.