They give flavor to many sauces, salad dressings, marinades, drinks, and desserts, and they are also a good source of vitamin C.
The early explorers took lemons first on their long voyages to help prevent or treat scurvy, a serious condition that results from a vitamin C deficiency.
In 1747, James Lind found that lemons and oranges were extremely effective at treating the disease, which was common among sailors.
This feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
It looks at the nutritional content of lemons, their possible health benefits, using lemons in food, and any potential health risks.
Contents of this article:
Possible health benefits
Lemons can be healthful and refreshing.
Consuming a range of fruits and vegetables appears to reduce the risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Lemons are a good source of vitamin C and of flavonoids, or antioxidants, which are thought to boost health and wellbeing in several ways.
Let's look at some of the possible benefits of consuming lemons.
1) Lowering stroke risk
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), citrus fruits may help lower the risk of ischemic stroke in women.
A study of data from nearly 70,000 women over 14 years showed that those who ate the most citrus fruits had a 19 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed the least.
"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."
Aedín Cassidy, Ph.D., Lead author of the study
Citrus fruits are a good source of flavonoids, which are thought to help protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It is caused by a blood clot blocking the flow of blood to the brain.
2) Maintaining a healthy blood pressure
One Japanese study found that out of 101 women, those who walked regularly and consumed lemon every day had lower blood pressure than those who did not. The scientists called for more research to confirm this.
3) Cancer prevention
Lemons and lemon juice are an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C.
Antioxidants may help prevent the formation of free radicals that are known to cause cancer, although the exact role played by antioxidants in cancer prevention remains unclear.
4) Maintaining a healthy complexion
Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the support system of the skin.
When eaten in its natural form or applied topically, vitamin C can help fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles, and improve overall skin texture, according to findings of a study on mice, published in 2014.
5) Preventing asthma
The risk of developing asthma appears to be 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 found that vitamin C benefitted people with asthma and bronchial hypersensitivity when they also had a common cold.
The study 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."
6) 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.
Spinach and chickpeas, for example, are good sources of iron. Squeezing a little lemon juice atop a salad with these ingredients can help maximize the intake of iron as well as vitamin C.
7) Boosting the immune system
Foods that are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants may help strengthen the immune system against the germs that cause cold and flu.
One study has indicated that, while vitamin C supplements do not appear the reduce the incidence of colds in a population, they may help reduce the duration of a cold. 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 a cough or cold.
8) Weight loss
One study, published in 2008, found that when rodents that received lemon phenols along with a high-fat diet for 12 weeks, they did not gain as much weight as rodents that did not receive the lemon-peel phenols. Lemon phenols are present in lemon peel.
However, whether this would have the same effect on humans is not clear.
Vitamin C: Is it really that important?
Vitamin C has long been seen as an antioxidant, anti-atherogenic, and anti-carcinogenic. However, some of these claims have been questioned in recent years, and the precise effect of ascorbic acid remains unclear.
More research is needed to establish the precise benefits of vitamin C.
The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) note that it might slow or reduce the risk of:
- some types of cancer
- cardiovascular disease
- age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
They also note that taking vitamin C supplements after a cold starts is unlikely to stop or cure the cold.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) national nutrient database says that one raw lemon, without peel, weighing about 58 grams (g), contains 44.5 mg of vitamin C.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for women aged 19 years and older is 75 mg of vitamin C a day, while men aged 19 years and older should consume 90 mg. Smokers need 35 mg per day more than nonsmokers.
One lemon also provides:
- 17 calories
- 0.64 g of protein
- 0.17 g of fat
- 5.41 g of carbohydrate, including 1.6 g of fiber and 1.45 g of sugar
- 15 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 0.5 mg of iron
- 7 mg of magnesium
- 13 mg of phosphorus
- 116 mg of potassium
- 2 mg of sodium
- 0.05 mg of zinc
- 9 micrograms (mcg) of folate
- 1 mg of vitamin A
In addition, lemons contain small amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, copper, and manganese.
Tips for using lemons
Lemons should be picked at their peak ripeness because, unlike many other fruits, they do not ripen or improve in quality after being picked.
They should be stored at room temperature away from direct sunlight.
Lemons pair well with both savory and 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:
Squeezing lemon onto a salad for taste may reduce the need for salt.
What about lemon water?
Lemon water has been promoted as having a wide range of benefits, from weight loss to relieving depression.
It is possible that various nutrients in lemon, if consumed in high enough quantities, may produce the various health benefits attached to lemon water.
However, the main benefit may be that consuming lemon water instead of juice reduces the intake of sugar, and that a person who drinks plenty of lemon water is less likely to be dehydrated.
Possible health risks
Lemons are high in acid, so their juice may affect people with:
Mouth ulcers: It can cause a stinging sensation
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD): It can worsen symptoms such as heartburn and regurgitation
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.