The bright yellow citrus fruit really deserves more love.
Story: Joy Stephenson-Laws
Lemons, a popular citrus fruit, are about as sour as you can get. However, they are great for adding flavor to foods and beverages. And any foods that helps reduce salt without sacrificing flavor is a good part of proactive health.
Believed to be native to Asia, lemons are a hybrid between a sour orange and a citron. Reportedly, California and Arizona produce most of the United States’ lemons.
They often are disregarded as a garnish or something you put in your iced tea. But it’s possible lemons should have a starring role in everyday meals.
Lemons may help prevent metabolic syndrome.
Lemons contain polyphenols, a category of chemicals that naturally occur in plants. These chemicals act as antioxidants, sometimes referred to as phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are of great interest because “long-term consumption of diets rich in plant polyphenols offer protection against development of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Some of the polyphenols in lemons may help prevent obesity and insulin resistance, two medical conditions create risk for metabolic syndrome (a condition that increases your possibility of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes).
One study suggests “supplementation with lemon polyphenols may prevent or improve obesity and insulin resistance by modulating lipid metabolism (break down or storage of fats for energy) and preventing metabolic syndrome as a representative…”
Lemons may help fight cancer.
Polymethoxyflavones (PMFs) are compoundsexclusively found in citrus fruits, like lemons, especially in their peels and may have great anti-cancer benefits.
“PMFs inhibit carcinogenesis by mechanisms like blocking the metastasis cascade, inhibition of cancer cell mobility in circulatory systems, proapoptosis (promoting or causing cell death), and antiangiogenesis (helps stop tumors from growing their own blood vessels),” the NIH reports.
How do you eat a lemon peel?
There are actually a lot of great ways to use the zest or lemon peel. Zest is the colorful part of the peel, not the bitter white part. Sprinkle lemon peel on rice, lentils, salads, and even in a cup of tea. Some cake recipes require lemon zest. (Hopefully, the PMFs survive the baking process.)
Lemons may help increase iron absorption.
Avoiding nutritional deficiency is important. If you are not nutritionally balanced, your body may not function at its best physically and mentally.
Take, for example, low iron levels, a pretty common nutrient deficiency, which can make you feel fatigued.
There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is rich in lean meat and seafood. This iron is used better by your body. However, non-heme iron is found in nuts, grains, vegetables, and certain fortified products. And the vitamin C in lemons can help your body better absorb iron from non-heme sources. The next time you have spinach, squeeze lemon juice over it.
Lemons may boost your immune system.
It’s cold and flu season, so we have to be proactive about protecting our immune system by getting an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals that boost it and aid white blood cell production.
One of these nutrients is vitamin C, which lemons are rich in. Squeeze lemon into your water, tea, and maybe even over a baked potato to ensure you get. Lemons also have antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Lemons may help prevent kidney stones.
Lemons are rich in citric acid, which may help prevent kidney stones.
According to UW Health, citric acid may prevent stone formation and even break up small stones just forming. It is protective—the more citric acid in your urine, the greater your protection from kidney stones.
Citrus fruits and juices, especially lemons and limes, contain the most citric acid.
Lemons may help fight the damaging effects of excessive drinking.
A study, reported by the NIH, looked at the effects of lemon juice on chronic alcohol-induced liver injury in mice.
“Treatment with lemon juice lowered the increased levels of AST (aspartate transaminase) and ALT (alanine transaminase) in serum,” according to the study.
AST is an enzyme released when your liver or muscles are damaged. ALT is another enzyme your liver releases when damaged.
According to the study, “(the) return of the activities of aminotransferases (AST or ALT) in serum to normal indicated the regeneration of hepatocytes (major cells in the liver) and the healing of hepatic parenchyma (liver tissue); therefore, lemon juice had a protective effect on alcohol-induced liver injury.”
Even though lemon can help, you should not drink excessively.
Let’s now take a look at some of the nutrients in one cup of raw lemon sections (without peel):
- Calcium, 55 mg. Recent studies confirm that high calcium intake is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer among both men and women.
- Magnesium, 17 mg. This mineral is needed by more than 300 human body enzymes to facilitate biochemical reactions to create energy for the body and activate muscle and nerve tissues by enabling potassium and calcium transfer through your cell membranes.
- Phosphorus, 34 mg. Works with calcium to build strong bones and teeth and is also needed to help balance.
- Potassium, 293 mg. This must-have mineral works with sodium to balance fluids and electrolytes in the body. It helps keep blood pressure under control and may reduce kidney stones and bone loss as you age.
- Vitamin C, 112.4 mg. You likely know about the immune-boosting benefits of vitamin C, but it also is important as you age.
- Folate, 23 mcg. Folate (also known as vitamin B9) is one of the eight B vitamins, which help the body properly use the food as fuel. It builds DNA used for cell growth.
- Vitamin A, 47 IU. An antioxidant that supports the immune system, and is good for skin, eye health, and promoting cell growth.
- Choline, 10.8 mg. Choline was recognized as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine in 1998. According to the NIH, a study indicates choline is needed into old age. Without it, 77 percent of men and 80 percent of post-menopausal women developed signs of subclinical organ dysfunction.
- Lutein + Zeaxanthin, 23 mcg. These are two carotenoids and antioxidants that concentrate in eye tissue. According to the American Optometric Association, “Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye.”
Finally, lemons are high in acid with a pH between 2 and 3. This makes it at least 10,000 times more acidic than water. However, fruits like lemons also produce alkaline byproducts when metabolized in the body. This brings out bicarbonate, which creates a net alkaline effect. This is called the Fruit Juice Paradox (Vander’s Renal Physiology 8th Edition).
There are reports that suggest the acid in lemon may damage tooth enamel. To avoid this, drink lemon water with a straw.
If you are taking medications, prescription or over-the-counter, talk to your doctor about lemons in your diet. You never know how foods can alter drug-metabolizing systems in the body.
About the writer
Joy Stephenson-Laws is founder of Proactive Health Labs and author of “Minerals—The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy.”