Lemons are about as sour as a food can get — and they’re great for adding flavor to foods and beverages. Many people squeeze the juice of this citrus fruit onto certain foods to add flavor and to reduce their salt intake.
But this story gets a lot more interesting. In addition to being a commonly used flavoring agent, lemons contain many nutrients that are good for us and good for our bodies.
Check out the nutrients lemons contain to know exactly why this food is so beneficial to our health.
Calcium. Sure, this mineral is critical for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth, but it may also decrease the risk of colorectal cancer. Recent studies confirm that high calcium intake is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer among both men and women. Check with your doctor before making any substantial changes to your diet.
Magnesium. This is a very important mineral that the body needs to function efficiently. If magnesium levels in the body are too low, you may experience fatigue, cramps, depression and more.
Phosphorus. This mineral works with calcium to help build strong bones and teeth. It is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, and zinc.
Potassium. Potassium helps keep your blood pressure under control and may even help reduce kidney stones and bone loss as you age.
Vitamin C. You likely know about the immune-boosting benefits of vitamin C, but don’t forget how important this vitamin is in helping us age gracefully. You also need vitamin C in order to help the body better absorb iron, a critical nutrient that gives us the energy to perform physical activity and stay fit. The next time you have some spinach, squeeze some lemon juice over it!
Folate. Also known as vitamin B-9, folate is one of the eight B vitamins our bodies use to properly use the food we eat as fuel. They are involved in building DNA, which the body uses for cell growth.
Vitamin A. This vitamin is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is good for skin and eye health. Vitamin A also promotes cell growth.
There is also evidence lemons may help prevent metabolic syndrome.
Lemons contain polyphenols, a category of chemicals that naturally occur in plants. These chemicals act as antioxidants and are sometimes referred to as phytochemicals.
Some polyphenols in lemons may help prevent obesity and insulin resistance, two medical conditions that fall into the group of risk factors for metabolic syndrome (a condition that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes).
One study suggests “that a supplementation with lemon polyphenols may prevent or improve obesity and insulin resistance … caused by an excessively high fat diet. “
Even the peel of the lemon has health benefits. Polymethoxyflavones (PMFs) are compounds exclusively found in citrus fruits, like lemons, especially in their peels. PMFs are believed to have great anticancer benefits.
I’ll sometimes sprinkle lemon peel on rice, lentils, salads and even into a cup of tea. Some cake recipes I use even require lemon peel.
And yes — you’re probably wondering how on earth you’d actually eat a lemon peel! There are many smart ways to work this into your food. You can zest a lemon and use the peel that way (the zest is the colorful part of the peel, not the bitter white part). I’ll sometimes sprinkle lemon peel on rice, lentils, salads and even into a cup of tea. Some cake recipes I use even require lemon peel.
And you can also make your own lemon and herb olive oil. It’s super-easy and a great way to use the peel.
All you need is:
- Zest of two lemons
- Generous bunch of fresh thyme
- Teaspoon of chili flakes
- Teaspoon of granulated garlic
- Several whole black peppercorns
Place these ingredients in a mason jar. Add about a cup (fill the jar) of olive oil — and you’ve got it.
Finally, it is important to know that lemons are very high in acid. Some reports suggest the acid in lemon may damage tooth enamel. So you may want to drink your lemon water with a straw.
And if you’re taking any medications at all, either prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs, talk to your doctor about including lemon in your diet. It’s always important to understand how foods might alter drugs in the body.
Joy Stephenson-Laws, based in Los Angeles, is founder of Proactive Health Labs (pH), a nonprofit health care company.