When Life Gives You Lemons, Smile!Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Here is one instance where life gives you lemons, and it’s actually a good thing. You don’t even have to make lemonade.
Lemons, a popular citrus fruit, are about as sour as you can get. But although they are not sweet, they are great for adding flavor to foods and beverages. And any foods that may help us reduce salt without sacrificing flavor are great agents that can help us be proactive about our health.
These citrus fruits are believed to be native to Asia. They are a hybrid between a sour orange and a citron. Reportedly, California and Arizona produce most of the U.S.’s lemons.
Lemons are often disregarded as a garnish or something you simply throw in your iced tea from time to time. But after looking at the health benefits of these sour fruits, I realized lemons may need to be a starring food 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 and are sometimes referred to as phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals are of great interest in the healthcare field, 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 that fall into the group of risk factors for having metabolic syndrome (a condition that increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes).
One study suggests “that a 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, lifestyle-related cluster of diseases caused by an excessively high fat diet. “
- Lemons may help fight cancer.
Polymethoxyflavones (PMFs) are compounds exclusively found in citrus fruits, like lemons, especially in their peels. PMFs are believed to have great anticancer 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]”reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
And yes, I know what you’re thinking: “How am I going to eat a lemon peel?!”
There are actually a lot of great ways to use the lemon peel. You can zest a lemon and use the peel. I zest (the zest is the colorful part of the peel - not the bitter white part) and sprinkle lemon peel on rice, lentils, salads and even in a cup of tea. Some cake recipes I use even require lemon peel. (Hopefully, the PMFs survive the baking process).
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 (click here to check out health benefits of this herb)
- 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.
- 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 both physically and mentally.
Take, for example, low iron levels (a pretty common nutrient deficiency). If you have low iron levels, you may find that you feel very sluggish and tired. This may be due to iron-deficiency anemia.
There are two types of iron -- heme and non-heme. Heme iron is rich in lean meat and seafood. This type of iron is more bioavailable, meaning your body can use it better. However, non-heme iron is less bioavailable and is found in nuts, grains, vegetables and certain fortified products. And the vitamin C in lemons may help your body better absorb iron from non-heme sources.
So the next time you have some spinach, squeeze some lemon juice over it!
- Lemons may boost your immune system.
It’s cold and flu season, so we now especially have to be proactive about protecting our immune system. And one of the ways we can do this is by getting an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals that help boost our immune system and aid with white blood cell production.
One of these nutrients is vitamin C. And as mentioned, lemons are rich in this nutrient.
Squeeze lemon into your water, tea and maybe even over a baked potato to help ensure you get enough of this flu and cold preventing nutrient. And 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.
“It [citric acid] inhibits stone formation and breaks up small stones that are beginning to form. Citric acid is protective; the more citric acid in your urine, the more protected you are against forming new kidney stones,” reports UW Health.
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 National Institutes of Health (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 that is released when your liver or muscles are damaged. ALT is another enzyme your liver releases when damaged.
According to the study, “[t]he return of the activities of aminotransferases (AST or ALT) in serum to normal indicates 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 may help combat liver damage, 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. You probably know calcium is critical for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. What you may not know is this mineral may decrease your risk for colorectal cancer. 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. It helps create energy for the body and activates muscle and nerve tissues by enabling potassium and calcium transfer through your cell membranes. If magnesium levels in the body are too low, whole body systems don’t work properly, resulting in fatigue and cramps.
- Phosphorus, 34 mg. 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, 293 mg. This must-have mineral works with sodium to balance the fluids and electrolytes in the body. Potassium helps keep blood pressure under control and may even help 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 what about this nutrient’s importance regarding aging? Click here to find out.
- Folate, 23 mcg. Folate (also known as vitamin B9) is one of the eight B vitamins. B vitamins help our bodies properly use the food we eat as fuel. They are involved in building DNA that the body uses for cell growth. For more information on folate, read here.
- Vitamin A, 47 IU. This vitamin is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is good for skin and eye health. Vitamin A also promotes cell growth.
- Choline, 10.8 mg. Choline is a nutrient that was recognized as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1998. “The importance of choline in the diet extends into adulthood and old age. In a study of healthy adult subjects deprived of dietary choline, 77% of the men and 80% of the postmenopausal women developed signs of subclinical organ dysfunction (fatty liver or muscle damage)," reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Lutein + Zeaxanthin, 23 mcg. These are two carotenoids and antioxidants that concentrate in eye tissue. According to the American Optometric Association, “[l]utein and zeaxanthin filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light and help protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye.”
Finally, know that 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 they are metabolized in the body. Metabolization brings out bicarbonate which creates a net alkaline effect. This is called the Fruit Juice Paradox (Vander’s Renal Physiology 8th Edition). This is why lemons are often considered to be alkaline even though they have an acidic pH before they are digested.
There are some reports that suggest the acid in lemon may damage your tooth enamel. So you may want to drink your lemon water with a straw.
If you are taking any medications, prescription or over-the-counter, talk to your doctor about including lemon in your diet. You never know how foods can alter drug-metabolizing systems in the body, and you always want to avoid drug interactions so that you will be healthy and your medication will work as effectively as possible.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.