When you hear the term superfruit, you likely think of blueberries, acai berries, goji berries, or some other more exotic fruit. There is, however, another more humble and unassuming fruit that you’re probably leaving off that list: the lemon. Lemons are inexpensive, easy to get at any grocery store (trying freezing them), and are so common that they often get overlooked in terms of nutrition, but they do much more than just make lemonade. Continue reading to learn the health benefits of lemons.
Benefit #1: Improved Heart Health
Lemons are a good source of vitamin C, and eating foods rich in vitamin C has been shown to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease . Research also indicates that it can reduce the risk of stroke, and one study in Japan found people with a higher amount of vitamin C in their blood was associated with a lower incidence of strokes over a twenty-year period .
Lemons also contain high amounts of polyphenolic compounds
These include hesperidin and naringin. These flavanones may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol . The cardioprotective effects of these compounds, however, have been primarily observed in animal studies, and more research is needed to better understand how citrus flavanones improve the cardiovascular health of humans. Additionally, the fiber found in citrus fruits has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, and one study found that women who consumed a fiber concentrate made from citrus fruits for four weeks experienced significantly lowered cholesterol .
Benefit #2: Better Weight Control
The polyphenolic compound naringin that can benefit your heart may also help you to keep your weight under control. Studies in mice have shown that lemon polyphenols can regulate the expression of the genes that are involved in fat metabolism and can suppress body weight and body fat gain but up-regulate some of these genes . Naringin has also been found to display strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities, which can be effective in the treatment of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome. There is still a lack of clinical evidence to explain their therapeutic use, so more research is needed .
Benefit #3: Prevent Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are quite common and can be very painful. People who are more prone to kidney stones also tend to get them repeatedly. The citric acid found in lemons may help prevent them by increasing the volume and pH of the urine, thus creating less favorable conditions in which kidney stones can form .
Benefit #4: Prevent Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency, known as iron deficiency anemia, is very common, particularly among women. While lemons do not contain significant amounts of iron, their vitamin C and citric acid content helps improve how much iron you can absorb from plant foods .
Benefit #5: May Reduce the Risk of Cancer
The research is still very minimal regarding the cancer-fighting effects of lemons, and there have been studies that have both demonstrated and denied lemons’ anti-cancer properties. There have been test tube studies that have shown that compounds found in lemons called limonoids have actually killed cancer cells, but this has not yet been shown to have the same effect in the human body . Another compound found in lemon oil called D-limonene has also been shown to have anti-cancer effects in animal studies but has not yet been proven in human subjects .
Benefit #6: Improve Digestion
Lemons contain a type of soluble fiber called pectin, which has been shown to improve gut health and slow down the digestion of starches and sugars, which can reduce blood sugar levels and help prevent constipation [11,12]. It is important to note, however, that in order to reap the benefits of the fiber in lemons you need to eat the pulp- simply drinking the juice is not enough.
The Bottom Line
There is still much research that needs to be done in order to understand exactly how lemons benefit our health, but there are a few definite facts about the citrus fruit: they are a good source of vitamin C, soluble fiber, and some plant compounds that do offer some health benefits. Lemons are not going to cure cancer, nor are they the key to significant weight loss, but they are an inexpensive way to add a boost of flavor and nutrition to your diet. If you’re buying whole lemons, be sure to store them in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge to prevent them from drying out. Add some lemon juice to a glass of water to perk you up in the morning, or grate some of the zest into your next meal to add a bright, citrusy flavor.