With their refreshing flavor, lemons are a perfect summer fruit. Improved immune function, younger looking skin and better digestion are just a few of the benefits of eating lemons or drinking their juice. Low in calories, these fruits fill you up quickly and quench your thirst instantly. But too much of anything can be a bad thing — and lemons are no exception.
Eating too many lemons can damage your teeth over time and cause heartburn. Additionally, these fruits are high in vitamin C, which has diuretic effects.
Lemon-only diets may lead to nutrient deficiencies and affect your health in the long run. Enjoy these fruits as part of a balanced diet to reap their benefits and meet your nutritional needs.
Lemon Nutritional Value
Did you know that a single serving of lemon provides more than one-third of the daily recommended vitamin C intake? This fruit is also rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium and other minerals that support health and wellbeing. Plus, it's low in carbs and rich in fiber, so it fits into most diets. One serving, or one small lemon, delivers the following nutrients:
- 17 calories
- 5.4 grams of carbs
- 1.6 grams of fiber
- 0.6 grams of protein
- 0.1 grams of fat
- 2 percent of the DV (daily value) of iron
- 2 percent of the DV of potassium
- 1 percent of the DV of calcium
- 1 percent of the DV of magnesium
- 34 percent of the DV for vitamin C
- 1 percent of the DV of vitamin E
- 3 percent of the DV of vitamin B6
Like most citrus fruits, lemons are chock-full of antioxidants and bioactive compounds. According to a July 2017 review published in the journal Molecules, the flavonoids in citrus fruits may protect against cancer and oxidative damage. These antioxidants display strong anti-inflammatory properties and may help in the treatment of diabetes and obesity.
What's all the hype about lemon water, though? This beverage is promoted as a cure-all. Its proponents say that it slows aging, improves digestion, boosts immune function and accelerates weight loss.
Are There Any Health Risks?
The benefits of eating lemons are well-documented. These fruits are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants that fight free radicals and keep your immune system strong. However, this doesn't mean they're a cure-all.
Let's take the lemon juice diet or the Master Cleanse diet, for example. These detox plans claim to promote weight loss and remove toxins from your system. However, there are no actual studies to back up these statements.
Lemons don't have any magical powers that can help you torch fat. Plus, your body has its own detox mechanisms, as the Association of UK Dieticians points out. Your liver, kidneys, gut and other organs work together to filter out and eliminate toxins. Detox diets simply don't make sense from a nutritional perspective.
The lemon juice diet and other similar plans may help you lose weight by limiting your calorie intake. You need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories to burn one pound of fat. If you eat only lemons or replace food with lemon juice, you'll naturally get leaner. The problem is that you'll lose lean mass — not just fat mass, which in turn, will slow down your metabolism.
As the Harvard Health Publishing notes, more muscle mass equals a faster metabolism. A high protein intake combined with strength training promotes hypertrophy aka muscle growth, increasing your energy expenditure.
Fruits, including lemons, have little or no protein, so a fruit-based diet can deplete your body of this nutrient and cause muscle loss. In fact, nutrient deficiencies are a common side effect of detox diets.
More Isn't Always Better
But what happens if you drink too much lemon juice or eat too many lemons as part of an otherwise balanced diet? According to the American Dental Association (ADA), citrus fruits and juices can damage tooth enamel and cause decay in the long run. Additionally, they may irritate and worsen mouth sores. ADA recommends drinking plenty of water whenever you eat acidic foods or drink citrus juices.
Citrus foods can also trigger heartburn, or acid reflux, in some individuals, according to the Mayo Clinic. Spicy foods, fried products, chocolate, alcoholic beverages, coffee and chocolate contribute to this condition, too.
The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders recommends that people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) avoid citrus fruits and juices. Non-citrus fruits, such as apples, pears, bananas, berries, apricots and grapes, are a safer choice for GERD sufferers.
Lemon water side effects may also include frequent urination. This is usually due to increased fluid intake. Additionally, vitamin C — the most abundant nutrient in lemons — may act as a diuretic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you're struggling with water retention.
Potential Benefits of Eating Lemons
As you see, lemons are unlikely to cause adverse reactions. Just make sure you take proper care of your teeth, especially if you consume these fruits on a regular basis.
A diet rich in lemons may improve your health by increasing antioxidant and vitamin C levels in the bloodstream. Vitamin C supports collagen synthesis and inhibits the formation of potentially mutagenic compounds.
This nutrient also helps your body absorb non-heme iron, which occurs naturally in plant-based foods like beans and lentils. Low levels of vitamin C may cause scurvy, a condition characterized by skeletal and vascular lesions, sore arms and legs, fatigue, lethargy, gum disease, mood swings and slow wound healing.
Regular consumption of citrus fruits, including lemons, can help prevent vitamin C deficiency. Your body needs this nutrient to fight infections and oxidative stress, synthesize collagen and regulate certain neurotransmitters. The National Institutes of Health recommends a daily vitamin C intake of 90 milligrams for men and 75 milligrams for women. Aim for about 85 milligrams during pregnancy and 120 milligrams while breastfeeding.
The benefits of eating lemons don't end here. Potassium, magnesium, calcium and other electrolytes in these fruits regulate your body's pH and fluid levels, contribute to nutrient transport and support organ function. After all, there's a reason why athletes sip on electrolyte drinks before, during and after training.
These beverages help prevent dehydration and maintain your electrolyte balance, but you can drink lemon water or lemon juice instead. This way, you'll reap the benefits without having to worry about extra sugar and empty calories.
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Lemons"
- USDA: "Raw Lemons"
- USDA: "Lemon Juice"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Lemon Juice Raw"
- MDPI: "Antioxidant Capacity, Anticancer Ability and Flavonoids Composition of 35 Citrus (Citrus Reticulata Blanco) Varieties"
- Oxford Academic: "Effect of Citrus Flavonoids, Naringin and Naringenin, on Metabolic Syndrome and Their Mechanisms of Action"
- Association of UK Dieticians: "Detox Diets"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Simple Math Equals Easy Weight Loss"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Truth About Metabolism"
- Mouth Healthy: "Top 9 Foods That Damage Your Teeth"
- Mayo Clinic: "Heartburn"
- About GERD: "Diet Changes for GERD"
- Hopkins Medicine: "Big Doses of Vitamin C May Lower Blood Pressure"
- FAO.org: "Vitamin C"
- Dietitians of Canada: "Food Sources of Iron"
- NCBI: "Vitamin C in Health and Disease: Its Role in the Metabolism of Cells and Redox State in the Brain"
- NIH: "Vitamin C"
- MedlinePlus: "Fluid and Electrolyte Balance"