By Rachael Link, MS, RD
A lot of people think of lemons as nothing more than a simple garnish served alongside water at restaurants or a popular flavor for candies and desserts. But did you know that the lemon is actually loaded with vitamin C, antioxidants and health benefits? It’s true — lemon nutrition benefits range from reducing the risk of kidney stones to killing off cancer cells, whether we’re talking lemon water, lemon essential oil or just the tart fruit itself.
Plus, the potential uses for lemons extend way beyond the kitchen. Lemons can be used for just about everything from polishing furniture to adding extra shine to hair and improving skin health.
Ready to learn more about this powerful citrus fruit? Keep reading to get the full list of lemon benefits and side effects.
Lemon Nutrition Facts
Lemons are low in calories but contain a good amount of fiber and vitamin C — plus lemon nutrition has a few other micronutrients as well.
One lemon without the peel contains approximately: (1)
- 24 calories
- 7.8 grams carbohydrates
- 0.9 gram protein
- 0.3 gram fat
- 2.4 grams dietary fiber
- 44.5 milligrams vitamin C (74 percent DV)
- 116 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram iron (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (3 percent DV)
Additionally, lemons also contain a small amount of thiamin, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, magnesium and copper.
Many people also use lemons to make lemon water. If you use the juice from half of a lemon and mix with water, one glass of lemon water contains approximately: (2)
- 6 calories
- 2 grams carbohydrates
- 0.1 gram protein
- 0 gram fat
- 0.1 gram dietary fiber
- 10.8 milligrams vitamin C (18 percent DV)
Each glass of lemon water also contains a bit of potassium and folate as well.
Benefits of Lemon Nutrition
- Enhances Immunity
- Promotes Heart Health
- Helps Fight Cancer
- Prevents Kidney Stones
- Increases Iron Absorption
- Improves Skin Health
- Boosts Weight Loss
1. Enhances Immunity
Lemons are a good source of vitamin C, an important nutrient that’s been linked to increased immune health. In fact, gram for gram, there is about the same amount of vitamin C in lemon vs. orange. Not only that, but lemons are also loaded with antioxidants that can help fight inflammation and promote improved immunity.
A review in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism noted that getting enough vitamin C could help reduce the duration and severity of respiratory tract infections. Vitamin C may also help prevent malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia and could even improve the outcomes for those who are suffering from these conditions. (3)
You can also help boost your immune system by including plenty of probiotic-rich foods in your diet, minimizing your intake of junk food and ultra-processed foods and getting in regular physical activity.
2. Promotes Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s estimated that 92.1 million Americans have some form of heart disease. (5)
One of the most impressive lemon nutrition benefits is its effect on heart health. Thanks to its high vitamin C content, including a few servings of this sour fruit in your diet per week could help keep your heart healthy and strong.
For instance, one study from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston looked at the diets of 126,399 adults over a period of eight to 14 years and found that each serving of fruits and vegetables was associated with a 4 percent decreased risk of coronary heart disease. Interestingly enough, leafy green vegetables and vitamin C-rich fruits and veggies, like lemons, had the greatest impact. (6)
To really optimize heart health, include a good variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, including lemons, and pair with a healthy and active lifestyle.
3. Helps Fight Cancer
Lemons are packed with antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds, so it’s no wonder that a slew of studies have found that lemons may be effective in killing off cancer cells.
A test-tube study in Saudi Arabia, for example, showed that lemon fruit extract helped kill breast cancer cells. (8) Similarly, another test-tube study in 2015 also showed that the components in lemon juice successfully inhibited the growth of several types of cancer cells. (9)
Lemons also contain compounds like hesperidin and d-limonene, which have both been shown to have cancer-preventing properties. (10, 11) Thanks to all these powerful properties in lemon nutrition, lemons are among the top cancer-fighting foods around.
4. Prevents Kidney Stones
If you suffer from kidney stones, incorporating a serving or two of lemons into your diet may be able to help. This is because lemons contain citric acid, which can increase urine volume and aid in kidney stone prevention. (12)
One small study published in the Journal of Urology treated 11 participants with lemonade therapy for nearly four years. Researchers found that stone formation dropped significantly, from an average of one kidney stone per year down to just 0.13 per year. (13)
Another study showed that treating kidney stone patients with lemon juice increased urinary citrate levels and decreased the amount of calcium in the urine, suggesting that lemon juice may be a potential alternative treatment for relieving kidney stone symptoms. (14)
Other kidney stone natural remedies include staying well-hydrated, following a plant-based diet and incorporating plenty of magnesium-rich foods into your diet.
5. Increases Iron Absorption
Iron is an incredibly important mineral for your body. It is one of the main components of hemoglobin, which is found in the red blood cells and helps provide the body with the oxygen that it needs.
There are many groups of people at risk for iron deficiency. Vegans and vegetarians, for example, consume a type of iron that is not as well-absorbed by the body. Additionally, women of reproductive age are at a higher risk as well due to blood loss through menstruation.
The vitamin C in lemons can help enhance iron absorption to prevent conditions like iron-deficiency anemia. (15) One study even showed that taking 100 milligrams of vitamin C with a meal increased iron absorption by 67 percent. (16)
Citrus fruits, peppers, berries and broccoli are some additional vitamin C foods that you can include in your diet to boost iron absorption.
6. Improves Skin Health
Lemons may act as an anti-aging food and may be able to help keep your skin healthy and glowing thanks to their antioxidant content. Antioxidants help fight off free radicals and prevent oxidative damage, which accounts for the many benefits of lemon water for skin.
The buildup of free radicals contributes to the aging process, resulting in changes like wrinkles, age spots, dryness and decreased elasticity. Researchers believe that antioxidants could be an effective way to slow aging and improve skin health. (17)
One study in Turkey found that patients with acne have increased levels of oxidative stress and suggested that using antioxidants could be beneficial in combination with traditional treatment. (18)
For best results, try applying a bit of lemon juice to your skin or mixing with your favorite skin care products. Besides lemons, other ingredients that should be staples in your natural skin care routine include tea tree oil, coconut oil and avocado.
7. Boosts Weight Loss
Swapping your soda or juice for a glass of cold lemon water benefits weight loss by helping you cut calories without sacrificing flavor.
To compare, one cup of orange juice contains 112 calories and nearly 26 grams of carbs. On the other hand, there are just six calories in lemon water without sugar. Plus, while there are a good amount of carbs in lemon juice, diluting it with water significantly slashes the carbs in lemon water, dropping it down to just two grams per serving.
Theoretically, if you traded one cup of juice or soda for one cup of lemon water every day for a year, you would be saving nearly 39,000 calories. That means that you could lose up to 11 pounds, even without making any other changes in your diet.
While lemon benefits weight loss, it should be combined with a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle to really get the results that you want in terms of weight loss.
Lemons vs. Limes
Lemons and limes are used interchangeably in many instances, and when it comes to taste, it’s easy to get these two citrus fruits mixed up. Both have a sour and tart flavor that adds the perfect amount of zing to drinks and recipes.
However, there are quite a few differences between the two fruits, starting with their appearance. Limes are bright green while lemons are vibrant yellow. Additionally, limes are typically slightly smaller than lemons. Limes tend to be less sour and have a smoother taste as well. Both are used similarly, though, and can often be swapped in many recipes.
When it comes to nutrition, the benefits of lime are not quite as impressive as those of lemons. Lime nutrition contains just over half of the amount of vitamin C and contains slightly more carbs and less protein per gram. The lemon nutrition profile is also a bit more extensive, boasting a higher amount of many nutrients, such as folate and vitamin B6.
Where to Find and How to Use Lemons
Lemons are grown in areas with warmer climates and can be picked once they are firm, yellow or yellow-green and two to three inches in size.
You can also find lemons at most grocery stores in the produce aisle. Look for lemons that are bright, heavy and free of wrinkles on the skin.
Once you’ve stocked up on this tasty citrus fruit, there are a wide range of potential lemon uses for you to enjoy. Add lemons to drinks or water to amp up the flavor, use them in desserts or baked goods, or even kick up your next main course with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Pair with some health-promoting herbs like thyme, rosemary or lemon balm for even more flavor and health benefits.
Lemon can be used outside of the kitchen as well. It can be added to laundry to whiten and brighten clothing, used as a natural household cleaner and polish, or even applied to the hair to add extra shine. You can also try adding a few drops of lemon essential oil to your laundry or diffuser for a fresh scent.
Ready to take advantage of the long list of lemon nutrition benefits? Here are a few healthy recipes that you give a try from the comfort of your own kitchen:
- Secret Detox Drink
- Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken
- Lemon Pepper Green Beans
- Crispy Lemon Parmesan Zucchini Chips
- Lemon Protein Bars
Although it’s unclear where lemons actually originated from, it’s believed that they are native to India, China or Burma. They had entered Ancient Rome by the second century A.D. but were still not widely used or cultivated in Europe until later. In fact, it wasn’t until around 1000 A.D. that lemons actually began to spread to the Mediterranean region.
In the 18th century, scurvy had become a major cause of death for British sailors. Scurvy, a condition caused by vitamin C deficiency, can lead to symptoms like bruising, bleeding gums and fatigue. (19)
Scientist James Lind is credited with conducting experiments on board a naval ship in 1747 and demonstrating that lemon nutrition could help ward off scurvy. (20)
Today, lemons are widely used around the world to add a zip of flavor to recipes and are loved for their delicious fragrance and aroma. Although they can be found in most corners of the globe, India, Mexico and China are leaders in lemon production. (21)
For most people, lemons can be consumed and enjoyed with minimal risk of side effects. However, some people may want to consider limiting their intake.
Citrus fruit allergies are uncommon but have been reported and can cause food allergy symptoms like hives, swelling, asthma and flushed skin. If you experience any negative symptoms after eating lemons, be sure to discontinue use immediately and talk to your doctor.
Plus, although the lemon nutrition profile is pretty impressive, it is definitely possible to overdo it. Because of the citric acid found in lemons, eating too many can cause the enamel on your teeth to erode, resulting in increased sensitivity.
Finally, applying lemon directly to your skin can increase sensitivity to UV rays, so be sure to wear sunscreen or keep sun exposure in moderation to avoid a sunburn.
Final Thoughts on Lemon Nutrition
- Lemons are low in calories but packed with vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber.
- They have been associated with a number of health benefits, and studies show that they may improve immunity, enhance heart and skin health, reduce the risk of kidney stones, help fight off cancer, boost iron absorption, and aid in weight loss.
- These citrus fruits can be used in a variety of recipes and have many household uses as well.
- Enjoy lemons in moderation as part of a healthy diet to take advantage of the unique lemon nutrition benefits.
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