How can lemons benefit your health?

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Megan Ware
Lemons are a popular fruit that people use in small quantities and with herbs and spices, but they are rarely consumed alone, due to their intense, sour flavour.

They give flavour to many sauces, salad dressings, marinades, drinks, and desserts, and they are also a good source of vitamin C.

The early explorers took lemons first on their long voyages to help prevent or treat scurvy, a serious condition that results from a vitamin C deficiency.

In 1747, James Lind found that lemons and oranges were extremely effective at treating the disease, which was common among sailors.

Fast facts about lemons:

Lemons are high in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant.

Vitamin C is needed to produce collagen, it may help relieve asthma symptoms, and it may protect against cancer.

Lemon juice can be used in teas, desserts, and on salads.

Benefits

Lemons can be healthful and refreshing.

Consuming a range of fruits and vegetables appears to reduce the risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.

Lemons are a good source of vitamin C and of flavonoids, or antioxidants, which are thought to boost health and well-being in several ways.

(1) Lowering stroke risk

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), citrus fruits may help lower the risk of ischemic stroke in women.

A study of data from nearly 70 000 women over 14 years showed that those who ate the most citrus fruits had a 19 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed the least.

“Studies have shown higher fruit, vegetable, and specifically vitamin C intake is associated with reduced stroke risk. Flavonoids (present in certain fruits and vegetable) are thought to provide some of that protection through several mechanisms, including improved blood vessel function and an anti-inflammatory effect.”

(2) Maintaining a healthy blood pressure

One Japanese study found that out of 101 women, those who walked regularly and consumed lemon every day had lower blood pressure than those who did not.

(3) Cancer prevention

Lemons and lemon juice are an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C.

Antioxidants may help prevent the formation of free radicals that are known to cause cancer, although the exact role played by antioxidants in cancer prevention remains unclear.

(4) Maintaining a healthy complexion

Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the support system of the skin.

When eaten in its natural form or applied topically, vitamin C can help fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles, and improve overall skin texture, according to findings of a study on mice, published in 2014.

(5) Preventing asthma

The risk of developing asthma appears to be lower in people who consume a high amount of certain nutrients, one of these being vitamin C, although further study is necessary.

A review published in Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology found that vitamin C benefited people with asthma and bronchial hypersensitivity when they also had a common cold.

The study concluded:

“It may be reasonable for asthmatic patients to test vitamin C on an individual basis if they have exacerbations of asthma caused by respiratory infections. More research on the role of vitamin C on common cold-induced asthma is needed.”

(6) Increasing iron absorption

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in developed countries and a leading cause of anaemia.

Pairing foods that are high in vitamin C with foods that are iron-rich maximises the body’s ability to absorb iron.

Spinach and chickpeas, for example, are good sources of iron. Squeezing a little lemon juice atop a salad with these ingredients can help maximise the intake of iron as well as vitamin C.

(7) Boosting the immune system

Foods that are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants may help strengthen the immune system against the germs that cause cold and flu.

One study has indicated that, while vitamin C supplements do not appear the reduce the incidence of colds in a population, they may help reduce the duration of a cold. Vitamin C may also help boost immunity in people who are undergoing extreme physical activity. Squeezing a whole lemon into a glass of hot water with a large spoonful of honey makes a soothing drink for someone a cough or cold.

(8) Weight loss

One study, published in 2008, found that when rodents that received lemon phenols along with a high-fat diet for 12 weeks, they did not gain as much weight as rodents that did not receive the lemon-peel phenols. Lemon phenols are present in lemon peel.

However, whether this would have the same effect on humans is not clear.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has long been seen as an antioxidant, anti-atherogenic, and anti-carcinogenic. However, some of these claims have been questioned in recent years, and the precise effect of ascorbic acid remains unclear. More research is needed to establish the precise benefits of vitamin C.

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) note that it might slow or reduce the risk of:

Some types of cancer.

Cardiovascular disease.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

They also note that taking vitamin C supplements after a cold starts is unlikely to stop or cure the cold.

Nutrition

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) national nutrient database says that one raw lemon, without peel, weighing about 58 grammes (g), contains 44,5 mg of vitamin C.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for women aged 19 years and older is 75mg of Vitamin C a day, while men aged 19 years and older should consume 90mg. Smokers need 35mg per day more than non-smokers.

One lemon also provides:

17 calories;

0,64g of protein;

0,17g of fat;

5,41g of carbohydrate, including 1,6g of fiber and 1,45g of sugar;

15 milligrammes (mg) of calcium;

0,5mg of iron;

7mg of magnesium;

13mg of phosphorus;

116mg of potassium;

2mg of sodium;

0,05mg of zinc;

9 microgrammes (mcg) of folate;

1mg of vitamin A.

In addition, lemons contain small amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, copper, and manganese.

Tips

Lemons should be picked at their peak ripeness because, unlike many other fruits, they do not ripen or improve in quality after being picked.

They should be stored at room temperature away from direct sunlight.

Lemons pair well with both savoury and sweet dishes. They are often used with fish, shrimp, scallops, chicken, and in many Mediterranean dishes, as well as desserts.

Try some of these healthy and delicious recipes using lemon:

Lemon raspberry zucchini bars.

Whole grain angel hair pasta with artichokes and lemon.

Lemon raspberry almond muffins.

Squeezing lemon onto a salad for taste may reduce the need for salt.

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