We swear, summer's almost here! But until then, let this sunshine-packed fruit brighten up recipes. It's packed with vitamin C (no, not that Vitamin C), and was a favorite of Chinese Emperors. Who are we to argue with royalty?
Lemon Aid — The Need-to-Know
Lemons are packed with flavor, but (thankfully) not calories — the juice of an entire lemon has only 12 calories but a whopping third of the daily recommended value of vitamin C. But it's more than just a diet-friendly flavor-booster. In these post-scurvy days (yup, citrus fruits were the cure for scurvy back in the old days), lemons' vitamin C is still essential: It plays a role in building collagen in the body — that is, one of the key materials in blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Plus that vitamin C could reduce chances of catching a cold (though the jury's still out on just how much impact C has on immunity).
And lemons have another major plus: They're an antioxidant powerhouse (in addition to all the vitamin C) Suppressive effects of citrus fruits on free radical generation and nobiletin, an anti-inflammatory polymethoxyflavonoid. Murakami, A., Nakamura, Y., Ohto, Y., et al. Department of Biotechnological Science, Faculty of Biology-Oriented Science and Technology, Kinki University, Iwade-Uchita, Wakayama, Japan. BioFactors, 2000;12(1-4):187-92.. Those antioxidants, known as flavonoids, could help lemons decrease heart disease risk, reduce inflammation, and fight some cancers (including pancreatic and stomach) Update on uses and properties of citrus flavonoids: new findings in anticancer, cardiovascular, and anti-inflammatory activity. Benavente-García, O., Castillo, J. Research and Development Department of Nutrafur-Furfural Español S.A., Camino Viejo de Pliego, Alcantarilla, Murcia, Spain. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2008 Aug 13;56(15):6185-205. Citrus fruit intake and stomach cancer risk: a quantitative systematic review. Bae, J.M., Lee, E.J., Guyatt, G. Department of Preventive Medicine, Cheju National University College of Medicine, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea. Gastric Cancer, 2008;11(1):23-32. Citrus fruit intake and pancreatic cancer risk: a quantitative systematic review. Bae, J.M., Lee, E.J., Guyatt, G. Department of Preventive Medicine, Cheju National University College of Medicine, Jejudo, Korea. Pancreas, 2009 Mar;38(2):168-74.. Flavonoids (also found in other citrus fruits) are so powerful because they help find and eliminate free radicals, potentially harmful particles that can damage the body's cells and DNA. Suppressive effects of citrus fruits on free radical generation and nobiletin, an anti-inflammatory polymethoxyflavonoid. Murakami, A., Nakamura, Y., Ohto, Y., et al. Department of Biotechnological Science, Faculty of Biology-Oriented Science and Technology, Kinki University, Iwade-Uchita, Wakayama, Japan. BioFactors, 2000;12(1-4):187-92.. More recent studies have even shown that lemons could play a role in protecting the brain and preventing strokes (at least in women) Neuroprotective effects of citrus flavonoids. Hwang, S.L., Shih, P.H., Yen, G.C. Food Industry Research and Development Institute , P.O. Box 246, Hsinchu 30012, Taiwan. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2012 Feb 1;60(4):877-85..
When Life Gives You Lemons… — Your Action Plan
When looking for the most efficient vitamin C and antioxidant fix, opt for the whole fruit rather than supplements Which Sources of Flavonoids: Complex Diets or Dietary Supplements? Egert, S., Rimbach, G. Department of Nutrition and Food Science, Nutritional Physiology, University of Bonn, 53115 Bonn, Germany. Advances in Nutrition, 2011 January; 2(1): 8–14.. To get even more nutrition out of these sour sweeties, pair with foods high in iron (like leafy greens or red meat) as the vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. On a liquid diet? Try adding a little lemon to water for a soda substitute, or sub it in for the added sugar in a Tom Collins. Lemon is also the perfect complement to fish, grains, and veggies, or even baked in chicken dishes. The juice, zest, or flesh of fresh lemons can all be used for flavor, but the peel packs the most vitamin C.
When hitting the grocery aisles, stick to fresh lemons, as pre-squeezed juice loses its vitamin C very quickly. If fresh isn't an option, though, opt for juice in metal or glass containers over plastic for maintaining the vitamin content Kinetics of ascorbic acid degradation in un-pasteurized Iranian lemon juice during regular storage conditions. Abbasi, A., Niakousari, M. Department of Food Science and Technology, College of Agriculture, Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran. Pakistan Journal of Biological Science, 2008 May 15;11(10):1365-9. Vitamin C and the role of citrus juices as functional food. Martí N, Mena P, Cánovas JA, Micol V, Saura D. Unidad Mixta JBT Corp.-IBMC, Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular, Universidad Miguel Hernández, Orihuela, Alicante, Spain. Natural Product Communications, 2009 May;4(5):677-700.. Also keep in mind lemon juice alone is not a healthy diet, so skip the juice cleanse and add lemon to an already healthy diet for flavor.