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Bitesize Nutrition: The Health Benefits Of Lemon

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

An Examination into the Citrus Fruit, By Farihah Choudhury


Food as medicine

In the age of Berocca and paracetamol, the monumental advancement of pharmaceutical drugs in the 21st century has revolutionised the way we view and handle ill health. 

Although Nobel Prize winning pills and potions have vastly improved healthcare in many ways and improved human longevity and vitality, the downside of our solutions being boiled down to a miraculous white pill is that we have become detached with the power of nature to cure ailments. Instead of looking at the cause of colds or headaches we are inclined to just take an ibuprofen and get on with our day to day lives. However, addressing the issue with every day, natural remedies may provide long term preventative solutions to aches and pains, and bring us back to the healing capacities of the world around us. One of these such naturally sourced solutions is lemon, a staple citrus fruit with multiple health-promoting uses.


Loveable lemon

The lemon (Citrus limon) is the fruit borne of a small evergreen tree, from the flowering plant family Rutaceae. It was first cultivated when the bitter orange was crossed with citron fruit, and is thought to be native to the Assam region of Northern India.

In 1795, the Navy were convinced to regularly give their sailors lemon juice to treat scurvy, though it was not known at this time to be caused by Vitamin C deficiency. Deficiency in the U.K. is rare, though severe deficiency of Vitamin C, afflicted sailors on long distance sea travel, and killed many, inititally causing gum disease, weak muscles and joints, and fatigue. We now recognise the lemon fruit as a household staple, but are we aware of all of its amazing properties? Citrus fruit is characteristically high in Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid), which is important for the functioning of your immune system, protecting cells from oxidative stress, formation of collagen for normal blood vessels, skin, muscles and bones which helps wound healing; as well as aiding iron absorption. Lemon also contains potentially beneficial phytochemicals such as tannins, polyphenols and terpenes.


Savvy citrus 

Lemons are a go-to when experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms, as the Vitamin C is an immune system booster. As well as Vitamin C, the phytochemicals in lemon are thought to work together to have an antioxidant effect, which prevents cell damage in the body. The main sugar in lemon, pectin, is slowly absorbed by the body and helps maintain low blood sugar levels. Lemons also contain trace amounts of many vitamins and minerals including Vitamin B3, folate, and choline, the most significant of which are Vitamin B6 and iron, both are important for haemoglobin formation to allow red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body, and a healthy metabolism. Vitamin B6 is also important for the use and storage of energy.


Five ways to incorporate lemon into your diet

Freshly squeezed in tea or lemonade

Used as a dressing on top of leafy green vegetables to aid iron absorption (e.g. from spinach)

Half a lemon squeezed into soups, stews and curries for a hidden kick

Zest grated onto desserts

Lemon water – soak thinly-sliced lemon in water and allow it to diffuse


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Sources:

Miles, E. (2017) Requirements & Recommendations, Nutrition in Health & Disease Pt.1

NHS (2018) Scurvy, Health A-Z [https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Scurvy/]

Hemila, Harri (2012)"A Brief History of Vitamin C and its Deficiency, Scurvy"

Hai Liu, R. (2003) Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 78, Issue 3

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