The vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in fruits make them an essential part of a healthy diet. Lemons, in particular, are rich in vitamin C, which means they’re a great source of antioxidants. Research suggests that antioxidants can decrease the damaging effects of free radicals, which may help prevent certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses.
A single lemon contains 51 percent of your daily vitamin C needs — and 1 ounce (oz) of lemon juice contains 23 percent. Consuming lemons and their juice can help boost your immune system, reduce your risk of asthma and eye diseases, like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, and benefit your skin.
If you’re a woman, the vitamin C found in lemons and other citrus fruit may help reduce your risk of ischemic stroke, according to researchers at the American Heart Association.
It’s not just the vitamin C that makes lemons so good for you. They’re also high in soluble fiber and have a low glycemic index, which has inspired the American Diabetes Association to promote lemons and other citrus fruits as superfoods for people who have type 2 diabetes.
Tips for Reaping the Health Benefits of Lemons
Lemon juice, pulp, or zest can add a little zing to everything from sauces and dressings to meals, desserts, and drinks.
1. Whip up a simple dressing. Mix lemon juice with olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, sea salt, and fresh chives. Pour it on green or grain salads, or use it as a dipping sauce for crudités.
2. Embrace a classic combo. Fish with lemon is a classic pairing, though we suggest passing on the fatty fried fish and chips and going for something healthier, like this Lemon Herb Tilapia With Zucchini instead. In this recipe you marinate the fish in lemon juice, garlic, and herbs. You could also use this marinade with other seafood, poultry, pork, and even beef.
3. Use lemons in your side dishes. This Lemon Lovers’ Asparagus dish features two whole lemons, which are thinly sliced and then roasted alongside spears of asparagus and seasoned with fresh oregano, salt, and ground black pepper. You could also roast lemon slices with other vegetables, like potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, or fennel. Another alternative is to spritz it onto fresh greens or grilled veggies.
4. Create lemony pasta. A quick one-pot meal can be made by tossing cooked pasta with olive oil, lemon juice, a little lemon zest, sea salt, black pepper, and Parmesan cheese. Consider adding spinach, kale, or parsley for an additional nutrient boost.
5. Add lemon juice to keep rice from sticking. A few drops of lemon juice in the cooking water of your rice can help keep the rice from getting sticky and clumpy. It’ll also brighten white rice. But why stop there? Lemon rice is delicious. Once your rice is cooked, toss with more juice, some lemon zest, and fresh herbs.
6. Make a refreshing dessert. With a little water and sugar, your lemons can be transformed into a mouth-watering sorbet. With The Kitchn’s lemon sorbet recipe, you don’t even need an ice cream maker. Shake things up by adding fresh rosemary, mint, or thyme. You can also use lemon (pulp, juice, and zest) to flavor fruit salads — the acid in the juice will also help keep apples, pears, and bananas from browning.
7. Give your drinks a lemon infusion. Try herb- and fruit-infused, fresh-squeezed lemonades. Add lemon slices or lemon juice to tea. Squeeze lemon juice into still or sparkling water — or ice cubes — to enhance flavor. Lemon juice is also a key ingredient in many cocktails; its acidity helps balance out the sweetness. We recommend skipping sugary cocktails in general, but adding 1 oz of lemon juice to a glass of sparkling wine can make an invigorating low-calorie libation. If you’re under the weather, mixing lemon juice with hot water and a little honey can help loosen congestion and prevent dehydration.
8. Try preserved lemons. If you aren’t familiar with them, preserved lemons are typically cured in salt, which basically transforms them into lemon “pickles.” They’re commonly used in Middle Eastern, North African, and Indian cuisines to make couscous dishes, stews, tagines, curries, and sauces. They can also liven up chicken dishes, bean salads, and hummus, and they make a great condiment.
Lemons and Your Skin
Lemons are often touted as a popular home remedy for acne, oily skin, and dandruff, as well as for skin-lightening and anti-aging effects. While consuming lemons and their juice can benefit your skin by contributing to healthy collagen, a key protein for skin and cartilage, dermatology experts like Jessica Wu, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, warn against using the fruit — or the juice — topically. In her book, Feed Your Face, Dr. Wu explains that lemon juice can cause rashes on your skin and scalp, and if it gets on your skin and then interacts with UVA rays from the sun, the coumarin compounds in lemons are likely to cause redness, swelling, and blistering. So stick with eating lemons and drinking their juice.