Lemons are so versatile, and not to mention so delicious. They contain high amounts of the water-soluble vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that helps boost our immune system and reduces or neutralizes the formation of free radicals.
A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for proper physiological function. Free radicals (or ROS) are molecules that need an unpaired electron, thus, they take an electron from a healthy cell to become stable, which in turn makes the healthy cell become an unstable free radical. So a sort of constant chain reaction of free radicals being formed and healthy cells being destroyed. And environmental stress – which, can be everything from fried food, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides, air pollutants, and even water – is something that can cause those free radicals to dramatically increase . If they stay like that – dramatically increased – it can lead to damage in our healthy cells causing something called oxidative stress . This state of (constant) oxidative stress can cause harm to our hormones and blood vessels and even alter lipids, proteins, and DNA. Ultimately, they can trigger a number of things like inflammation, pain, degenerative diseases, heart disease, early signs of aging and even cancer .
Do I have to worry about free radicals? Free radicals are a natural byproduct of the normal metabolism of oxygen, a part of nature and our goal is to prevent and prepare our bodies to fight off the free radicals as well as humanly possible. And it is worth to mention that people actually react differently to exposure of each substance; we are all vulnerable to these substances but some of them affect us more or worse than others . So, no, it shouldn’t be a subject of worry but instead a food for thought to consciously try to decrease stress levels in your life and eat food and spices that contain a lot of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds like in e.g. curcumin (from turmeric), bromelain (from pineapple), flavanoids (found in e.g. green tea, berries and even dark chocolate). You can also find more antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in other food components like in various spices and herbs, in most vegetables and fruits; including of course lemons [5, 6]!
So back to the versatile lemon. It can be used for both sweet and savory dishes, in aromatherapy and even as a household cleanser – rubbing freshly cut lemon on your wooden cutting board helps get rid of stains and freshen the scent (which often gets stuck from cutting e.g. onions, fish and garlic), with the help from limonene. When you pick a lemon, they should be bright yellow in color, firm to the touch, and heavier than you might expect considering their size.
Lemons, like mentioned briefly in the beginning, mainly contain high amounts of the water-soluble vitamin C. It is an essential nutrient and along with boosting our immune system, it also involved in many other processes in the body like for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of our bodies, protein metabolism and biosynthesis of collagen [7, 8]. The body is not able to produce vitamin C on its own and does not store it either, so it is important to include plenty of vitamin C containing foods in our daily diet. Luckily, if we eat enough fruits and vegetables each day, we should be getting enough vitamin C.
Additionally, lemons also contain other nutrients, although most of them are in rather small amounts:
Dietary fiber (mainly from the pulp)
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Recommended for help with – boosting immunity | colds and illnesses | strong bones | digestive health | easing constipation | reducing risk of cardiovascular disease | blood health | enhanced brain function
The juice from the lemon is the most often used part, for both its culinary and even cleansing purposes – but the zest can be and is often used too. The lemon adds this beautiful rounded sour taste to both savory dishes as well as desserts and cakes. The lemon juice contains citric acid, which helps cut down fat, carbohydrates and protein and the acidity then cuts through greasiness and heaviness in dishes and gives the food more fresh taste. The lemon, like salt, is thus a crucial flavor-enhancer and a little squeeze of lemon juice is therefore great for bringing out flavor in just about any food. On our tongue, salt and lemons (sour) namely work similarly, they both depend solely on detection of ions – sodium for salt, hydrogen for sour – whereas tasting of sweet, bitter and umami depend on more complex receptors. So lemon juice and the lemon zest are popularly used in many seafood and pasta dishes as well as in baking and as a garnish, since they play nicely with bitterness, sweetness, and umami and help them reach their full potential.
Lemons do also contain a lot of phytochemicals, including polyphenols, terpenes, and tannins. The most known, and debated, phytochemical in lemons is limonoid, or to be more precise, limonin, which has been shown to slow the rate of cancer growth, have antiseptic qualities to help kill bacteria (hence, for sore throat), as well as antifungal and antiviral properties [9, 10]. Some studies indicate that it might lower blood cholesterol, although further research is needed on that particular topic .
If you want to try to make a cake with lemon today, here is a great raw lemon and turmeric cake recipe for you! And few lemon-tips as well:
Tip 1: The lemon juice is also often used as a short-term preservative on certain foods that tend to oxidize and turn brown after being sliced (from a process called enzymatic browning), such as apples, bananas, and avocados, where its acid denatures the enzymes. Thus, squeezing lemon (or lime) juice onto peeled fruit, such as banana and apples or vegetables like avocado stops them from turning brown.
Tip 2: To get the most juice out of the lemon, roll it first back and forth for 10 seconds on a flat surface before you cut it in half.
Tip 3: If you do go overboard with the lemon juice and your food tastes too sour, a tiny bit of sugar/sweetener (just a pinch at a time!) should save the day, whether it is for baked goods or savory dishes.
- Schulte, P. M. What is environmental stress? Insights from fish living in a variable environment. Journal of Experimental Biology, 2014, 217: 23-34.
- Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., Chandra, N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacogn Rev., 2010, Jul-Dec; 4(8): 118-126.
- Florence, T. M. The role of free radicals in disease. Aust N Z J Ophthalmol. 1995 Feb; 23(1): 3-7.
- Gatersleben, B., Griffin, I. Environmental Stress. 2017. In: Fleury-Bahi G., Pol E., Navarro O. (eds) Handbook of Environmental Psychology and Quality of Life Research. International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life. Springer, Cham.
- Tuntipopipat, S., Failla, M. L. Anti-inflammatory activity of extracts of Thai spices and herbs. Faseb Journal, 2008, vol. 22.
- Tilg, H. Cruciferous vegetables: prototypic anti-inflammatory food components. Clinical Phytoscience, 2015, 1(1): 1-6.
- Moores, J. Vitamin C: a wound healing perspective. Br J Community Nurs, 2013, S6, S8-11.
- Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., Vissers, M. C. M. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients, 2017, Aug; 9(8): 866.
- Manners, G. D. Citrus limonoids: analysis, bioactivity, and biomedical prospects. J Agic Food Chem, 2007, 55(21): 8285-94.
- Roy, A., Saraf, S. Limonoids: overview of significant bioactive triterpenes distributed in plants kingdom. Biol Pharm Bull, 2006, 29(2): 191-201.