When most people think of lemons they think of the sour taste that makes your mouth pucker. Some think of lemonade, but most people don’t equate lemons with being a serious contender for making us healthy.
Lemons or Citrus limon are a cross between the lime and the citron, and were originally cultivated in the Middle East and Africa. Like many other plants, they were then introduced to Europe and the Americas when explorers came to those regions, and lemons have been a major food crop in Florida since the 1500s.
Lemons may be one of the planet’s most widely used fruits and for good reason. They contain vitamin C or ascorbic acid, a nutrient that prevents scurvy and one which was hard to come by when early sailors crossed those vast waters in search of new territory. Lemons traveled well. They also fought infection, another common ailment of early travelers.
So how exactly do lemons keep us healthy?
- Lemon skins contain limonene, an antioxidant also found in limes and oranges. It shows promise in preventing and treating certain cancers, and is used to treat bronchitis and promote weight loss.
- Limonene is used as a flavoring in toothpaste, gum, baked goods and beverages as well as a scent in body lotions and creams.
- Citric acid in lemons contains properties that aid digestion.
- Lemons are a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium, fiber, vitamin B6, calcium, copper, folate, and potassium.
- Lemons contain antioxidants including ascorbic acid, carotenes, zeaxanthin, lutein, and vitamin A which promote production of mucus membranes, skin cell rejuvenation, and healthy vision.
- 2 tablespoons of lemon pulp and juice contain 5 grams of fiber and only 6 grams of sugar, providing about 22 healthy calories.
- Lemons protect our DNA by fighting free radicals and help regulate the immune system.
Warm Lemon Water in the Morning
Lemon juice can be taken anytime, but warm lemon and water in the morning will offer significant benefits in addition to lemon’s other qualities.
- During the long overnight fast when the body is repairing itself and creating toxins in the process, lemon water in the morning quenches thirst, helps eliminate toxins and hydrates tissues with the electrolytes potassium, magnesium and calcium.
- Lemon water can reduce joint and muscle pain, a common complaint after a night in bed.
- It aids digestion by stimulating gastric juices so your first meal of the day won’t weigh heavily on your stomach.
- It helps the liver produce more enzymes and cleans toxins from the blood thereby alleviating strain on the liver.
- Trouble moving your bowels in the morning? Warm lemon water will help with that, too.
- And if you get the Monday morning blues, warm lemon water will reduce your blood pressure by as much as 10%, and its high potassium content will reduce anxiety and depression.
- The pH level in the body when waking is generally more acidic due to the body’s natural metabolic function during repair. Lemon water will bring your pH back to its healthy alkaline state.
How else can you take your lemons?
Use lemon juice in cold or hot tea and other beverages, veggie salads and dressings, as a garnish for fish and vegetables, or in fruitsalads. Lemon extract or lemon zest (the outer yellow portion of the skin) can be used to flavor cakes and cookies, fudge and even toothpaste. The inner white portion or pith can have a bitter taste, so be aware that it will change the flavor of your dish. Always wash lemon skins thoroughly before using the zest or cutting into the lemon.
Making lemonade is an old-school favorite – simply squeeze the juice of several lemons into fresh, purified water and add warm honey to taste – but there are many other ways to use lemons, such as in these unique citrus salads.
Recipe: Lemon Butternut Squash Salad
Ingredients are per serving:
- 1/2 cup butternut squash
- 1/4 cup lemon segments
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- Pinch ground cloves
- Endive or Romaine leaves
- Black pepper to taste
- Cut squash into halves and remove seeds. Place 1 tablespoon butter into each half and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake, skin side down, on a lightly greased sheet for about 50 minutes at 400o F or until soft, not fork tender. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.
- About 10 minutes before squash is done, peel lemons. Separate and peel membrane from each segment so you are left with only juicy flesh.
- Place segments into a large sauté pan with 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, nutmeg and cloves.
- Saute over low heat until warmed through and butter starts to brown.
- Place cleaned and cut endive or Romaine onto plate.
- When squash is cooled, cut into manageable pieces and place onto greens with warmed lemon.
- Pour remaining butter over tops and sprinkle with black pepper to taste.
- Serve warm.
Recipe: Grilled Chicken Citrus Salad
If you don’t have a kitchen grill or outdoor grill, you can make this colorful dish on your stovetop or in the oven.
- 2 jalapeno peppers, minced
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon cilantro, roughly chopped
- 14 ounces coconut cream (not bar mix)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Flesh from 2 large lemons
- 4 skinned and boned chicken breast halves, cut into strips
- 1 small purple onion, cut into thin narrow slices
- 1 large red or yellow Bell pepper, cut into narrow strips
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Radicchio or mixed field greens
- Combine jalapenos, 1/4 cup cilantro, coconut milk, and lemon juice.
- Place chicken in a shallow dish and add milk mixture.
- Cover and chill for 45-60 minutes.
- Discard liquid and grill chicken or bake at 400 for about 15 minutes or until done.
- While chicken is cooking, sauté veggies and lemon segments in butter
- Place greens onto a plate and lay one chicken breast on top. Cover each breast with 1/4 of the veggie mixture.
- Top with remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro.
Recipe: Cold Pink Salad
- 1 cup plain organic yogurt
- 2 teaspoons coconut sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Pinch ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons mint leaves, minced
- 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
- 1 cup beets, roasted, peeled and cut into cubes
- 1 cup red Bell pepper with skins, roasted
- 4 small lemons, peeled and segmented, pith and pits removed
- 1/2 cup black Greek olives
Whisk together first 5 ingredients for salad dressing and set aside.
Toss remaining ingredients with dressing and divide onto 4 chilled plates.