Health Benefits of Lemon

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 14, 2023
6 min read

The lemon is a bright yellow citrus fruit. It has its distinctive sour taste because it’s rich in citric acid. It comes from the flowering plant family rutaceae, and its scientific name is Citrus limon.

The lemon’s unique flavor makes it a popular ingredient in drinks, desserts, and meals. Almost all parts of a lemon can be used in cooking and cleaning.

Exactly where lemons came from isn’t known. But there’s documented evidence of its value from almost 2,000 years ago. The lemon tree grows in subtropical and tropical areas and can grow 10-20 feet tall. Most are grown in Mediterranean countries, as well as China, India, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil – and in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida in the U.S. You can find fresh lemons year-round in supermarkets.  

Lemon juice has many uses, from culinary to medicinal. Lemons are used all over the world in desserts, drinks, sauces, dips, and as a garnish for meat and fish dishes. Lemon juice is a natural cleaner and stain remover. Lemon oil provides the fragrance for perfumes, soaps, and skin creams.

The most commonly grown lemon in the U.S. is the Eureka lemon. The Lisbon lemon is also popular.

You may also come across the Meyer lemon, a smaller, sweeter lemon that may have gotten its start as a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. These can make good house plants, but you’ll need to bring them inside in the winter if you’re not in a tropical climate.

When you buy a lemon, look for those that are bright and have an even color. It should be firm but not too hard. Store them in the refrigerator to last longer than at room temperature. 

The vitamins, fiber, and plant compounds in lemons can be part of a healthy diet. It’s not common to actually eat a fresh lemon -- they’re too sour for most tastes -- unless you’re using preserved lemons. 

Lemons can also provide important health benefits like:

Vitamin C

Lemons contain about 50 milligrams of vitamin C, which is over half the amount of vitamin C needed in your daily diet. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which helps protect cells from damage. Vitamin C also helps your body make collagen for your skin, helps your body absorb iron, and supports your immune system. Citrus fruits are some of the best food sources of vitamin C. 

Lemon also contains a high level of dietary fiber, but you don’t get fiber from juice.

Weight management

The pectin fiber found in lemons expands once it is ingested, making you feel full sooner and longer. Lemon water is often touted as an effective tool in weight loss and weight management.  While there’s nothing wrong with drinking water, there’s nothing magical about adding lemon to water for weight control. Also, drinking water may keep you full and help you avoid snacking as effectively as lemon.

Anemia prevention

Lemon can help your body absorb more iron from plant-based foods in your diet. Maintaining proper iron levels helps prevent anemia, which is a lower-than-average number of red blood cells, often as a result of iron deficiency.

Kidney stone prevention 

Lemons get their sour taste from their abundance of citric acid. Some studies show that citric acid may help prevent the formation of kidney stones.

Antibacterial effects

Lemon juice has antibacterial and antifungal properties. The plant compounds in lemon juice concentrate effectively inhibited the growth of salmonella, staphylococcus, and candida infections in one study. It was also effective against one particular antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes pneumonia and blood infections. 

Cancer prevention and treatment research

Lemon juice is a valuable source of nutrients called flavonoids. These are antioxidants, which help protect cells from damage that could lead to cancer. But lemon juice hasn’t been studied for cancer prevention in people. While a healthy diet may help lower the risk of cancer, no one food has been shown to prevent cancer.

Lemon juice is not part of cancer treatment. But scientists have found tiny nanoparticles in lemon juice that – in lab tests on cells – inhibited cell reproduction and activated cancer cell death. This is extremely early research that’s more about searching for new cancer treatments and isn’t based on the lemon juice you’d get in your diet.

Immune system support

One lemon can offer about half of your recommended daily value of vitamin C, which contributes to immune system defense and may help the body fight infection. Lemons also contain citrus flavonoids. These antioxidants fight free radicals, have anti-inflammatory effects, and can reduce your risk of brain disease and other degenerative diseases.

Lower blood pressure

Physical activity helps to control high blood pressure, strengthen your heart, and reduce stress. Studies have found that the flavonoids in lemon help lower your blood pressure as well. Additional research showed this effect enhances the heart-healthy benefits of physical activity.

Reduced risk of diabetes

Lemons contain a natural compound called hesperidin that may lower blood sugar levels, decreasing your risk of diabetes. In addition, the citric acid in lemons slows the conversion of starch to sugar, helping reduce blood sugar spikes and aiding in weight management. 

Lemons are an excellent source of:

  • Vitamin C 
  • Dietary fiber
  • Citric acid
  • Iron

Nutrients per serving

A half-cup serving of lemon contains:

  • Calories: 31
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 10 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 3 grams 

Lemons have a high acid content. In excess, this citrus fruit can cause discomfort or worsen symptoms of certain medical conditions, including:

Citrus allergies

If you’re allergic to grass pollen or citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, or limes, you may also be allergic to lemons. The most common reactions are itching, burning, or swelling of the mouth and throat. Some people can have headaches or gastrointestinal distress.

Lemon juice and migraines

Lemon juice is high in the amino acid tyramine. If you are sensitive to tyramine, drinking lemon juice can trigger migraine headaches.

Aggravate acid reflux

Lemons can worsen heartburn symptoms in people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In high amounts, lemon juice can also irritate your stomach and cause nausea. 

Tooth decay

In high concentrations, the acid in lemon juice can wear down your tooth enamel and cause cavities. Make sure to add enough water to lemon tea to dilute this acidity. 

Canker sores

Lemons may trigger canker sores or irritate existing ones, which can cause discomfort and make them take longer to heal. 

Medication interactions

While research specific to lemons is inconclusive, some citrus juices interact with certain cholesterol and blood pressure medications. 

Lemon juice is a flavorful and healthy addition to many recipes. Like all fruits, it contains natural sugar – but not very much. Use it as a recipe directs. 

With their distinct sour taste, lemons add a bold flavor to many recipes. Lemon is a popular ingredient in cooking and baking, and you can use almost every part of this versatile fruit. 

A simple lemon wedge can add a refreshing flavor to water and tea. 

Hummus, which originated in the Middle East and is now popular worldwide, is traditionally made with lemon juice (as well as chickpeas, tahini, and garlic.)

Preserved lemons are part of traditional Moroccan cuisine. And in India, lemon pickle is a condiment.

Lemon juice and zest, often paired with butter or oil, is a crucial ingredient in many popular seafood and meat dishes as well as desserts.  

The rind of the lemon can be zested and added to baked goods, tea, soup, and beverages of all kinds. Here are a few ways to prepare this versatile and vibrant fruit:

  • Make a classic, ice-cold lemonade with organic sugar or sugar alternative and water.
  • Use lemon to add flavor to a risotto dish or brighten up a soup.
  • Create a refreshing lemon and butter sauce for a salmon or chicken plate.
  • Bake a zesty and sweet lemon meringue pie.
  • Indulge in a luxurious, zesty lemon bar.
  • Use lemon zest as a tasty garnish in your tea or alcoholic beverage.
  • Make a delicious Greek lemon and chicken soup.

Drinking lemon tea is a refreshing way to get many important vitamins. It’s easy to prepare, hydrates your body, and is low in calories and sugar. 

Lemon tea is a low-sugar, low-calorie way to add a range of vitamins and minerals to your diet. 

Grating lemon zest into your tea also adds the peel’s limonene. This antioxidant, found in fruit peels, may lower your risk of cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and other chronic diseases.