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When Life Gives You Lemons

Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD

Founder, Proactive Health Labs (pH), a non-profit healthcare company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health.


Lemons are often disregarded as a garnish or something you simply throw in your tea. But after looking at the health benefits of these sour fruits, I realized lemons may need to be a starring food in everyday meals.

Lemons may help prevent metabolic syndrome.

Lemons contain polyphenols, a category of chemicals that naturally occur in plants. These chemicals act as antioxidants and are sometimes referred to as phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are of great interest in the healthcare field because long-term consumption of diets rich in plant polyphenols offer protection against development of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases, reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Some of the polyphenols in lemons may help prevent obesity and insulin resistance, two medical conditions that fall into the group of risk factors for having metabolic syndrome (a condition that increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes). One study suggests that supplementation with lemon polyphenols may prevent or improve obesity and insulin resistance by modulating lipid metabolism and preventing metabolic syndrome as a representative, lifestyle-related cluster of diseases caused by an excessively high-fat diet.” So the next time you have some spinach, squeeze some lemon juice over it!

Lemons may boost your immune system.

One of the ways we can be proactive about protecting our immune systems is by getting an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals that help boost our immune system and aid with white blood cell production. One of these nutrients is vitamin C. And lemons are rich in this nutrient. Squeeze lemon into your water, tea, and maybe even over a baked potato to help ensure you get enough of this flu- and cold-preventing nutrient. And lemons also have antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Lemons may help increase iron absorption.

Avoiding nutritional deficiency is important. If you are not nutritionally balanced, your body may not function at its best both physically and mentally. Take, for example, low iron levels (a pretty common nutrient deficiency). If you have low iron levels, you may find that you feel very sluggish and tired. This may be due to iron-deficiency anemia. There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. The vitamin C in lemons may help your body better absorb non-heme iron which is the type of iron found in nuts, grains, vegetables, and certain fortified products. Non-heme iron is less bioavailable, less easily absorbed into the body. And the vitamin C in lemons may help your body better absorb iron from non-heme sources.

Lemons may help fight cancer.

Polymethoxyflavones (PMFs) are compounds exclusively found in citrus fruits, like lemons, especially in their peels. PMFs are believed to have great anticancer benefits. “PMFs inhibit carcinogenesis by mechanisms like blocking the metastasis cascade, inhibition of cancer cell mobility in circulatory systems, proapoptosis [promoting or causing cell death], and antiangiogenesis [helps stop tumors from growing their own blood vessels]” reports the NIH. And, yes, I know what you’re thinking: “How am I going to eat a lemon peel?!” There are a lot of great ways to use the lemon peel. You can zest a lemon. I zest (the zest is the colorful part of the peel - not the bitter white part) and sprinkle lemon peel on rice, lentils, salads and even in a cup of tea. Some cake recipes I use even require lemon peel. (Hopefully, the PMFs survive the baking process). And you can also make your own lemon and herb olive oil. It’s super easy and a great way to use the peel.

All you need is:

» Zest of two lemons

» Generous bunch of fresh thyme

» Teaspoon of chili flakes

» Teaspoon of granulated garlic

» Several whole black peppercorns

Place these ingredients in a mason jar. Add about a cup (fill the jar) of olive oil.

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