By Drew Parisi, Certified Nutrition Consultant
Lemons are one of several fruits we don't typically consume whole due to their sour, pucker-inducing flavor. Rather, they are normally used to enhance the flavor of a dish with their bright, acidic taste. But don't let their low rate of consumption fool you; lemons are packed with nutrition and are one of the best sources of antioxidants even in small doses.
Like many of the citrus fruits we are familiar with today, lemons were not one of the original four members of the citrus family (the originals being citron, pomelo, mandarin and papeda). Lemons are thought to have originated in China or India as a cross between the lime and citron fruits. They were brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the New World as a preventative treatment for scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency in vitamin C. Grown mainly in Florida, lemons made their way west during the California Gold Rush where they were again used to protect against the development of scurvy.
We now have a more stable supply of fresh food and don't see many instances of scurvy, but the nutrition from lemons is just as valuable as it was during the Gold Rush. Lemons are a great source of vitamin C and fiber, and contain many plant compounds, minerals and essential oils. Vitamin C is an important nutrient because it is an antioxidant that protects our bodies from free radicals. Free radicals can cause damage to healthy cells, which can ultimately lead to aging and disease. Because free radicals are an unavoidable part of our environment, making their way into our bodies through our air, food, x-ray machines, chemicals, sunlight, and even natural processes like digestion, exercise and breathing, it is important to fortify our diet with antioxidants to fight off free radicals as much as possible.
The trick to finding the juiciest lemon is to choose one with thin, finely grainy skin and that feels heavy for its size. Lemons with thicker peels will have less flesh and be less juicy. If you're going to juice a lemon, roll it on a flat surface with the palm of your hand to release the juices before cutting. Lemon juice should have many of the same nutritional benefits as whole lemons, but be sure to include some of the pulp because the pectins in the pulp can promote satiety and feed the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. Lemonade should have similar health benefits, but the added sugar can be very harmful when consumed in excess.
With fresh lemons available all year around, there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate lemons into a healthy diet. Here are some simple ideas:
Squeeze or place slices of lemons into a glass of water for a refreshing drink
Squeeze lemon juice on salads or vegetables for added flavor
Squeeze lemon juice on raw fruits like apples, pears or avocados to keep them from turning brown
Grate lemon zest over rice, oatmeal, salads or any other dish!