Small steps trump leaps when it comes to achieving our health and wellness goals. While drastic overhauls of diet and fitness may work in the short-term, major changes are challenging to maintain over time. Consistency is key in reaching any goal, and being consistent really just translates into renewing our lifelong commitments on a daily basis. Fortunately, there are a few small habits we can incorporate into our routines that serve as touchstones, reminding us of the lifelong journey we are taking towards our well-being in easy, tangible ways.
Take, for instance, the common lemon. Incorporating lemon into the diet is an easy habit to acquire that can punctuate the day with health-affirming benefits. This misprized fruit is often overlooked in the beeline to recent and much more glamorous headliners such as pomegranate and other exotic antioxidant powerhouses like the acai berry. But don’t overlook the virtues of the humble lemon or the relative ease of a squeeze, which is all it takes to deliver its health-enhancing benefits. Turns out, the lemon is much more than an accoutrement to a cocktail.
Lemons originally hail from India where they were cultivated by cross pollinating limes with the citron fruit. The result was a palm-sized product packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, and an impressive mineral profile that allows the lemon to hold its own alongside other bioflavonoid rock stars such as the reigning Super Food royalty–broccoli and sweet potatoes–minus their inherent inconvenience with regard to preparation.
The E “C” Squeeze
Just ¼ c. of lemon juice provides over 45% of the daily recommended value for vitamin C. While its immunity boosting properties are well-known, vitamin C’s largesse extends beyond the prevention of a week-long bout with the flu. The antioxidant power of vitamin C also neutralizes free radicals-those rogue assailants on healthy cells’ membranes and the culprits behind the insidious inflammation that leads to both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as the host of symptoms that are mistakenly considered to be the natural and unavoidable signs of aging, such as wrinkles, dull eyes, and lack of muscle tone.
Countless studies show that increasing daily intake of the water-soluble form of vitamin C, L-asorbic acid, helps the body produce the collagen so critical in supporting the connective tissue that preserves the youthful appearance of the skin (the lesser known form of the vitamin is the fat-soluble ascorbyl palminate, which is the preferred form when it comes to topical treatments). Just taking 1-2 oz. of L-asorbic acid rich lemon juice daily helps the skin from the inside out to rebound from the near-constant assault by pollution, stress, and the damaging rays of the sun.
The vitamin C found in lemon goes beyond vanity; it also combats the free radical damage to blood vessels, which is a preventable precursor to the atherosclerosis that tragically often ends in heart disease and stroke. And vitamin C deficiency isn’t a curse reserved just for those fruit-deprived sailors making transatlantic voyages in our history books either. A test conducted as little as a decade ago at the University of Arizona showed that nearly 30% of participants (who were selected to be a cross representation of the general population) lacked the required level of this essential nutrient. A potential deficiency would expectedly be even more alarming among special populations, such as the elderly, the very young or others with a compromised immune system. Interestingly, vitamin C is a real boon for the healthiest among us as well-hard-core fitness enthusiasts need higher levels of the vitamin to defend against the stress and free-radical explosion that is an unfortunate byproduct of strenuous physical activity.
The RDA for vitamin C stands at 60 mg, though research both in the U.S. and abroad suggests that dosages upward of 1,000 mg divided over the course of a day are necessary to fully take advantage of the benefits. And since C is water-soluble there is no danger of toxicity as the body simply eliminates what it cannot use. Adding lemon juice to the diet, then, is a no-risk insurance against deficiency.
In addition to vitamin C the juice found in one lemon delivers several prized minerals to the body: bone-building Calcium, nerve-calming Magnesium, and brain cell-nourishing Potassium. While the amounts are small in terms of the body’s overall requirements for these minerals, the effort to acquire them via a spritz or two of lemon is even smaller.
With Lemon Please
Even those who are not overly interested in the nutritional profiles of their daily condiments can access the pantheon of the lemon’s digestive benefits with this simple request. With lemon please gives ladies (and gentlemen) who lunch the opportunity to enjoy the diuretic, tonic and natural antibacterial properties of citrus. A slice of lemon in a cold drink or a splash of lemon juice over a green salad in place of overly processed, sugar-laden dressing eases bloat in much the same way celery, cucumber, and asparagus do.
When added to hot water and taken first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, lemon’s citric acid acts as a tonic for the liver as it stimulates the production of enzymes and increases bile production, both of which ultimately aid digestion. Some studies show that lemon may relieve constipation and even heartburn, as well as UT infections and other ailments exacerbated by disease-causing bacteria found in the intestinal tract. The citric acid in lemon has been coveted, too, for its blood-cleansing properties and is even used in some societies as an antiseptic and antidote to poison.
Not a Lemon in the Bunch: How to Choose and Use This Perfect Fruit
How to pick the best lemon? Look for fully ripe, heavy, thin-skinned fruits, which have the highest mineral content as opposed to those with heavy rinds. Look too for the highest number of points on the calyx of the fruit which signals a sweeter flavor, such as found in Meyer lemons. For those who prefer to pucker, the Eureka and the Lisbon varieties promise just that.
The use for lemons need not be pedestrian. Ancient Ayurvedic principles suggest spritzing lemon juice along with a capful of olive oil over lentils or steamed vegetables. Add lemon as a flavorful seasoning for fish or as an effective tenderizer for chicken. Try adding lemon zest to desserts or freeze lemon juice in ice-cube trays and add to a favorite beverage for a refreshing drink on hot days. Earn double points by adding lemon to a morning cup of green tea-this combination has been garnering some attention lately due to the discovery that lemons multiply the antioxidant power of green tea’s catechins several times over.
Lemons may be kept at room temperature away from sunlight for up to one week. Past this time store the fruit in the crisper. Alternatively, keep the zest in a cool dry place for several weeks.