Apr. 23. 2013
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

Lemons. Refreshing, light, sometimes sweet, mostly sour, always pleasant in my book.  Lemons are one of several fruits we typically don’t consume whole (as in eat straight up!), lemons are normally used as a flavor catalyst or to bring an acidic profile to a dish. The sweet lemon varieties, such as Meyer lemons, do not contain as much citric acid, which is responsible for giving lemons its sour and tart taste. Lemons are culinarily speaking versatile from sweet to savory. Some of the most common culinary uses for lemons are in salad dressings, simply in water, desserts, savory dishes, squeezed on an avocado, added to homemade hummus//dips//salsas, squeezed on fish//chicken, whatever your tart heart desires.

Top 5 Tips for Lemons:

  • Purchasing | choose lemons with a thinner skin, heavier for their size (this indicates they have more liquid/juice), and fully yellow (no green areas).
  • Juicing | gently roll the lemon on a flat surface prior to cutting it in half then squeezing. This releases the juices from the cell membranes of the fruit, which yields more juice.
  • Storing | I like to keep mine at room temperature for about 4-7 days, but you may place lemons in the refrigerator as they’re less susceptible to mold when chilled.
  • Zest | zest is fantastic to be used in salad dressings, desserts, or on proteins for a strong punch of flavor. When zesting (I may have made this word up), be sure to avoid the white skin just underneath the yellow zest and between the fruit (it’s very bitter!).
  • Marinades | due to the acidic nature of lemons, it’s typically used as a meat tenderizer or marinade to help breakdown the connective tissues of the proteins, which makes for a more tender result. If you allow it to marinate too long, the opposite effect will occur, it can make it more tough.

Nutrient breakdown of LEMONS |

  • Antioxidants
  • Phytochemicals | most notably, limonoids
  • Vitamin C | excellent source
  • Copper
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin B6 and folate

Most notably vitamin C. Why vitamin C rocks? For starters, it’s one of the most widely and important available antioxidants. Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin/antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables, and of course at high levels in lemons! How it works as an antioxidant in our bodies- given that vitamin C is water soluble, the antioxidant travels nicely through our bodies in both the aqueous (fancy word for water-like) environments inside and outside our cells neutralizing the free radicals. Free radicals damage our healthy cells causing oxidative stress, which ultimately can cause harm to our hormones, blood vessels, proteins, lipids, and genetic code; causing cancer, inflammation, pain, degenerative diseases, heart disease, and aging itself.

Why is neutralizing free radials important? Free radicals are cellular bullies. They’re a molecule that walks around (no, they really don’t walk around), in our bodies with an unpaired electron; meaning, they’ve lost their lunch money for that day and there coming after your nice fully stocked wallet (your healthy cells), and taking what they need (an electron) to fulfill their empty wallet (unpaired electron), and they’ll resort to kicking you in the shin (physically ripping the electron from the healthy cell) if you don’t pay up. This process is actually very hard on our healthy cells and body, the free radicals regain their stability by taking the electron from our healthy cells to become stable, which in turn creates another free radical. It’s a cycle that causes a “chain reaction” of free radicals forming more free radicals from healthy cells which turn into more–> free radicals, you get the picture.

Where do free radicals come from? Anywhere and everywhere, our environments, the pollution in the air we breathe, food, x-ray machines, chemicals, fumes, sunlight, even natural processes like metabolism, body stress, exercise, and respiration! Now, I’m not saying you can never have an x-ray or walk around outside to avoid free radicals, they’re a part of nature and our duty is to prevent and prepare our own army of antioxidants to fight off the free radicals as much as possible.

Health & Wellness Benefits of Lemons:

  • Digestion | add fresh lemon juice + warm water + dash of cayenne pepper = the ultimate digestion//detoxification drink. The warm water and high vitamin C content both aids the digestive tract and increases peristalsis (a.k.a. the movement of the digestive tract). The natural antioxidant, vitamin C, also calms liver inflammation while the cayenne pepper contains capsaicin which increase blood flow and also stimulate liver enzymes involved in detoxification of the liver.
  • Skin |
    • Eczema: Lemon wrap for areas of inflammation (aka eczema), simply mix 8-10 drops of essential lemon oil with 1 Tbs. of local honey and 1 cup of lukewarm water. Next soak a linen cloth into the liquid lemon mixture and wrap the areas of your skin affected by eczema, leave on for 15-20 minutes a couple times a day- this will help not only with the inflammation but the urge to itch!
    • Acne: take about 1Tbs. of fresh lemon juice on a cotton ball and gently rub all over the face for a natural astringent; you can leave this on overnight and wash in the morning OR wait 10 minutes and wash with an all natural gentle cleanser.
  • Household cleanser |
    • Smell: Add a leftover or used lemon peel (about 1/2 of a lemon) into the kitchen garbage disposal to brighten the smell.
    • Microwave: add 1/2 of a fresh lemon into 2 cups of water and boil in the microwave. This creates a natural steam clean with a lemon fresh scent.
    • Cutting boards: scrub and wipe a fresh cut lemon on your cutting board (works especially well on wooden boards) to freshen the scent (from onions, garlic, fish, etc.), and also rid it of any potential stains.
    • Stains: lemon juice acidity works great on stains, just make sure you test an area out first due to it’s bleaching effects.
  • Aromatherapy | 
    • Alertness/focus: Lemon oil
    • Anxiety relief: Lemon balm
  • Colds & flus | Add the juice of a fresh lemon to 1 Tbs. of honey with hot water. Drink throughout the day to stimulate digestion, provide vitamin C, and take advantage of the natural antimicrobial actions of lemons.
  • Sore throat | Gargle 1 Tbs. of fresh lemon juice with 1 tsp. of sea salt in 1 cup of luke-warm water, gargle for about 1-2 minutes, at least twice a day to help decrease the soreness.
  • Warm weather specific |
    • Natural bug repellent: Mix about 20 drop of lemon essential oil into 1 cup of filtered water, pour into a spray bottle and use as a natural bug repellent.
    • Bee stings: After being stung by a bee/wasp/etc., first pull out the stinger, but then you can massage about 1-2 drops of lemon oil with 1 tsp. of honey onto the area, both helps with inflammation and itching.

Do you enjoy using lemons? What is your favorite dish to make where lemon is the “star” of the show? Share below!

C you later, as in Vitamin C (I have the corniest jokes…),

xo McKel