Lemon Water: Folk Medicine or Health Enhancer?

Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD
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Lemon Water: Folk Medicine or Health Enhancer?

Many wellness advocates swear by starting the day with a glass of lemon water. But does it really detoxify or have any other major benefit beyond hydration? Let’s explore the lore of lemon water to decide if you should sip it or skip it.

HYDRATION

Let’s start with the most obvious benefit of this trend: hydration. This has nothing to do with the lemon, but having a glass of water first thing in the morning is a great way to hydrate the body after a night of dehydrating sleep. Squeezing in a bit of lemon adds flavor the water without adding sugar or artificial ingredients for those who do not find plain water appealing.

It’s important to note that while lemon adds a natural flavoring to water, it’s not a nutritional aid. Adding the juice of half a lemon to your H20 doesn’t add much in terms of nutrients. You’ll get roughly 8 calories, 2 grams of carbohydrates, 1% folate, 1% potassium and 25% vitamin C. Lemons contain other minerals such as salt, iron and copper, but in extremely trace amounts. These values are not enough to make lemon water a sports beverage or nutritional aid. Remember it takes more than a slice of lemon to provide any nutritional benefit.

PERFORMANCE

That said, there are nutrition benefits that go beyond the label. Lemons have phytonutrient compounds including antioxidants and flavonoids that might help boost health aspects related to helping performance.

These potential benefits include: stimulating collagen production, which is vital to healthy joints and connective tissue, relieving asthma symptoms, which may otherwise limit outside training, improving cardiovascular health to boost blood flow to working muscles,  increasing iron absorption which is the biggest nutritional deficiency in athletes, especially women, improving skin complexion from hours spent exposed to the elements training in sunny or polluted conditions.

WEIGHT CONTROL

The combination of water and lemon might have a slight synergistic effect on weight control. Drinking water can create the feeling of fullness and take the mind off mindlessly munching on unneeded calories. The addition of lemon adds a slightly tart, refreshing, palate-cleansing effect akin to brushing your teeth that might prevent you from nibbling. There is no evidence to support the thinking that lemon water ramps up metabolism. While lemons are acidic in taste, they have an alkaline effect internally. However, there is no evidence consuming alkaline water will stimulate a change in your blood pH.

THE OPTIMAL PREPARATION

Once you’ve squeezed lemon into your water, there’s another aspect to consider. Do you heat it up or add ice? There is limited research on this subject, leaving most of the insight to common sense or ancient home remedy. Cold water drinking is popularly associated with stimulating weight loss, which is not a scientifically backed claim. However research published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science has shown that consuming cold water can help cool the body when engaged in hot weather athletics, therefore improving performance. On the flip side, warm water may help stimulate digestion, but there is not much research to back this up. The only proven health statistic is that bodies need water, regardless of temperature preference.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Most of the benefits associated with drinking lemon water are simply benefits of drinking water. There is no denying the power behind a well-hydrated body. However, whether you add slices of cucumber, a pinch of cayenne or the juice of a lemon, you’ll be reaping the benefits of a glass of water. Adding a natural produce such as lemon won’t hurt and might stimulate a few extra benefits, but treating it as a miracle cure is a stretch.

About the Author

Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD
Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.

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