Lemons: The Versatile Fruit

By Sharon Palmer, RD

The clean, pure lemon has gotten a bad rap. It has become a metaphor for getting a dud. But the lowly lemon is probably one of the most versatile fruits in the world. A single lemon seems to capture a ray of sunshine in its glorious skin. This ancient fruit is likened to two fruits in one package, as both the zesty rind and flavorful juice can be used for different purposes. Right-hand friend to celebrated chefs and old-fashioned cooks, lemons are indispensable in a number of dishes, from salads to desserts.

We've long known that lemons are packed with vitamin C and were transported by sailors on long journeys during the 18th century to ward off scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), a condition known to make their teeth fall out. Lemons have also been a standard method of flavoring foods without the addition of salt or fat. But did you know that lemons are packed with phytochemicals, plant compounds that fight heart disease and cancer?
Lemons have numerous anti-cancer properties. Lemons contain unique flavonoids, a class of phytochemicals that have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. Liminoids, flavonoids found abundantly in lemons and citrus fruits, are compounds that impart bitterness in citrus juices and have been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancer. And eating fresh citrus, including lemons, is one of the best ways to ward off illness and prevent disease, according to studies. Lemons are also high in fiber and beta carotenes, yet they contain no fat and a mere 15 calories. Lemons are high in vitamin C, which has been known to boost the immune system, protect against heart disease, combat cancer, and fight infection. Vitamin C is also one of the main antioxidants found in food and it travels through the body neutralizing damaging free radicals. Lemons are also versatile flavor-enhancers, as they reduce the need for salt and fat in cooking and work as an anti-browning agent for fruits and vegetables. Unlike many fruits, lemon is a flavor on its own. Lemons can be the star of the show, as in Moroccan lemon chicken, or they can support a great dish with a small splash. Lemons can add just the right balance to a recipe by neutralizing overt flavors. Something missing in your potato salad? Try a spoonful of fresh lemon juice.

New studies on a monoterpene found in Lemon Peel called "limonene" show that it very effectively prevents individuals from developing abnormal growths on their skin. Limonene also has demonstrated prevention efficacy in preclinical models of breast and colon abnormal growths. But the most promising use of Lemon Peel is indicated in recent research, which shows that this herb may help reduce the occurrence of squamous cell skin cancers. Further study is still required to support this research.

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