Lemon: nutrition facts and health benefits

Lemon

The lemon is the most common and the most used of all the lemons. It is often referred to as a “lemon” without any precise color. The lemon comes from China but we do not know exactly where, because of few archaeological evidence. Its route is still quite mysterious. It was most certainly introduced into the Mediterranean basin by the Arabs. It was first called “Limon”, coming from the Arabian-Persian limûn. That’s what the word lemonade comes from. The term lemon appeared in the 12th century, derived from the Latin citrus.

History of lemon

It is in the Chinese writings that one first refers to the lemon. A first mention dates from 1175, while a detailed description is contained in a book published in 1178. These facts, as well as some other elements noted by historians, indicate that lemon was probably introduced into China between the 10th century and the middle of the 12th century. There is no archaeological evidence to determine its origin, but the researchers believe that it comes from the east of the Himalayan region in southern China, specifically from Upper Burma.

The lemon was perhaps cultivated by the Greeks and Romans, even by the Egyptians, but there is little evidence of this culture, if not on mosaics of the time. It could also be the citron (Citrus Medica), its probable ancestor, known for long time in both East and west for its medicinal properties. Throughout the invasions and the climatic fluctuations, the lemon may have disappeared from southern Europe a few times and was reintroduced later. After the barbaric invasions (350 to 400 A.D.), it was the Arabs who took control of the trade. They cultivated the lemon, introduced it to North Africa, Africa and Spain, as well as throughout the Mediterranean basin, with the exception of the Italian and French coasts.

Finally, during the Crusades in the Middle East, western, eastern and northern Europeans discovered citrus fruits and developed a taste for the acidic and juicy fruit they brought back to their respective countries. Starting from there the first greenhouses, known as orangery, were born, in which people first cultivated oranges and lemon trees, then all kinds of tropical plants.

Lemon and limes

 

The word “lime” would come from the Provençal limo. It appeared in the language in 1555, while “lime” did so in 1782. A large number of common names were given to this fruit, depending on the regions and varieties. The fruit they designate normally belongs to the species Citrus aurantifolia, the real lime. It can also be attached to the species Citrus limon (lemon), Citrus reticulata (Mandarin) or citrus hystrix, known as kaffir lime or makrut lime, a fruit with a lumpy skin. People use the leaves of the tree as well as the zest and sometimes the juice of the fruit in Thai kitchen.

The lime usually refers to the bitter and acidic fruit of a variety of lime. The lime refers rather to a variety whose fruit has a sweet flavor.

The first written mention of the lime dates from the 13th century and would be made by an Arab author. As in the case of lemon, it is probably the Arabs who, at that time, introduced its cultivation to India, Persia, Palestine, Egypt and Europe. The lime would come from the Indian archipelago where it grows in the wild. Although close to the lemon in some of its culinary uses, it is a completely different botanical species (Citrus aurantifolia). Moreover, it requires warmer temperatures to flourish. It crosses spontaneously with other citrus species, which gave birth to some hybrids, the key lime and the limequat being the best known.

Lemon and lime

The lemon and lime were probably introduced to the New World by Christopher Columbus, during his second expedition in 1493, while he landed at Isabella (Haiti and Dominican Republic) to establish the first permanent settlement. From there, the fruits will quickly gain Central America. At the same time, the Portuguese planted the first citrus trees in Brazil. In the middle of the 16th century, these trees grew all over South America. Then, as they reproduced at will, large orchards established themselves practically without human intervention.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, the first citrus fruits, limes, and oranges were introduced into the city of St-Augustin, in Florida. Their cultivation gradually spread throughout the southeastern United States and later in California, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Today, lemon and lime are grown in all the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

The powerful scent of essential oils

The bark of citrus fruits contains essential oils which can be obtained by pressure or by distillation. They have always been used in perfumery and in the manufacture of insecticides for family gardens.

Today, they come into the composition of many other products: paints, dyes, solvents, deodorizers and insecticides against pet fleas and ants. They are also included in many cleaners, soaps for dishes and laundry and disinfectants (oils with germicidal properties).
People are looking for other industrial and domestic uses for these oils. They are more environmentally friendly than their chemical counterparts, and they come from the waste of the food industry, the juice processing plants, in particular.

Health profile of lemon and lime

The tangy taste of lemon and lime stimulates taste buds, which is excellent for digestion. They are rich in vitamin C and contain different compounds that would provide cancer.

The benefits of lemon and lime

Many studies indicate the consumption of citrus fruits, including lemon and lime, has a favorable effect on cancer.

Cancer (prevention). Several studies have shown the consumption of citrus fruits would be related to the prevention of certain types of cancers, such as esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, mouth and pharynx. According to one of these studes, moderate consumption of citrus fruits (1-4 servings per week) would reduce the risk of cancers affecting the gastrointestinal tract and the upper part of the respiratory system. In the case of pancreatic or prostate cancer, studies remain controversial.

A population study suggests that the daily consumption of citrus fruit coupled with a high consumption of green tea (1 cup and more per day) would be associated with a greater decrease in the incidence of cancers.

Cancer (slowing progression). Flavonoids, antioxidant compounds contained in citrus fruits, showed that they could slow the proliferation of several lines of cancer cells and decrease the growth of metastases. These properties could be used for the development of antitumor therapies.

Other compounds contained in citrus fruits (limonoids) have also shown anticancer effects in vitro or on animal models. They could reduce the proliferation of cancer cells of breast, stomac, lung, mouth and colon.

Cardiovascular diseases. Several epidemiological studies have shown that regular intake of flavonoids from citrus fruits is associated with a decrease in the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Flavonoids would help improve coronary vasodilation, reduce blood platelets aggregation, and prevent the oxidation of “bad” cholesterol (LDL).

Inflammation. Several studies have shown that the flavonoids of citrus fruits have anti-inflammatory properties. They inhibit the synthesis and activity of mediators involved in inflammation (arachidonic acid derivatives, prostaglandins E2, F2 and thromboxanes A2).

Hypercholesterolemia. Flavonoids and limonoids of citrus fruits and their juices may have a potential to reduce hypercholesterolemia. Studies among animals have shown that some of them lower blood cholesterol. However, these studies were not performed with compounds extracted directly from the lemon or lime. The bioavailability of citrus compounds and their absorption mechanisms should be studied in humans before one can make conclusions on their clinical efficiency.

Other. Among other observed effects, two limonoids present in citrus fruits (limonine and nomilie) inhibit the replication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), in addition to inhibiting the protease activity of the virus. In addition, some limonoids of the lemon show an activity against certain pathogens fungi. Other limonoid and some proteins would improve the immune system among animals. These results are promising but have not been the subject of controlled clinical studies. It is therefore impossible for the moment to translate these effects to humans.

Several prospective and epidemiological studies revealed that high consumption of fruits and vegetables reduced the risk of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other chronic diseases.

What does lemon and lime contain?

The antioxidant power of lemon and lime is considered to be low because it is calculated according to a normal portion, which is relatively small. However, lemon and lime contain various components that can have a positive effect on the health and prevention of several diseases.

Flavonoids

Lemon and lime contain different types of flavonoids. These antioxidant compounds allow, among other things, to neutralize free radicals of the body and thus prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other chronic diseases. The main flavonoids contained in lemon and lime are eriocitrin and hesperetin. Animal experiments demonstrated that eriocitrin and hesperetin, extracted from the skin of the lemon or its juice, could reduce or prevent the increase in stress-related oxidative damage. In addition, eriocitrin could induce apoptosis of leukemia cells. The white part of the lemon skin is the one that contains the most of these 2 flavonoids.

Nobiletin is another type of flavonoid contained in citrus fruits and would have angiogenic properties. It would help to slow the growth of tumors and metastases. Finally, according to a study conducted on pancreatic cells, the ability to inhibit the proliferation of cancerous cells by the lime would be proportional to its flavonoid content as well as limonoid.
Limonoids

Limonoids

The main limonoids of citrus fruits are limonin and nomilin. They are mainly found in the seeds, but also in the juice. Limonoids have a certain antioxidant capacity. They could also lead to apoptosis (programmed death) of cancerous neuroblastic cells (embryonic nerve cells, then differentiated into neurons)16. Studies suggest that they could prevent certain types of cancer among animals. For example, Obacunone, a type of limonoid, has been found to be effective in reducing the incidence of colon tumors and to reduce the number of mouth tumors. But there is no data at the moment as to a similar effect among humans. The synergistic action of several limonoids between them, or with other compounds (such as flavonoids), could highlight their action on cancer cells.

Soluble fibers

Citrus fruits are rich in soluble fibres, mainly in pectin, which are found in the skin and in the white membrane around the flesh (albedo). By their ability to reduce blood cholesterol, soluble fibers contribute to reducing the incidence of cardiovascular diseases. Researchers have shown that lemon skin is effective in reducing blood and hepatic cholesterol levels among animals. However, in addition to pectin, other compounds present in the lemon skin may participate in this process.

In addition, lemon pectin, compared with 3 other citrus fruits (grapefruit, tangerine and orange), has the best ability to inhibit the growth of some in vitro cancerous tumors. However, these data require further analysis before making conclusions on the beneficial effects of lemon or lime pectin towards cancer in humans.

Protein

A team of researchers discovered that an extract of lime juice could improve the immune response among animals. This effect would be attributable to a set of proteins present in the extract of lime juice. These same protein components could be involved in stopping the proliferation of cancer cells observed in vitro.

Lemon and weight loss

Many weight loss diets use lemon and its juice for its impact on weight loss. Obese individuals have been shown to have vitamin C levels below non-obese. Low levels of vitamin C were associated with abdominal fat accumulation. Indeed, individuals who consume enough vitamin C would oxidize 30% more body fat during a moderate workout compared to individuals with low vitamin C consumption. In brief, low vitamin C inputs would constitute a barrier of body fat loss among obese people. Still, no clinical controlled study has been achieved to date to specifically assess the impact of lemon consumption on weight loss. We will have to wait for additional studies to confirm their potential effects.

Precautions

We should avoid consuming lemon or lime, or their juices, together with antacids. Indeed, several citrus fruits increase the absorption of the aluminium contained in the antacids. It is better to space for 3 hours the use of antacids and citrus fruits or their juices.

Lemon, lime, and their juices should also be avoided by people suffering from gastro-esophageal reflux, peptic esophagitis and hiatus hernia (acute phase of these diseases). These foods may cause irritation of the mucous membrane of the esophagus or cause epigastric burns.

Lime juice causes a decrease in the anticoagulant activity of the warfarin.

Choice and conservation

Choose

The skin of the most juicy lemons and limes is thin and shiny, never lumpy. The fruits must be firm and heavy in hand.

The leaves of the kaffir lime (the lime of the Citrus hystrix specie) are fresh, dried or frozen in oriental grocery stores. Dried leaves quickly lose their aroma and have less culinary interest than fresh leaves and frozen limes. Sometimes there is also the fruit of the kaffir lime, a lime with a lumpy skin.

Keep

Lemons can be kept for 1 to 2 weeks at room temperature. Limes are kept less long, as they dry out more quickly. By keeping lemons and limes in a container of water in the refrigerator or simply in a well closed container, they can be kept longer.
If you have large quantities of these fruits, you can squeeze and freeze the juice in an ice bin.

Candied limes and lemons. Crack the limes or lemons in four lengthwise, keeping them attached to a piece, fill them with coarse salt (about 125 ml – ½ cup for 4 lemons), put them in a jar by stacking them well and cover with lemon or lime juice. Leave for maceration for about 1 week, and then put in the refrigerator. The candied fruit will be easy to keep for 6 months, even longer.

Dehydrated skin. Dried at room temperature, they remain in a spice jar for a long time. They will lose some of their flavor while drying, but will still help to decorate a dish. The white part being more bitter, you can only dry the zest, which will be sampled with a vegetable peeler or a zester.

 

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