We answer the age old question – is lemon water good for you by looking at the evidence on metabolism, immunity, digestion, acne and more!
Lemon water- the supposed holy grail of instagram wellness. The popularity behind lemon water mostly stems from it’s laundry list of alleged health claims including its ability to supposedly boost metabolism, promote clear skin, balance pH, detox the liver, enhance immunity, and even fight cancer (*insert eye roll here*). But can a simple glass of lemon water really optimize health? We take a deep dive to answer the age old question – is lemon water good for you? And should you be drinking it daily?
How to Make Lemon Water
Preparing a glass of lemon water is pretty straightforward and impossible to mess up. You simply add fresh lemon juice (as much or as little as you like) to a glass of hot or cold water and voila! Done. There’s no real science to it and it really just depends on your taste preference.
With that said, how does lemon water fare nutritionally? Aside from providing a small amount of potassium, lemon juice (as well as all other citrus fruits) is a great source of vitamin C. But, of course, the amount of vitamin C obtained from lemon water will depend on how much lemon juice you choose to add.
So for example:
One tablespoon of lemon juice provides 6 mg vitamin C.
The juice from a whole lemon (roughly 3 tbsp of juice) provides 18 mg of vitamin C.
When we consider that the recommended amount of daily vitamin C is 75 – 90 mg/day for adults, 1 spoonful of lemon juice would provide around 7% of daily vitamin C while the juice of a whole lemon would provide 20-25% of daily vitamin C.
With that in mind, any nutritional benefit obtained from lemon water is more than likely attributed to the vitamin C content it provides. But does this mean that the vitamin C from lemon water is really the magic elixir behind all the supposed health claims? Let’s dive a little deeper.
What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin obtained in the diet that is important for many body functions, such as collagen formation, immune function and enhancing iron absorption. While lemon water may provide around 20-25% of your daily needs for vitamin C, there are a number of food sources that far exceed this amount.
For example, 1 medium bell pepper provides 8 times the amount of vitamin C from the juice of a whole lemon, while a kiwi provides 4 times the amount, and an orange provides 3 times the amount. Other excellent sources of vitamin C include:
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
While lemon water may certainly help with meeting our daily recommendation for vitamin C, when we compare the amount of vitamin C in lemon water to other food sources, any “benefit” coming from lemon water would be considered the same if not more from other higher vitamin C sources. So even though lemon water may not be the end all be all of vitamin C sources, there’s no denying that vitamin C has a number of health benefits that a morning glass of lemon water may help to support.
Let’s examine some of the alleged health claims of drinking lemon water.
The skin contains high concentrations of vitamin C, which stimulates collagen synthesis and helps protect against UV damage. Research shows that vitamin C levels in the skin respond to increases in vitamin C levels in the blood. In other words, the more vitamin C we consume the more benefit we will likely see in the integrity of our skin. As for drinking lemon water, it may help to support skin health when combined with a diet already rich in vitamin C. However, relying on lemon water alone will likely not lead to substantially healthier glowing skin.
Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
Due to vitamin C’s antioxidant properties, it has been shown to lower cholesterol by preventing inflammation and hardening of the arteries. Research suggests that 500 mg/day of supplemental vitamin C may promote this cholesterol lowering effect. In addition, vitamin C supplementation of the same amount has also been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure. One explanation is that vitamin C improves nitric oxide production which aids in vasodilation, meaning it relaxes the inner muscles of the blood vessels, causing them to dilate and increase circulation.
Although these studies show that supplemental vitamin C can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, more research is needed to determine if the same benefit can be obtained from food sources. Even if it can, you would need to drink about 28 glasses of lemon juice, using the whole lemon, to see these positive effects.
Vitamin C helps to enhance iron absorption when combined with iron-rich foods which can help to prevent iron deficiency. Some examples of common vitamin C and iron food combinations include:
- Oatmeal and berries
- Tofu stir fry with bell peppers
- Bean chili with a squeeze of lime juice on top
When it comes to the vitamin C found in lemons, one study looked at the effect of lemon versus orange juice on iron absorption and found that lemon juice had a greater effect. The study suggested this was due to the higher citric acid content of lemon juice together with its vitamin C content.
With that in consideration, squeezing a bit of lemon juice on your iron-rich meal or enjoying a glass of lemon water on the side can help to increase your body’s absorption of iron. However, consuming lemon water in the morning in isolation would not have the same effect.
Vitamin C also plays a role in immune function by encouraging the production of white blood cells which help protect against infection. However, current research does not support the idea that routine vitamin C intake will improve immunity against the frequency of colds, specifically. However, regular intake of vitamin C supplementation has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of colds when supplements are introduced before the onset of cold symptoms.
That being said, the studies included in the systematic review ranged from providing participants with 1000 to 2000 mg of vitamin C supplementation per day. When we compare this amount to the 18 mg of vitamin C obtained from the juice of one lemon, the effect of lemon water on the duration and severity of colds are pretty negligible. At best, if you are not obtaining enough vitamin C throughout the day from other food sources or supplements, then it is possible that drinking lemon water may help to supplement your intake. But again, you would have to drink over 55 glasses of lemon water to reap any benefits for immunity.
Regardless, it is important to drink plenty of fluids when you are sick, so if adding lemon juice to your water helps you drink more fluids, by all means, add it in! And let’s face it, a warm citrusy beverage always feels nice and soothing on your throat when you are feeling under the weather.
You may be surprised, but there actually is evidence supporting the role of vitamin C in cancer prevention, although this does not extend to the treatment of patients with advanced cancer. It is important to note that the studies were conducted using 200 mg of vitamin C supplementation. This goes back to vitamin C being an antioxidant which may protect against cancers caused by oxidative damage. However, the research is still extremely limited in this area.
Again, considering that the juice from one lemon only provides 18 mg of vitamin C, this amount would be negligible when it comes to possible cancer prevention. On the other hand, it would be easier to meet 200 mg of vitamin C from consuming one red bell pepper plus a cup of cauliflower in the day, or a cup of strawberries plus a cup of brussel sprouts.
Studies have shown that increased intakes of fruit and vegetables can help protect against the risk of kidney stone formation. This is true for all fruit and vegetables besides those with high oxalate content, such as beets, cranberries, spinach and sweet potatoes. Lemon juice in particular, as well as other citrus juices, are natural sources of citrate which binds with urinary calcium and helps to prevent kidney stone growth. In addition, regular consumption of lemon water can increase fluid intake and urine output which can likewise be beneficial for the prevention of kidney stones.
An additional benefit of drinking lemon water daily is that it can help you increase your fluid intake. Studies have shown that dehydration can impair cognitive performance, especially tasks involving attention, executive function, and motor coordination. How to tell if you are dehydrated? The colour of your urine is a good guide. The darker the colour, the more likely you are to be dehydrated so aim for shades of pale yellow.
Arguably one of the more popular claims behind drinking lemon water in the morning is its ability to “detox” the body from toxins. But news flash, folks! Our organs (like our kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin) are perfectly capable of handling any cleansing of toxins as necessary. That being said, water is the most important beverage that a person can consume to help our organs filter out any waste products or toxins. However, it’s important to note that this goes for water in general and is not necessarily specific to lemon water. Meaning, whether you are drinking plain ol’ water or lemon water, the impact on the body when it comes to detoxification are virtually the same.
Our blood pH is tightly regulated by the kidneys which helps to maintain the blood’s pH in a constant range, between 7.34 and 7.45. This range is critical in order for our cells to function properly. Even though lemon juice is very acidic at a pH of 2, one reason why it has been thought to alter the pH of our blood is because when it is metabolized in the body it becomes alkaline. Although studies have shown that lemon juice may make the pH of our urine more alkaline, this does not have an effect on the pH of our blood. In fact, NO foods have an effect on blood pH, as our kidneys closely regulate this. If our blood pH was to fall outside the normal range, it would be extremely dangerous. With that said, even though our kidneys require water to function properly, lemon water has NO effect on alkalizing the body.
Weight Loss & Metabolism
Time and time again, I’ve heard many influencers suggest that lemon water in the morning will “kickstart your metabolism” and promote weight loss. There is some research to support the claim that increasing water consumption before each meal may help to reduce caloric intake by increasing feelings of fullness. But, this is not exclusive to only mornings or only lemon water.
However, lemon water is a low calorie beverage and provides only 10 calories from the juice of one whole lemon. So, if you were to drink lemon juice in place of other high-calorie beverages, this would naturally reduce calories and possibly aid in weight loss. With that said, lemon water itself has not been proven to boost metabolism in any way.
Exercise Performance and Athletic Recovery
Drinking lemon water will not necessarily enhance exercise performance besides helping to keep you hydrated. However, adding the juice of a whole lemon to your water during a workout can help replace essential electrolytes lost while sweating during exercise, specifically potassium which is important for proper muscle function. The juice of 1 lemon has about 48 mg of potassium, which may seem low compared to the potassium needs for the average adult which is 4700 mg/day. However, when you compare the potassium content in a standard sports drink it only contains around 65 mg of potassium.
Lemon water is, therefore, a great alternative to sports drinks especially if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake. You can also add a tiny pinch of salt to boost the sodium content in the lemon water, as sodium is the primary electrolyte lost through sweat and is important for maintaining fluid balance and retaining fluids. Despite lemon water acting as a low sugar alternative to sports drinks, it’s important to still keep in mind that the sugar in sports drinks provides a quick shot of glucose to replenish energy stores. So if you choose to substitute your sports drink for lemon water, you may need to obtain fast acting glucose post-workout from another source.
Another major claim behind the lemon water trend is that it can help relieve digestion and bloating. The main ingredient in lemon water that may have these effects is water. In other words, whether you drink plain water, or lemon water, the effects on digestion would be virtually the same. This is because constipation is often due to dehydration, so drinking plenty of fluids will help to move things along. When bloating occurs, drinking water may help flush out the excess fluids and help you feel more comfortable.
Lemons are also touted as a diuretic, meaning that they increase urination and help flush water from your system. However, the research does not support this claim. Water alone can help relieve constipation and bloating, but the lemon juice does not necessarily play a role.
There are also some claims that drinking lemon water aids in digestive health due to soluble fibre. However, the juice of 1 lemon only contains 0.1 g of fibre and 1 tbsp of lemon juice contains no fibre. This amounts to less than 1% of an individual’s daily fibre needs, which is pretty negligible.
If you are consuming lemon water for the fibre content, you are much better off getting your fibre needs from other fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds and relying on lemon water (or just plain water) for hydration instead.
Risks & Concerns
Are there any potential risks or concerns with drinking lemon water regularly?
Citric acid in lemons can be corrosive and damaging to tooth enamel, which is the covering that protects our teeth, making them more sensitive and prone to cavities. Although the citric acid content of lemon water is fairly diluted, dentists still recommend the following suggestions to avoid damaging tooth enamel:
- Swish plain water in your mouth for 30 seconds after finishing your lemon water to make sure the acid does not remain on your teeth
- Do not brush your teeth for at least 30 minutes after drinking lemon water, as the brushing motion will further agitate your enamel.
- If you prefer a stronger lemon flavour, dentists suggest drinking the beverage out of a (reusable) straw, which will bring the lemon water towards the back of your mouth and away from your teeth.
Canker sores are shallow ulcers that develop inside your mouth and they heal on their own within seven to 14 days. However, citric acid in lemon juice can worsen existing canker sores and may cause you to develop them more often. Avoid drinking lemon water as your canker sore is healing.
So, is lemon water good for you? Well, sure, it’s good for you. It’s water! And while it may help to support some health benefits due to its vitamin C content, it is certainly not the miracle cure-all beverage that it is often touted as. Overall, you can obtain the same (if not more) benefits from any other vitamin C source – whether it be from food or supplements. But if adding lemon juice to your water helps you increase your fluid intake and is something you enjoy drinking, then by all means drink up!
Contribution by Dietetic Student Christine Jauernig
Updated on November 3rd, 2020
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.