Citrus limon or lemons as they are more commonly called have been a long-time folk remedy for type 2 diabetes. If you do an internet search for "diabetes and lemon" you will find sites that list remedies or call it a cure for diabetes. There are many attributed benefits of lemon, and diabetes is not the only disease or ailment it is said to improve. What is true when it comes to diabetes?
Historically, lemons along with other citrus fruits made long sea voyages possible by preventing scurvy which is the result from a vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C is required to make collagen and a lack of it can cause severe symptoms and death. Because lemons have twice as much vitamin C as an orange, they have been a valuable and pricey commodity. In addition to vitamin C, lemons also contain vitamin A, choline, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and fiber.
Lemons have been said to improve sluggish digestion, constipation, some allergies, sinus problems, rheumatoid arthritis and fatigue among other things. While some folk medicine was downright weird, questionable, and even dangerous, some seem to have stood the test of time. Just because time and money haven't been put into research yet, it doesn't mean a particular remedy or claim does not hold any water. In these cases, we simply don't know for sure, why it may work, and what precautions need to be taken. However in the case of lemons and diabetes, we have good reason to believe lemons are a good thing for people with diabetes and may live up to some of the folk medicine claims.
Lemon and Diabetes
The American Diabetes Association includes lemons on their list of superfoods due to soluble fiber and the high amount of vitamin C. This is because soluble fiber and vitamin C have been found to have beneficial properties for people with diabetes. Lemons have a low glycemic index and some studies even show that lemon may lower the glycemic index of other foods.
Soluble fiber: High-fiber diets have been shown to reduce blood sugar. The higher the fiber intake, the more benefit may be realized. This type of fiber may aid digestion and elimination, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, help with weight loss, and also is questioned to reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer. Because of many of these properties, soluble fiber is a powerful aid to help prevent cardiovascular disease.
There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and insoluble fiber does not. You can think of insoluble fiber as a scrubby pad that moves through your digestive system and cleans it out. While soluble fiber dissolves in water, this does not mean it disappears. It dissolves and forms a gel-like substance. This substance makes it harder for the digestive system to break down carbohydrates and absorb fat. So it slows carbohydrate absorption and prevents the absorption of some fat.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that reduces free radical damage in the body. Free radicals damage cells and membranes in the body. Many people with diabetes have low levels of vitamin C. This vitamin is supposed to help prevent diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Because vitamin C helps with the production of collagen, it helps maintain integrity of the walls of the arteries and can be helpful to people who have circulation problems and arterial damage.
Some studies have shown that vitamin C may help decrease levels of fasting blood sugar, triglyceride, cholesterol, HbA1c, and inflammation. It may even improve insulin resistance. Keep in mind too much vitamin C, especially supplemented, may be harmful.
Tips and Considerations
- Check with your health care team before increasing the amount of lemon in your diet and attempting to use it to improve health. Ask for advice on how to incorporate it and how much. You do not need to drink high amounts of lemon juice to gain benefits.
- Lemon can cause heartburn. If this happens to you then you may need to cut back.
- Lemon juice can erode tooth enamel and increase tooth sensitivity. If drinking as lemon water or juice, drink through a straw and rinse your mouth.
- Lemon peel contains a high amount of oxalates. Consuming a high amount of oxalates can cause problems such as kidney stones and pain from inflammation.
- Lemon can act as a diuretic. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Use lemon juice in place of salt to enhance the flavor of food.
- Squeeze lemon on greens and use along with extra-virgin olive oil as a simple dressing. For more flavor try my go-to Lemony Diabetes Salad Dressing Recipe.
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Diabetes Superfoods. American Diabetes Association. Accessed April 20, 2012. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/diabetes-superfoods.html
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