Lemons are a popular citrus fruit known for their sour and tangy flavor. They are commonly used to add flavor to water, tea, baked goods, and savory dishes. Some people believe that lemons, like other fruits, contain calories and sugar. Others argue that lemons are effectively zero calorie due to their low calorie and carbohydrate content. So what’s the real answer – are lemons zero calorie or not?
Nutrition Facts for Lemons
Let’s start by looking at the nutrition facts for lemons. One medium lemon (approx. 58g) contains:
As you can see, one lemon contains only 17 calories. It also has minimal fat, cholesterol, and sodium. The majority of the carbohydrates come from naturally-occurring sugars (2.5g per lemon) and fiber (2.8g).
So while lemons do technically contain calories and carbs, the amounts are very low compared to other fruits and foods.
The Concept of Negative Calories
Some people claim that lemons have “negative calories.” This concept suggests that the calories burned from digesting and metabolizing the lemon exceed the calories the lemon actually contains.
The theory is that the body has to spend more energy breaking down and absorbing all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals in lemons. So ultimately you end up with a calorie deficit or “negative calories.”
This notion is controversial, however, and not scientifically proven. No foods have been conclusively shown to have a negative net calorie content.
That said, foods like lemons that are very low in calories and high in nutrients are less likely to contribute to weight gain than high calorie, low nutrition foods. Their low calorie density helps create a calorie deficit that aids in weight loss.
Calories in Lemon Juice and Lemon Water
Now let’s look beyond whole lemons to products made from lemons, like juice and lemon water.
One cup of raw lemon juice (approx. 244g) contains:
Lemon juice contains a few more calories and carbohydrates than the lemon itself. But it still remains very low in calories, providing only 61 calories per cup.
Adding lemon juice to water enhances the flavor without adding virtually any calories. A typical glass of lemon water made with 1 tablespoon (15ml) of lemon juice and 8 ounces (250ml) of water contains just 4 calories.
So while the juice and peel are removed, straight lemon water infused with juice is just as low-calorie as the whole fruit.
Calories in Lemon Zest
Lemon zest, or the thin, outermost yellow peel of the lemon, also has minimal effects on calorie content. Lemon zest contains fiber, vitamins, and plant compounds like lemon essential oil.
One tablespoon (6g) of zest contains just 5 calories.
Adding some zest to lemon water, salads, baked goods, or other dishes will provide a pop of lemon flavor without any significant calorie increase.
Do Lemons Have Sugar?
Lemons do naturally contain sugar, but in very small amounts compared to other sweet foods and beverages.
As mentioned earlier, one lemon has 2.5g of sugar. One lime has 1.7g of sugar in comparison.
For perspective, here’s how much sugar is found in some other common foods and drinks:
|Food/Drink||Sugar per Serving|
|Soda (12oz can)||39g|
As you can see, even fruits like strawberries and grapes contain significantly more sugar than lemons. And soda has a whopping 15-30 times more sugar per serving!
So lemons are very low in sugar, especially compared to other sweetened beverages, candies, and desserts that contain added sugars and high fructose corn syrup. The small amount of fructose and glucose found naturally in lemons is not a concern.
Calories in Lemon Desserts
Keep in mind that while fresh lemons are very low in calories, lemon-flavored processed foods and desserts often contain added sugar and calories.
– A slice of lemon pound cake can have 200-300 calories
– A lemon cupcake can have 250-350 calories
– A slice of lemon tart can have 300-400 calories
– Lemon ice cream or sorbet generally has 150-250 calories per serving
– A glass of lemonade can have 100-150 calories
So enjoy the tangy flavor of lemons in desserts, but be mindful of extra calories from sugar, butter, flour and other ingredients. Make sure to account for the full calorie content if you are tracking your intake.
Health Benefits of Lemons
Now that we’ve established lemons are very low in calories, what are some of the main health benefits of using lemons? Here are a few reasons to use lemons more often:
High in Vitamin C
Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C, providing about 31mg or 35% DV in each medium fruit. Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant that supports immune function and collagen production.
Support Heart Health
The vitamin C and other antioxidants in lemons can help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing. Studies show citrus fruits may lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
The citric acid in lemon juice produces an alkaline reaction after digestion, helping neutralize acidity and supporting healthy digestion. Lemon water is a great way to start the day.
Lemons support detoxification by stimulating production of stomach saliva, bile, and other digestive fluids. Lemon water flushes out toxins and gives the liver a helping hand.
Kidney Stone Prevention
Citrate in lemons helps block stone-forming calcium crystals. Drinking lemon water daily may support kidney health and prevent painful kidney stones.
Research shows compounds in lemon peels, juice, and oil may have anti-tumor effects and help inhibit growth of cancer cells. More studies are needed on lemons’ cancer-fighting properties.
Using Lemons in Recipes
Here are some tips for incorporating lemons into recipes to enhance nutrition and flavor:
– Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to dressings, marinades, and sauces for a burst of flavor
– Mix lemon zest into curries, grains, baked goods, yogurt, oatmeal, etc.
– Make lemon water by squeezing half a lemon into cold water
– Grill or roast chicken, fish, and veggies with lemon slices
– Infuse water or tea with lemon slices
– Make lemon bars, tarts, scones, cookies, and other desserts
– Preserve or pickle lemons for unique flavor
– Ferment lemon juice to make a probiotic lemonade
– Make lemon infused olive oil for salads and bread dipping
Should You Drink Lemon Water for Weight Loss?
Many people drink lemon water as a weight loss aid due to its low calorie content. While lemon water on its own isn’t likely to cause significant weight loss, it may support your efforts when combined with a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
Potential benefits of lemon water for weight loss:
– Helps keep you hydrated
– Provides satiety from fiber
– Can replace high-calorie beverages
– Supports digestion and detoxification
– Provides antioxidant Vitamin C
Aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids daily, with lemon water being a tasty low-calorie option. But increasing activity levels and following an overall healthy eating pattern matter most for lasting weight loss success.
Should You Have Lemon Juice on a Low Carb Diet?
Freshly squeezed lemon juice is compatible with a low carb diet due to its low sugar and calorie content.
Most low carb diets allow for 20-50 grams of net carbs per day. With only 5.4g net carbs in an entire lemon, enjoying lemon juice is fine even on strict low carb diets like keto.
Some benefits of lemon juice on a low carb diet:
– Adds flavor without raising carbs
– Provides satiety and hydration
– High in antioxidants
– May help burn more fat for energy
– Supports ketosis
Avoid store-bought lemon juice products with added sugars. Squeeze fresh lemons instead whenever possible. Tracking quantities is also a smart idea for maintaining low carb goals.
Overall, lemons are a fresh, low carb way to jazz up water, salad dressings, seafood, chicken and more on a low carb diet.
Should You Avoid Lemons if You Have Diabetes?
Fresh lemons have a low glycemic index, meaning they do not cause significant spikes in blood sugar. People with diabetes can include moderate amounts of lemons as part of a healthy diet.
Some benefits of lemons for people with diabetes:
– Provide flavor without impacting blood sugar
– Contain antioxidants and phytonutrients
– May improve insulin sensitivity
– Support heart health
– Aid weight management
Whole lemons, lemon juice and zest are all good choices. Monitor portion sizes and avoid lemon desserts or drinks with added sugars. As always, individuals with diabetes should consult their health provider about specific diet recommendations.
While lemons do contain some calories and carbs, the amounts are very minimal. Lemons provide just 17 calories per fruit and contain far less sugar than other fruits.
Enjoying lemon water, lemon juice, lemon zest, and other fresh lemon products adds tons of flavor without significant caloric impact. Lemon-based desserts and processed foods often have added sugars and calories, so those should be accounted for accordingly.
Lemons are a fresh, low-calorie way to enhance your health due to their stellar nutrition profile. With benefits for heart health, digestion, detoxification, cancer prevention, and more, lemons deserve a squeezed spot in your diet.