Water: refreshing. Lemons: also refreshing. Combine the two, and you get a drinkable liquid with sprightly flavor. That is all you get. Not a detox elixir, and not a metabolism booster. Let me repeat: when you add lemons to water, you just get lemon water. (And if you also add sugar, you get lemonade.)
Lemon water is alive and well as a health trend, probably because it looks so fresh and clean on TikTok and it’s so easy to make that everybody has an opinion on it. (“I was today years old when I realized I’ve been drinking lemon water wrong,” says one TikToker who has just learned that you can smash a lemon in the bottom of a jar to get the juices out. Wait until she figures out you can use a wooden spoon instead of a straw.)
If you like to start your day with a glass of warm lemon water, I certainly won’t stop you. But let’s take a look at the supposed benefits of this ritual.
Lemon water is not a metabolic tonic
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Reader’s Digest, in listing “12 insane benefits” of drinking lemon water, cites a study to support the idea that some of the compounds in lemons “prevent weight gain.” The study was in young mice (who are still growing, hence the study of weight gain) and rather than a morning glass of lemon water, they were given a mixture of polyphenols, chemicals extracted from lemons, in an amount that made up 0.5 percent of their diet. The results were somewhat promising, if you remember that these weren’t people, they weren’t drinking lemon water, and they weren’t losing weight.
Lemon water does help you hydrate
The claims of lemon water hydrating you are true, since lemon water is made of water. (Lemon water doesn’t hydrate any better than regular water.)
Another oft-claimed weight-loss benefit of lemon water is that it fills your belly so you don’t eat as much breakfast. This is true, but also applies to regular water.
Lemon water is low in calories
If you want to reduce the number of calories you take in, swapping out a soda or juice for lemon water is certainly a thing you could do. (Plain water or a can of LaCroix would work just as well.)
Sometimes influencers will act like it’s a revelation that water with a slice of lemon has fewer calories than if you filled the same size glass with the sugary juice of many oranges. Yes, but I think we all knew that.
Lemon water will not detox you
I don’t know why I keep having to say this, but “detoxing” is not a thing. If there are real toxins in your body, seek medical care. If you just want to eat healthier, that’s fine, but it’s not a “detox” in any sense.
Lemon water is not a good source of electrolytes
“Not that I was drinking it straight, but half a cup of lemon juice has about 125 mg of potassium compared to about 211 mg in a banana,” Dina Gachman writes at Prevention. Okay, but if you’re not drinking a half cup of the stuff, what good does that math do us? Let’s look at the nutritional content for one lemon wedge: it has less than one percent of the amount of sodium and magnesium you need in a day (0.006% and 0.13% of the daily value, respectively), and only 2% of your daily potassium.
It probably doesn’t help digestion
Stomach acid is acidic, and lemons are acidic, so surely lemons help you digest your food, right? First of all, stomach acid is only involved in one small aspect of digestion, so boosting it wouldn’t do much for your body. More importantly, you can’t really change the acidity of your stomach by changing what you eat. If you eat something alkaline, your stomach cells squirt out more acid; if you chug lemon juice, they’ll hold back. (The one exception to that rule: if you frequently get heartburn, acidic foods can sometimes irritate your esophagus and make symptoms worse.)
There are some small studies in animals that have shown mixed results on other measures of digestion, but definitely nothing definitive enough to say that it “helps” digestion.
Lemon water doesn’t provide pectin or any other fiber
Unless you’re chewing and eating the lemon slices, in which case you’ll get a tiny bit.
Lemon water is only an OK source of vitamin C
One wedge gives you 4 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C. If you love your lemon water and drink a whole lemon’s worth, you’re up to 36 percent, which makes it a pretty good source of that vitamin. But you’re getting vitamins in the rest of your food, too, aren’t you?
I trust that if you were in danger of developing scurvy you’d hop off your pirate ship and grab a juicy whole orange (138 percent of your daily requirement) on your way to the doctor’s. If you’re just hoping to prevent colds, vitamin C doesn’t do that, but it may shorten colds (by a little bit, and I emphasize maybe) if you take large doses. As in, way more than what’s in a glass of lemon water.
In conclusion, lemon water is made of liquid, contains few calories, and arguably tastes good. That’s what it has going for it. A glass of lemon water each morning might help you give up a coffee habit (why though) or help you feel like you’re getting your day off to a healthy start as you gaze out the window and envision the yoga routine you’ll try later. Fine. Whatever. But that’s all it can do.