Celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Hilary Duff, Christie Brinkley, and Gisele Bundchen all reportedly love lemon water in its many forms—hot, cold, and lukewarm.
Those celebrity endorsements are part of the reason why lemon water has scored a reputation as the overachieving beverage we should all start our morning with. Some say that drinking lemon water in the morning promotes digestion, balances the body’s pH levels, and detoxifies from the inside out. Others claim it brightens the skin while bolstering the immune system. And many optimists believe lemon water spurs weight loss.
Can such a cheap, simple, make-at-home drink live up to the hype? We asked registered dietitians to break down the real benefits of lemon water.
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DOES LEMON JUICE REALLY DELIVER?
After eight hours of Zs, a glass of H2O with a lemon slice is a great, low-cal (one slice contains two calories) way to start your morning, says registered dietitian Wesley Delbridge, R.D., a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. “But the water part of lemon water is to thank for most of the science-backed benefits of lemon water,” he says.
Most people don’t drink enough water, so when they up their H2O intake (with or without the slice of lemon), they’ll usually experience the so-called benefits of lemon water, such as decreased constipation, tighter skin, and weight loss, he explains.
While dehydration can slow metabolic rate, most lemon-water-linked weight loss happens when people use it to replace high-cal beverages like soda or fruit juice. Dehydration can also slow brain function to torpedo your energy levels and allow brain fog to set in, he says. (If your urine is light yellow or clear, you’re probably hydrated. But if it’s darker than that, you probably need to drink more water.)
But sipping any kind of water: hot, cold, flavored, or plain, will do the trick.
No, lemon water isn’t magical, says Delbridge, and so far there are no studies that support the claimed benefits of lemon water. And the lemon itself doesn’t actually provide a ton of nutritional value.
After all, even though lemons do contain vitamin C, and studies link vitamin C deficiency to poor immune function, lemons contain so little of the immunity-boosting nutrient that it likely won’t make any impact on whether or not you catch a cold. According to the National Institutes of Health, women need about 75 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per day, but a slice’s-worth of lemon juice only has about one mg. If you also eat the pulp, you can get up to four mg, or 5 percent of your daily needs, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and a spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The same goes for lemon’s flavonoids, antioxidants that research has shown to fight cancer, says Valdez. He says a glass of lemon water won’t even hit 1 percent of your daily needs.
Meanwhile, the claims that lemon water detoxifies the body and, through its acidity, somehow alters blood pH, are flat-out false, says Delbridge. While the liver and kidneys tightly regulate the removal of toxins from your body, the lungs, kidneys, blood, and bones all work together to maintain your body’s perfect pH. Translation: The foods you eat won’t alter your pH whatsoever.
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SIP THIS WAY
If you have trouble staying hydrated, aren’t a fan of plain ‘ole water, or are trying to cut back on high-calorie drinks, go ahead and try lemon water, recommend both Delbridge and Valdez.
That said, the acidic concoction is not for everyone. Drinking lemon water, especially in large amounts, can actually cause a burning sensation in your stomach, and can exacerbate the symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn, Valdez explains. Meanwhile, it can also weaken tooth enamel and irritate the gums, Delbridge says. So if you do want to try lemon water, drink it through a straw.
Bottom line: If you like the taste, go ahead and add some lemon to your morning glass of water. But don’t expect it to yield miracles.