There is some evidence that lemon juice can slow the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar, thereby preventing a spike in blood sugar. Even so, the effect is relatively small, and lemons have not been shown to be an effective home remedy for either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.
This doesn’t mean that lemons aren’t healthy options for people with diabetes. In fact, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) classifies lemons and other citrus fruits as “superfoods” rich in fiber and vitamin C. Lemons are also low on the glycemic index (GI), meaning that they are less likely to raise your blood sugar.
This article takes an unbiased look at the research exploring the effects of lemons in managing diabetes, including what they can and cannot do. It also looks at the general health benefits of lemons as part of a diabetes diet.
Research on Lemons and Diabetes
Lemons are good for you, and many alternative practitioners contend that they can help stabilize blood sugar. Others believe that lemons can reverse insulin resistance, meaning the body’s inability to respond to insulin—the hormone produced by the pancreas tasked with regulating blood sugar.
On paper, the facts look good.
A 2021 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that lemon juice slows the conversation of starch in foods like bread to glucose (sugar). Compared to people who drank no lemon juice, those who did had a 30% lower spike in blood sugar after eating two slices of bread. Lemon juice also delayed spikes in blood sugar by 35 minutes.
With respect to insulin resistance, some people believe that polyphenols in lemons can increase insulin sensitivity. These are plant-based compounds that are thought to have antioxidant properties, meaning that they fight free radicals that can cause cellular damage. These include glucose-producing cells in the liver that respond to insulin.
More Investigation Is Needed
While this effect has been seen in test tube studies, there is little evidence that drinking lemon juice has the same effect in humans.
A 2016 review of studies published in Primary Care Diabetes evaluated seven clinical trials involving 306,723 people over four to 24 years. The researchers could find no evidence that the regular consumption of citrus fruits altered the risk of type 2 diabetes.
A 2021 study in Trends in Food Science and Technology similarly concluded that there was no evidence that long-term citrus fruit consumption improves type 2 diabetes.
This same study found that the effect of lemon juice on postprandial (post-meal) blood sugar levels appears to be short-lived and not robust enough for lemons to be considered a treatment for diabetes.
Health Benefits of Lemons in People With Diabetes
The nutritional profile of lemons makes the fruit a great option for everyone, including people with diabetes.
In terms of benefits of lemon that are particularly helpful for those with diabetes:
- Lemons are high in soluble fiber, which slows digestion and, by doing so, helps control blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- Lemons are high in vitamin C, one of the most powerful antioxidants. Studies suggest that vitamin C may help lower fasting blood sugar levels, along with cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Vitamin C is also involved in the production of collagen and can help maintain the integrity of arteries, lowering the risk of diabetes-related complications like heart and kidney disease
- Lemons also have a low glycemic index (GI). This is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates which shows how quickly foods affect blood sugar when eaten on their own. On a range of 0 to 100, lemons have a GI of roughly 20.
Adding Lemon to a Diabetes Diet Plan
Before embarking on any diet, consult your healthcare provider if you have diabetes. There are several factors you should think about before adding lemons or lemon juice to your dietary plan:
- Due to its acidity, lemon can aggravate or cause heartburn in those with a history of acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Lemon juice can erode tooth enamel and increase tooth sensitivity due to its high acidity. If you have sensitive teeth, consider drinking diluted lemon juice through a straw and rinsing your mouth afterward.
- Lemon peel contains a high amount of a plant-based compound called oxalates. Consuming a high amount of oxalates can increase the risk of kidney stones.
- Lemon can act as a diuretic (a substance that promotes urination). Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated if you regularly consume lemon juice.
Jia X, Zhong L, Song Y, Hu Y, Wang G, Sun S. Consumption of citrus and cruciferous vegetables with incident type 2 diabetes mellitus based on a meta-analysis of prospective study. Prim Care Diabetes. 2016;10(4):272-80. doi:10.1016/j.pcd.2015.12.004
American Diabetes Association. Diabetes superfoods.
Freitas D, Boue F, Benallaoua M, et al. Lemon juice, but not tea, reduces the glycemic response to bread in healthy volunteers: a randomized crossover trial. Eur J Nutr. 2021 Feb;60(1):113-22. doi:10.1007/s00394-020-02228-x
Sorrenti V, Consoli V, Grosso S, et al. Bioactive compounds from lemon (Citrus limon) extract overcome TNF-α-induced insulin resistance in cultured adipocytes, Molecules. 2021 Aug;26(15):4411. doi:10.3390/molecules26154411
Visvanathan R, Williamson G. Effect of citrus fruit and juice consumption on risk of developing type 2 diabetes: evidence on polyphenols from epidemiological and intervention studies. Trends Food Sci Tech, 2021;115:133-46. doi:10.1016/j.tifs.2021.06.038
Ellulu MS, Rahmat A, Patimah I, Khaza’ai H, Abed Y. Effect of vitamin C on inflammation and metabolic markers in hypertensive and/or diabetic obese adults: a randomized controlled trial. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2015;9:3405-12. doi:10.2147/DDDT.S83144
Diabetes Canada. Glycemic index food guide.
National Kidney Foundation. Calcium oxalate stones.
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