When it comes to diabetes, reducing sugar intake is naturally a big part of your diet. While it’s easy to avoided obvious no-go’s such as cakes and candies, other food groups are less obvious. For example, complex carbohydrate can quickly become a source of sugar, so it’s usually recommended that diabetic patients eat a low-carb diet.
Another form of sugar source that not only doesn’t usually register as such, but rather as a health-boosting group, is fruits. Most fruits are obviously sweet and easy to avoid overeating, but others are not. One favourite flavour booster in the pantry is lemon.
From adding a citrus flavour to salads to brightening up a rich roast, this acidic fruit seems to fit in everywhere on the menu. But the question we are interested in today is: Do lemons fit well with a lifestyle impacted by diabetes?
The short and quick answer is yes, they do. And in this post, we are going to look at why they do. Spoiler: They not only fit nicely into a diabetes-conscious diet, they also have a positive impact on those with diabetes.
So what are the properties of lemons that makes them helpful to diabetic people?
Lemons and glycemic index (GI)
Don’t be intimidated by the technical flare—it’s an intuitive concept. Glycemic index, aka GI, simply put, is a number used to indicate how much a given food increases your blood sugar levels within two hours after consumption.
The lower the GI of a given food, the less it increases blood sugar levels, which, as you know, are important for helping manage diabetic patients, whose blood sugar levels tend to be high because of their insulin deficiency.
But how useful is GI when it comes to a citrus fruit like lemon, which hardly anyone eats raw? Well, actually, it is not GI that makes lemons special, but how lemons can affect foods with various GIs.
According to Harvard Health Blog, even if you eat foods that have a moderate or high GI (usually carbs), if you eat them with lemon juice, the conversion of carbs to glucose will be slowed down. This will help prevent overwhelming your insulin-deficient system with a spike in glucose.
Since the juice of lemon is enough to do this trick, simply adding a wedge or two of lemon with your meals might prove beneficial.
Lemons have dietary fibre
Another nutritional fact about lemon we tend to miss, usually, is that lemons have high dietary fibre. Of course we tend to miss this aspect of this citrus fruit—we don’t eat lemons like an orange!
However, according to a study published in 2013, dietary fibre not only does the traditional job of improving our digestion, it also has the effect of stabilizing blood sugar levels by slowing down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. More relevant to our topic, the researchers in this study found that dietary fibre has preventive effects on type 2 diabetes and the culprit that often goes hand-in-hand therewith—cardiovascular diseases.
That’s all good and well, but what can we do with this information if lemon flesh is not even edible? As we all know, the flesh of fruits contains way more fibre than the juice alone.
One idea is that when you squeeze lemon juice next time, instead of squeezing the rind, use a small spoon to scrape out the flesh, and then crush the flesh to produce lemon juice with pulps. Use the whole mixture without discarding the flesh. Since most of the acidity is in the juice, if you crush the flesh into small enough pieces, it won’t affect the flavour of whatever you are cooking.
Instead of worrying about the flesh, the seeds of lemons are a bigger enemy to flavour, since even when the seeds are intact, once heated, it will add a lot of bitterness. So take extra care to fish them out, even if it’s just a broken sliver.
Ah, the mighty vitamin C. The health benefits of this vital nutrient is common sense nowadays—that’s why we love oranges so much, right? But did you ever consider lemons to be a rich source of vitamin C?
With orange, the ubiquity of its juice sold as a product makes it easier for us to think of it as a major nutritional source. But because of their high acidity and bitter aftertaste, lemon juice is only potable when made into lemonade, which is high in added sugar. Yet, lemons have comparable daily values of vitamin C as oranges, at 88%.
Why is this important to diabetic people?
We all know vitamin C is vital for our general health, but as it turns out, it is even more so for diabetics. In a 2014 study, scientists discovered a heightened need for vitamin C among the diabetes population.
Moreover, researchers found, in 2007, that high intake of vitamin C (at least 1000 mg) over six weeks showed preventive promises against type 2 diabetes. This protective effect of vitamin C against diabetes was found again by an independent group of researchers in 2016.
In addition, compared to oranges, lemons have only a quarter of total sugars, making them a better choice when it comes to source of vitamin C.
Of course, the dosage of vitamin C at which the diabetes-preventive effects take place is way too high to even achieve by only eating oranges. So instead of using lemons alone, some supplements in addition to the natural fruit is probably a wise option.
Diabetes, obesity, and citrus
It is well known that obese people are more likely to develop diabetes because the excess bodyweight naturally makes a much higher demand on their bodies to make insulin to control their blood sugar levels. Not enough insulin means diabetes is not too far off.
Note that after diabetes has developed, one may say that the need to make and use enough insulin is ever higher. Therefore, weight control is a crucial aspect of managing diabetes, and thus is the recommendation by experts at Diabetes Canada.
What do all these facts about obesity have to do with lemons?
In 2016, a group of researchers found that citrus fruits have bioactive components that contributes not only to the prevention but also the treatment of obesity. By preventing and treating obesity, you are also being protected against, and proactive about managing, diabetes.
Final citrus tips
With all being said, it would have all been for nothing if you cannot successfully incorporate lemons into your diabetes-conscious diet plans.
The easiest way to consume lemon in a traditional way is to make big jars of lemon water. Because it is very diluted, the taste is light and refreshing, not overly acidic and too strong. This also allows you to take in the nutrients in a lemon slowly throughout the day as you drink water and takes the pressure away to think of lemon-conscious recipes for your meals.
But what if you want to have more ways with lemon than water?
Luckily, lemon is not only good on its own, it is also an excellent companion to a lot of other foods that are beneficial to people struggling with diabetes.
One of those food groups is fish that are rich in Omega-3, such as salmon and tuna. You can read more about tuna and diabetes on our website here [insert link]. Even if you get tired of fish, let’s be honest, seafood is in general friendly to diabetics because of their low fat content and flavourful flesh, which means the simplest salt, pepper, and lemon can make them very delicious.
Another thing that’s beneficial to those with diabetes that also goes well with lemons is the Mediterranean diet. Because of its vegetable-focused dietary structure, its use of olive oil which is high in Omega-3 and has little saturated fat, and rare use of red meat and natural incorporation of the above-mentioned fish, the Mediterranean is a recommended diet for diabetes by many doctors.
Have you ever seen a Mediterranean garlic sauce? This creamy white sauce is emulsified garlic with salt and lemon as the main seasoning—lemon is the source of its fresh acidic subtle note. And if you ever paid attention at most Greek restaurants, you would notice that they almost always serve the dishes with a wedge of lemon on the side.
So, the takeaway about cooking and consuming lemon is that if you’re unsure about how to use this citrus fruit, feel free to consult a Mediterranean recipe for inspiration, and whenever you can, try to get some of that flesh of lemon so you don’t miss out on the health benefits of dietary fibre while brightening up your day with a few lemony twists.
Lemon, as it appears, may just be another diabetes-preventive/benefiting superfood, and a healthier source of vitamin C compared to oranges for those of you who are sugar-conscious. That said, also consult your doctor about just how much lemon you should consume. After all, they are highly acidic, and overdosing acidic foods can have other negative consequences for your health, though not necessarily related to diabetes.