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Should you start your day with lemon water? Not for the reasons you’ve heard

While many claims (greatly) exaggerate the health properties of lemon water, the beverage does deliver some nutritional benefits, writes Leslie Beck.

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I've heard that it's healthy to drink warm water with lemon when I wake up each day. Is this a good idea? How will it help me?

The morning ritual of drinking lemon water has been promoted by nutritionists, natural-food enthusiasts and many celebrities for as long as I can remember. So long, in fact, that the advice seems like a given, with well-substantiated benefits.

And those benefits are numerous. Proponents claim that drinking a single glass of warm water with lemon upon waking is capable of doing everything from speeding up weight loss to cleansing the liver to clearing up your complexion.

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The elixir is also said to improve digestion, treat constipation and ease aches and pains.

While many claims (greatly) exaggerate the health properties of lemon water, the beverage does deliver some nutritional benefits. Here's what drinking warm water with lemon does and doesn't do. (I'll cut through the nonsense first and address the most popular claims.)

Weight loss

Sorry to disappoint, but there's not a stitch of evidence that warm water with a squeeze of lemon juice will help flush the pounds away.

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Supposedly, drinking lemon water promotes weight loss by reducing your appetite and cutting cravings, thanks to pectin, a natural fibre found in citrus fruit.

Yet, most of the pectin in lemons is found in the peel; some is also found in the pulp (the membranes that contain the juice). One whole lemon, with peel, provides roughly two grams of fibre. The juice from one lemon, on the other hand, has a mere 0.3 grams of fibre. Hardly enough to put a dent in your appetite.

Still, drinking more water – with or without lemon juice – could enhance weight-loss efforts. But it has nothing to do with pectin.

Studies suggest that low-calorie dieters who drink a large glass of plain water before meals eat fewer calories at mealtime and lose more weight than those who don't "preload" their meals with water. It's thought that water fills your stomach, making you less likely to overeat.

Increasing your water intake can also squeeze out high-calorie drinks such as fruit juice and soft drinks.

Detoxification

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If you read my columns, you know I don't give credence to so-called detox diets (or "cleansing" foods) said to speed the removal of chemicals we ingest through food, absorb through our skin and inhale from the environment.

Advocates contend that drinking lemon water boosts the activity of detoxification enzymes in the liver and, in so doing, helps flush toxins out of the body. One of our liver's very important tasks is to neutralize toxic substances so that they can be eliminated.

Our liver needs adequate water, nutrients and phytochemicals to assist its detoxification process. But there's no evidence that drinking a glass of lemon water each morning enables your liver to step up its game.

Clearer skin

Despite the many claims that drinking lemon water can keep your skin acne-free (wrinkle-free, too), I found little explanation beyond its antioxidant content. Lemon water does contain some vitamin C (more on this later) and trace amounts of antioxidants called flavonoids.

It's a major stretch, however, to credit drinking a glass of lemon water with improving acne, never mind reducing wrinkles.

Drinking water hydrates the skin, but doing so is not sufficient to prevent wrinkles, which are related to genetics, aging and sun and environmental damage.

When it comes to improving acne, research suggests that cutting out refined, high-glycemic carbohydrates, limiting milk, increasing omega-3 fat intake and losing excess weight could help.

The benefits of drinking lemon water

Drinking warm water with lemon juice isn't a magic bullet to a leaner, healthier body. That doesn't mean, though, that starting your morning with a glass of it isn't a good practice to adopt.

Doing so can get you into the habit of drinking more water during the day, something that many of us need to do. Women are advised to drink 2.2 litres of water each day; men need three litres.

An adequate intake of water helps circulate oxygen and nutrients to cells more efficiently. Increasing your water intake could also improve mood and enhance concentration.

Plus, chugging a glass of water with lemon first thing in the morning could set the tone for all-day healthy food choices.

It can also give you a leg up on your daily vitamin C, an antioxidant nutrient that helps the immune system work properly, aids wound healing and enhances iron absorption from plant foods.

The juice of one lemon delivers 19 mg of the nutrient, 20 per cent and 25 per cent of a day's worth for men and women, respectively. Not bad. (Of course, you get plenty more – 70 to 90 mg – by eating a whole orange.)

If you're at risk for developing calcium oxalate kidney stones, the most common type, adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to one cup of water may help prevent stones from forming. That's because lemon juice contains citrate, a compound that can block calcium from binding to oxalate in the urine.

Bottom line

If the taste of lemon helps you drink more water then, by all means, start your day with a glass of water squeezed with fresh lemon. Just don't expect miracles.

It doesn't have to be warm water, either. In fact, studies suggest that cold water is absorbed more quickly than warm water.

Go easy on the lemon juice, though. It's highly acidic and, over time, can erode the enamel of your teeth. Dentists recommend drinking lemon water quickly, rather than sipping it slowly, and rinsing your mouth with plain water after drinking it.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto.

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