Lemon zest, also known as lemon peel or lemon rind, refers to the outermost layer of a lemon. Some people avoid eating lemon zest because they find it unpleasantly bitter or believe it may contain harmful chemicals. However, lemon zest provides a variety of nutrients and health benefits when consumed in moderation.
Nutrients in Lemon Zest
Lemon zest contains many of the same nutrients found in lemon juice, like vitamin C and citric acid. However, the zest provides higher concentrations of some beneficial plant compounds.
The main nutrients and plant compounds in lemon zest include:
- Vitamin C: An essential nutrient and antioxidant. One tablespoon (6 grams) of zest provides about 70% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI).
- Fiber: Helps regulate digestion. The same 1-tablespoon serving provides 1 gram of fiber.
- Plant compounds: Includes limonoids and flavonoids that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Essential oils: Provide the zest’s strong lemon flavor and scent, which may promote wellbeing.
- Minerals: Small amounts of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and copper.
The vitamin C, fiber, plant compounds, and minerals in lemon zest provide a variety of health benefits when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Potential Health Benefits
Here are some of the top health benefits of eating lemon zest:
High in Antioxidants
Lemon zest is rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C and beneficial plant compounds like hesperidin, diosmin, and eriocitrin. Antioxidants help defend your cells against damage from unstable molecules called free radicals.
This antioxidant effect may promote health and protect against chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.
May Support Immunity
The high vitamin C content in lemon zest helps support your immune system. Getting enough vitamin C aids immune cell function and helps wounds heal.
What’s more, some research indicates that the plant compounds in citrus fruits like lemons have antimicrobial properties that may boost immunity by fighting harmful bacteria and viruses.
May Promote Heart Health
Lemon zest provides flavonoids like hesperidin and diosmin. These antioxidants may help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides, reducing your risk of heart disease.
One study found that giving people daily lemon supplements providing 180 mg of citrus flavonoids lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure.
May Have Anti-Cancer Effects
Research suggests that lemon zest may have cancer-fighting abilities. Test-tube studies demonstrate that limonoids in lemon zest can help fight the growth of cancer cells.
The antioxidants in lemon zest, including vitamin C, may also help prevent oxidative damage that can lead to cancer. However, more human research is needed.
May Aid Blood Sugar Control
Despite its moderately high carb content, some research shows lemon zest may help control blood sugar levels.
In one study, giving people with prediabetes 2 grams of lemon powder daily for 12 weeks lowered fasting blood sugar by roughly 11% compared to a control group.
The fiber, antioxidants, and plant compounds in lemon zest may contribute to these beneficial effects on blood sugar management.
Potential Downsides to Eating Lemon Zest
While lemon zest provides many benefits, there are some downsides to consider:
- Pesticide residues: Lemon zest may contain traces of pesticide residue if not washed properly.
- Oxalates: Lemon zest provides oxalates, which some people are sensitive to. High oxalate intake can increase kidney stone risk.
- Dental erosion: Lemon zest’s acidity may erode tooth enamel. Be sure to rinse your mouth with water after consuming it.
Additionally, some people find the taste of lemon zest unpleasantly bitter or strong. Using small amounts may help minimize its intense flavor.
Proper handling and preparation of lemon zest can maximize safety and nutrient retention:
- Wash thoroughly before use.
- Use a vegetable brush while washing to help remove pesticide residues.
- Zest only the outer yellow layer. The white pith beneath tastes bitter.
- Avoid zesting areas with blemishes or green spots.
- Use a microplane or zester. Avoid zesting too deeply into the white pith.
- Refrigerate in an airtight container for 5–7 days or freeze for several months.
How to Eat Lemon Zest
Here are some delicious ways to enjoy lemon zest:
- Add it to baked goods like cakes, muffins, and breads.
- Mix into yogurt, oatmeal, or overnight oats.
- Sprinkle over salads, roasted veggies, pasta, rice, or fish.
- Blend into smoothies, juices, dressings, and sauces.
- Mix with olive oil and herbs as a marinade for chicken or fish.
- Stir into hot tea, coffee, or lemon water.
As a general guideline, start with 1 teaspoon (2–3 grams) of freshly grated zest and adjust to taste preferences and the dish you’re preparing.
The Bottom Line
Lemon zest provides vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, essential oils, and other beneficial plant compounds. Consuming it may help boost immunity, heart health, blood sugar management, and cancer protection.
To maximize nutrition and flavor, wash lemons thoroughly before zesting only the outer yellow layer. Add zest to teas, marinades, dressings, baked goods, yogurt, oatmeal, and more.
While reasonable intake of lemon zest offers health benefits, eating it in excess may cause issues due to its acidity and oxalate content. As with most things in nutrition, moderation is key.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is lemon zest good for you?
Yes, lemon zest is very nutritious and linked to many health benefits. It provides vitamin C, plant compounds, fiber, and essential oils. Research shows it may boost immunity, heart health, blood sugar control, and cancer protection.
Is lemon zest the same as lemon peel?
Yes, lemon zest and lemon peel are names for the same thing. They refer to the outermost, yellow layer of the lemon rind.
Is it OK to eat raw lemon peel?
It’s generally safe to eat the zest from washed, organic lemons in moderation. Avoid eating the white pith beneath the outer yellow zest, as it’s very bitter. Introduce lemon zest slowly and drink water after consuming it due to its acidity.
Does lemon peel have nutrients?
Yes, lemon peel is very nutritious. It provides vitamin C, plant compounds, fiber, essential oils, and small amounts of minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Is lemon peel high in vitamin C?
Definitely. One tablespoon (6 grams) of lemon zest provides about 70% of the Reference Daily Intake for vitamin C.
Nutrition Facts of Lemon Zest
Here is the nutrition information for 1 tablespoon (6 grams) of lemon zest:
|Vitamin C||51 mg (70% DV)|
|Calcium||15 mg (1% DV)|
|Iron||0.1 mg (1% DV)|
|Potassium||36 mg (1% DV)|
DV = Daily Value. DVs are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Lemon zest is low in calories and fat. It provides no protein or significant minerals but is high in vitamin C. It also contains plant compounds, fiber, and essential oils that offer additional health benefits.
The Bottom Line
Lemon zest is a highly nutritious and flavorful part of the lemon. It provides vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, essential oils, and many other beneficial plant compounds.
Consuming reasonable amounts of washed, organic lemon zest may help boost immunity, heart health, blood sugar control, and cancer protection.
Add zest to dressings, marinades, baked goods, yogurt, oatmeal, and more to take advantage of its unique flavor and nutrients.