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Is Lemon Water effective for weight loss? (here are the facts)

We dive into the popular belief that lemon water aids in weight loss. It examines claims of increased metabolism, pH level effects, and fat reduction, highlighting the limited scientific evidence. While lemon water offers hydration benefits and may reduce sugar consumption, it is not a magic solution for weight loss.

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Is Lemon Water effective for weight loss? (here are the facts)

Lemon water has gained popularity as a potential aid in weight loss endeavours.

It has been claimed that it helps burn belly fat, trigger weight loss by speeding up our metabolism, and even that ingesting it will influence the pH of our blood.

However, actual scientific evidence supporting its direct impact on weight reduction remains limited. The aim of this article will be to discern truth from trends and give a clear answer to the question whether lemon water is effective for weight loss.

Does lemon water speed up metabolism?

Now, metabolism first, yes there are ingredients which can essentially “speed-up” or “slow-down” our bowel movements. This is why we can take prune juice to alleviate constipation, and why too many nuts can have the opposite effect. 

However, this is not necessarily an effective (or safe) weight loss strategy.  

Why?

Because we do not typically excrete fat tissue when we pass a stool or urinate, nor does an increased frequency of such mean that we are metabolising other foods more rapidly.

What actually happens is that more water is drawn into the intestine through a process called osmosis, leading to watery stools.  In some instances, this is beneficial, such as for the relief of constipation. 

However, repeatedly tampering with our digestive processes can disrupt normal nutrient absorption. The intestine is an incredibly delicate area responsible for the absorption and production of a plethora of nutrients, therefore prolonged abnormal stools can cause irritation, discomfort, and lead to damage. 

Water, on the other hand, supports optimal bowel function, which is a crucial component of healthy weight loss. It is likely that the purported weight loss properties of lemon water arise (indirectly) via its optimisation of hydration, subsequently supporting our bodies excretion system (promoting a healthy urinary tract and regular bowel movement).

The truth about lemon water and pH levels 

Let's clear up some confusion about pH levels.

You might have heard that lemon juice is alkaline and can change the pH of your blood. But lemon juice is actually acidic, thanks to "citric acid."

Our blood's pH is kept stable by our body's control systems. Even small changes in pH can be harmful, so our bodies work hard to prevent that from happening. Now, the pH in our stomach is different from our blood's pH. The stomach is the most acidic part of our body.

This is very important, as it ensures that many harmful pathogens carried in on foods are destroyed at entry (you still need to be mindful of what you ingest though, but this system certainly offers a safety net). It also creates an environment that supports the production and function of many important digestive enzymes, responsible for the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

In fact, the only time that the pH of the blood is known to alter is during something called ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition experienced by some individuals with unmanaged type 1 diabetes mellitus.  

Does lemon water “burn” belly fat?

You might have heard that lemon water can "burn" belly fat. While that sounds great, there's no real science to back it up. It's not possible for any food or drink to target fat loss in specific body areas.

Remember, the key to managing weight effectively is a well-rounded approach. This includes eating a balanced diet, staying active, getting enough sleep, and drinking plenty of water.

Now, there are studies which suggest that the addition of lemon water to one’s regular routines facilitates a reduction in weight. In the following section we will further consider why this may be and discuss the actual potential health benefits of lemon water.

What are the health benefits of lemon water? 

As touched on above, In some instances, the addition of lemon to water supports individuals with increasing their fluid intake, by adding a little flavour (or even colour) to their drinks. 

Because hydration is essential for overall health, and due to its ability to promote satiety and optimise metabolic processes, an increase (whether accompanied by lemon or not) could indirectly support weight management. 

In fact, adequate hydration is a crucial component of healthy weight loss. 

Warm vs. cold lemon water

We might also consider that lemon combined with warm water increases metabolism more so than in cold form. 

However, the difference between the effect of cold versus warm water on metabolism exists irrespective of the addition of lemon, and available evidence does not rule out such confounding factors, therefore it is important to remember that lemon water alone is unlikely to yield significant weight loss benefits. 

It’s a substitute for sugary beverages

One mechanism through which lemon water can facilitate a reduction in weight is by substituting beverages with a higher sugar content. 

Lemon water is typically low in sugar, as it is predominantly water, so for individuals who regularly consume high volumes of sugary drinks, a swap like this may be an effective strategy to reduce overall sugar consumption, potentially aiding a reduction in weight.

However, weight gain beyond what is considered a healthy range is unlikely to develop solely due to consumption of high sugar beverages, meaning that other factors are likely to need addressing, such as overall diet and exercise. 

A good source of Vitamin C?

But what about Vitamin C? 

Okay, so lemons are rich in vitamin C and compounds such as flavonoids which offer potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, supporting optimal function throughout the body. 

However, following a balanced, varied, and plant-rich diet (which does not necessarily mean meat-free) will provide these compounds in abundance (and be better for your teeth, which we will come to in the next section).

Fruit juices too can have a place within a balanced, nutritious diet, such as a small glass of fresh juice with a meal, and even cordials (particularly those free from added sugars) in small, infrequent quantities. 

Generally, though it is best to obtain Vitamin C (and flavonoids) from whole foods where possible, as this not only offers the complete range of nutrients in their naturally occurring ratios, but also provides the complimentary fibre that supports appropriate glucose absorption (the sugar within the fruit or vegetable). 

Hydration: the core benefit

Health promoting compounds aside, incorporating lemon water into one's daily hydration regimen can contribute to overall fluid intake and provide a refreshing alternative to plain water, helping to combat dehydration and improve full body function.  

However, it is imperative to recognize that the primary benefit of lemon water lies in its hydration potential rather than its direct impact on weight loss

4 side effects of drinking too much lemon water 

While lemon water can be a part of a healthy lifestyle, it is essential to exercise caution regarding potential side effects. Here are the 4 most common ones you should know about:

It hurts your teeth

The acidic nature of lemons may pose risks to dental health by eroding tooth enamel (which coats your teeth), leading to dental caries and decay.

If lemon water is going to be an addition to your regular habits, you could take steps to mitigate this by implementing some mindful consumption practices, such as using a straw when drinking, followed by rinsing the mouth out afterwards, and avoiding tooth brushing around the time of drinking as the acidic nature of the lemon juice can soften enamel.

Potential germs on lemon wedges

If you are using lemon wedges, you might also be wondering if you need to be concerned about pathogenic microorganisms trying to hitch a ride into your system.

The good news is that food in the UK is subject to rigorous monitoring and must comply with strict regulations via the Food Standards Agency, such as the pesticide surveillance programme.

So whilst washing fruits and vegetables is advised to ensure cleanliness, it is not required as a protective measure against harmful chemicals. 

Lemon water vs. whole fruits

It is also worth considering that often when a food, drink, or supplement is consumed in the pursuit of such grand claims, this can detract from the importance of obtaining the compound or ingredient in its whole or natural form. 

When we focus too much on one specific food or drink for its health perks, we might not eat a variety of other healthy foods as much. Plus, the amount of good nutrients you get from lemon water is actually pretty small compared to eating whole fruits and veggies.

Can lead to heartburn (for some people)

People with sensitive stomachs should be careful with how much lemon they add to their drinks. Too much lemon might worsen symptoms like heartburn. If this happens, try using less lemon juice to get just a light taste without causing discomfort.

Lemon water vs. regular water in your diet

Lemon water can add a refreshing twist to your hydration routine and fits nicely into a well-rounded diet.

However, it's critical to understand that relying solely on lemon water for weight loss is not effective. True, sustainable weight management requires a comprehensive strategy that focuses on consuming a variety of whole, nutrient-rich foods. Ensuring a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is essential for optimal health and maintaining a healthy body composition.

Our health mentors at Embla are certified nutritionists and offer expert guidance and support as you navigate your weight loss journey. They’ll be to provide valuable nutritional advice like this (as well as in other important areas such as mental health, exercise, and sleep). 

References

Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Hille, U., Tank, J., Adams, F., Sharma, A. M., Klaus, S., Luft, F. C., & Jordan, J. (2003). Water-induced thermogenesis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 88(12), 6015-6019.

British Nutrition Foundation. (2024a, Hydration. https://www.nutrition.org.uk. Retrieved 04/02/2024, from https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthy-sustainable-diets/hydration/

British Nutrition Foundation. (2024b, Vitamins and minerals. https://www.nutrition.org.uk. Retrieved 04/02/2024, from https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthy-sustainable-diets/vitamins-and-minerals/

Chiasson, J., Aris-Jilwan, N., Bélanger, R., Bertrand, S., Beauregard, H., Ékoé, J., Fournier, H., & Havrankova, J. (2003). Diagnosis and treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis and the hyperglycemic hyperosmolar state. Cmaj, 168(7), 859-866.

Food Standards Agency.Pesticides - Advisory Committee for Social Science. food.gov.uk. Retrieved 04/02/2024, from https://acss.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/multimedia/pdfs/publication/foodpestfactsh.pdf

Fresán, U., Gea, A., Bes-Rastrollo, M., Ruiz-Canela, M., & Martínez-Gonzalez, M. A. (2016). Substitution models of water for other beverages, and the incidence of obesity and weight gain in the SUN cohort. Nutrients, 8(11), 688.

Harvard Health Publishing. (2023, June 30,). Laxatives: What to know about choosing the right one. https://www.health.harvard.edu. Retrieved 06/02/2024, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/dont-bomb-the-bowel-with-laxatives

Hofmeister, M. (2022). Water for weight loss. Canadian Family Physician, 68(11), 796.

Iancu, M. A., Profir, M., Roşu, O. A., Ionescu, R. F., Cretoiu, S. M., & Gaspar, B. S. (2023). Revisiting the Intestinal Microbiome and Its Role in Diarrhea and Constipation. Microorganisms, 11(9), 2177.

Kalpe, S., Mathur, A., & Kharat, P. (2023). How fad diets May Jeopardize your oral well-being: The hidden consequences. Human Nutrition & Metabolism, , 200214.

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