When lemon water started showing up in my social media feeds as A Thing, I was initially surprised and amused that my little morning ritual was suddenly trendy. Here’s how and why I started drinking lemon water, and why, for years now, it’s one of the first things I do every day.
What lemon water is.
Lemon water is simply lemon juice mixed with water. There are conflicting opinions about what temperature is best for lemon water, but I prefer just a bit warmer than room temp. Lemon water has been touted for a wide range of benefits, ranging from a detox aid, to a weight loss agent, to an immune system booster, to a digestive health superfood. Some of these claims are more legit than others, but as a registered dietitian—and as someone who’s been drinking lemon water daily for years—I think there’s something to it.
Why I first tried lemon water.
For lack of a better expression, I grew up with a New Age mom. While my dad always had a steady supply of cough drops handy, if you went to my mom with a sore throat she’d say, "Oh, your throat chakra must be blocked. What do you want to say that you feel like you can’t say?"
My mom was actually the first person to introduce me to the concept of drinking lemon water one winter I was visiting from college and got sick. She added cayenne extract, echinacea, and a bit of honey to make a soothing cold remedy, but she said lemon water on its own was also great as an everyday thing to help maintain a healthy immune system. I tried it both ways and loved it and kept that in my back pocket of secret weapons, returning to it when I felt I needed the boost.
When I first started working in hospitals as a nutrition student, I always felt like I was on the verge of coming down with something. I managed to power through most of the time, but during my clinical internship, which had me rotating every few weeks to a new hospital and relearning a new schedule, it got to the point where I felt like I had a constant low-grade fever. Everything hurt and I was always tired. I was 26 years old but felt about 80. Or what I imagine 80 feels like—I hadn’t lived that long in any of my past-life regressions with Mom.
Then I remembered the lemon water. I bought a giant bag of lemons and decided I’d try it for a few weeks to see if I noticed any difference. After about a month, I realized I felt better—I felt well, even. So I bought more lemons. And then another month passed, then a year. Then another year, and so on.
The purported benefits—and what I've actually noticed.
I wear a lot of hats in my professional life, and having a schedule that changes week to week makes me savor those little rituals that help keep me grounded when everything else is in flux. This is also why I tend to wake up and go to bed around the same time every day regardless of what’s on my calendar.
It’s also worth noting that my previous baseline of four colds per year is down to one. Whether this is due to the vitamin C and other antioxidants naturally present in lemons or because I’ve built up more immunity over time through exposure to all kinds of nasty bugs I’d rather not think about (or luck!), I don’t really need to know. Even if it’s purely a placebo effect, when you do "nothing" and enjoy some benefits, what could be better?
I don’t totally buy claims that lemon water detoxes your system (either way, the body already does a great job cleansing itself of stuff it doesn’t need), but I will say that water is helpful for moving things through the digestive tract and also stimulating urination, both of which are important parts of that natural filtering process.
When we’re dehydrated (which is typically the case when we first wake up), giving our thirsty cells something to drink helps us perk up like a flower and opens our mind to the idea of being awake.
When I notice the difference most is when I’m traveling and skip a few days. Once I get back to it, though, all feels right in the world again, even if just for those first few minutes of the day.
Just a few things to consider: If you’re new to lemon water and are concerned about how the acidity may affect you, try using a smaller amount of lemon juice and a little more water. Also be sure to wash your lemons before cutting into and juicing them. You may also want to sip some plain water after and hold off for a while before brushing your teeth in order to prevent any enamel damage. Also, if you’re just not feeling right and can’t figure out why, get in touch with your health care provider and talk about what’s up. They may be able to help you get a handle on any underlying causes so you can start feeling better ASAP.