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6 healthy reasons you should include lemon zest in your food

Do you use lemons regularly? Try using lemon zest or peel this time to reap all its cancer fighting benefits!

Written by Poorva Chavan |Updated : February 28, 2015 11:37 PM IST

While lemons are known for their various health benefits and are widely used in Indian cuisine, the use of lemon zest or peel is limited. It is widely used in the West while cooking to enhance flavour in various cakes, cookies, pastries, pies and other confectioneries. It is also used to flavour various cocktails and used in making jams and marmalades for imparting a fresh citrus flavour. While using it in your food, it is important to know what lemon zest or peel is. It is the outer covering or the colourful skin of the fruit but not the white pith and is also called as lemon rind. Zest can be extracted from the fruit by using a scraper which ensures that the white pith of the fruit is not peeled along with it as the white pit has an unpleasant bitter taste and can spoil the taste of your food. Here are 7 fruit peels that have amazing health benefits!

While it is widely used, what many of us are not aware of are the numerous health benefits lemon peels have:

  1. Protects against colon cancer: Zests and peels of citrus fruits, like lemons and oranges, are known for their potent anti-cancer activity. They are rich in flavonoids, especially polymethoxy flavones (PMF), which effectively suppress tumour formation in the colon1. Lemon peel is rich in diosmin and hesperidin, which also prevent cancer formation in the colon.2
  2. Protects against prostate cancer: Studies show that a mixture containing lemon peel is effective in reducing the volume and size of prostate tumours and prevents metastasis, that is, the ability of cancer cells to transport to other parts and begin a tumour there, and also induces apoptosis, that is, self destruction of the cell1.
  3. Protects against skin cancer: Lemon peel is also known to be a storehouse of limonene, which can protect against skin cancer.3
  4. Helps control weight gain: While there are many Indian foods that help weight loss, lemon peel is known to be rich in polyphenols, which help in controlling body weight. It is also known to suppress fat accumulation and prevent hyperlipidemia, that is, excessive amount of fat in the liver.4
  5. Can improve insulin resistance: Insulin resistance is a condition in which body cells fail to respond to the action of the hormone insulin, escalating blood sugar levels and causing a condition called pre-diabetes. Lemon peels are rich in polyphenols, which help in improving this condition by suppressing the accumulation of fat around the abdomen 4.
  6. Controls blood sugar levels: Lemon peels are rich in flavanone glycosides, such as naringin and hespiridin, both of which play an important role in preventing hyperglycaemia, that is, it controls blood sugar effectively, breaking down glucose in the liver, increasing glycogen concentration and lowering the formation of new glucose molecules in the liver.5 Along with lemon peels, another super food that helps control blood sugar effectively is amla or Indian gooseberry, which also controls diabetes.
  7. May help in lowering heart disease risk: Lemon zest is also an excellent source of vitamin C. Apart from having many health benefits, is known to be an excellent antioxidant. It helps in reducing free radicals in the body and thereby, prevents the damage caused by these free radicals to the walls of the arteries and blood vessels, preventing the risk of a stroke and other heart diseases.

How to include lemon peels and zest in your food:

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  • In India, lemon pickle is widely used and is a favourite in most households. So, including lemon pickle in your diet regularly can help you reap the benefits of lemon peels. Here's an instant lemon pickle recipe if you are not a fan of ready made pickles available in the market.
  • Lemon peels can be used to enhance the flavour of certain cakes and pies. You can scrape a little lemon zest into your cake mixture before baking. You can also add lemon zest to add a tangy flavour to cake icings.
  • You can also eat candied lemon peels once in a while to enjoy the flavour of lemon peels. All you need to do is boil the peel in some hot water to reduce the bitterness and add it to another pot of hot water and sugar. Simmer until the peels turn soft. Sprinkle some sugar on them and let them dry for a day or two. You can eat these candied lemon peels whenever you have some sweet craving or can also add them to your bowl of curd.
  • Add the dry lemon zest powder to your spice mix for a twist in your regular food. Alternatively, you can use this dry powder as a seasoning on your fish and meat. To make the citrus powder, dry the lemon zest for a two days or so and them just grind it into a fine powder and store it in a clean bottle.

Lemon peels are not have health benefits but are known to be beneficial to your skin and hair. The high vitamin C content of the lemon oil can effectively combat many skin and hair issues.


1. Lai CS, Li S, Miyauchi Y, Suzawa M, Ho CT, Pan MH. Potent anti-cancer effects of citrus peel flavonoids in human prostate xenograft tumors. Food Funct. 2013 Jun;4(6):944-9. doi: 10.1039/c3fo60037h. Epub 2013 May 14. PubMed PMID: 23673480.

2. Tanaka T, Makita H, Kawabata K, Mori H, Kakumoto M, Satoh K, Hara A, Sumida T,Tanaka T, Ogawa H. Chemoprevention of azoxymethane-induced rat coloncarcinogenesis by the naturally occurring flavonoids, diosmin and hesperidin.Carcinogenesis. 1997 May;18(5):957-65. PubMed PMID: 9163681.

3. Hakim IA, Harris RB, Ritenbaugh C. Citrus peel use is associated with reduced risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Nutr Cancer. 2000;37(2):161-8.PubMed PMID: 11142088.

4. Fukuchi Y, Hiramitsu M, Okada M, et al. Lemon Polyphenols Suppress Diet-induced Obesity by Up-Regulation of mRNA Levels of the Enzymes Involved in -Oxidation in Mouse White Adipose Tissue. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition 2008;43(3):201-209. doi:10.3164/jcbn.2008066.

5. Jung UJ, Lee MK, Jeong KS, Choi MS. The hypoglycemic effects of hesperidin and naringin are partly mediated by hepatic glucose-regulating enzymes in C57BL/KsJ-db/db mice. J Nutr. 2004 Oct;134(10):2499-503. PubMed PMID: 15465737.

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