Lemon vs Lime - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison
Lemons and limes are often interchangeably used in the kitchen, but how similar are they really? In this article, we will discuss what these two fruits have in common and what sets them apart, focusing on their nutrition and impact on health.
On the outside, lemons and limes are easy to differentiate; lemons looking yellow and oval, and limes appearing in shades of green and round forms. Limes are also usually smaller than lemons with an average size of 3 to 6 centimeters (1.2- 2.4 inches), as opposed to lemons’ 5 to 8cm (2- 3 inches).
Both fruits grow year round, however lemon trees prefer moderate climates, when lime trees are recommended to grow in tropical and subtropical regions.
These fruits are quite similar in taste, however lemons are generally considered to be a little more sweet, whereas limes are more bitter or sour.
Both lemons and limes belong to the Citrus genus, consequently they are known as citrus fruits, however they are separate species. Lemons belong to the species Limon, whereas multiple species produce fruits that we know as lime. Most well known lime species are Key lime, Kaffir or makrut lime and Persian lime. Although Persian limes are used and referred to as limes, they are actually a hybrid between key limes and lemons.
Sweet lemons (Citrus limetta), also known as mosambi or sweet lime, are a cross between citrons and bitter oranges. These fruits can resemble limes, with their round shape and green colour, but are actually considered to be a cultivar of lemons.
Nutritionally the two fruits are rather alike. Both lemons and limes consist of about 89 percent water.
One serving of a lemon weighs 58 grams, whereas lime’s serving portion is a little larger with 67g.
Macronutrients and Calories
Lemons and limes have very similar caloric values. Lemons contain only one calorie less, compared to limes. The caloric value of lime is 30, consequently meaning that a serving of lemon contains 29 calories.
Lemons are richer in proteins and fats, but limes contain more carbohydrates. The two fruits have the same amount of dietary fiber, but limes are higher in total sugars.
Lemons and limes mostly contain the same vitamins and in similar amounts, with only a few differences. The largest difference between the two is their vitamin C content.
Citrus fruits are known for their high content of vitamin C. Both lemons and limes are rich in vitamin C, however, lemons contain twice the amount, compared to limes.
Lemons contain a little more vitamin B1, vitamin B6 and vitamin B9 in its folate form.
On the other hand, limes contain two times more of vitamin A. They are also slightly higher in vitamin E, vitamin B3 and vitamin B5. Limes contain low levels of vitamin K, whereas this vitamin is absent in lemons.
Both lemons and limes contain the same amount of vitamin B2 and completely lack vitamin D, vitamin B12 and the folic form of vitamin B9.
Overall, limes are richer in minerals, containing more of calcium, copper, zinc and phosphorus. However, lemons have higher levels of potassium and magnesium.
Lemons and limes, both contain similar levels of iron and sodium.
The glycemic values of lemons and limes are estimated to be 20 and 32 respectively. These numbers show us that, even though both fruits have a low glycemic index, lemons have a lower GI, when compared to limes.
The glycemic index of citrus honey has been calculated to be low, equal to 45, making it a good option as a honey substitute for people with diabetes (1).
The acidity of fruits can change, depending on growing conditions, as well as ripeness levels. However, most studies show limes to be more acidic than lemons. One research has concluded the pH of lemons to be 3.1, whereas limes (Key lime) had a pH of 2.4 (2).
The acidity of limes also depends on its variety and can range from 2 to 2.4 (3).
Studies have also shown that lemon juice contains higher levels of citric acid, when compared to lime juice (4). Consequently, lemon juice is slightly more acidic than lime juice.
The acidity of foods can also be portrayed by the potential renal acid load (PRAL), that shows the capacity of base or acid production of the food, inside the organism.
The PRAL for lemons has been calculated to be -2.3, and -1.7 for limes. This means both fruits are alkaline inside the body, lemons more so than limes.
Lemons and limes are both low calorie foods. People often use lemon or lime water as a means to lose weight. Studies have shown both fruits to have the potential to reduce the levels of blood cholesterol and help with weight loss (5). However, these studies have been only carried out on mice and not yet proven for humans.
The hypolipidemic and anti obesity effects are said to be due to the phytochemicals within these fruits, such as polyphenols (6).
Lemon detox diet
The lemon detox diet is a fasting program that is often kept for 5 to 10 days, during which people consume only lemon-based mixtures with no solid foods.
One study has concluded that a lemon detox program, consisting of organic maple and palm syrups with lemon juice, and kept for 7 days, reduces body fat and insulin resistance, without hematological changes (7).
However, the lemon detox fasting diet can have side effects, such as fatigue, headaches, malnutrition and gastrointestinal issues. This diet does not help in removing toxins from the body. There is also no evidence that after the initial weight loss, when resuming to a normal diet, the lost weight will not be rapidly regained.
Lemons and limes are rich in phytochemicals, such as flavonoids, limonoids and polyphenols. These compounds have many beneficial effects on health.
Citrus fruits are overall rich in flavonoids, which has been correlated with reduced cardiovascular mortality and morbidity (8). A prominent member of the flavonoid family is a compound called flavanone. While both fruits are rich in this substance, lemons are higher in flavanones than limes (9).
These and other phytochemicals found in citrus fruits express strong antioxidant and hypolipidemic activities (10).
Kaffir lime has also been studied as a potential cardioprotector agent to be used in chemotherapy (11).
Lemons have been estimated to have a lower glycemic index than limes. Adding lemon juice to a meal also significantly lowered the mean blood glucose concentration. This effect is said to be due to the acidity of lemon juice slowing down starch digestion (12). Hypothetically, as lime juice also has an acidic pH, we will see the same effect by using lime juice with high glycemic index foods.
Citrus limetta or sweet lime has also been studied as a source of functional compound for the control of diabetes mellitus due to its hypoglycemic effects (13).
Phytochemicals of citrus fruits have been associated with a decreased risk of cancers, specifically in the digestive and upper respiratory tract. This effect was evident even with moderate citrus fruit consumption (14).
Key lime in particular has been studied to anticancer effects against colon, pancreatic, breast cancers, as well as lymphomas (15).
Lemons and limes have also been studied to have antimicrobial, hepatoprotective and anti obesity effects.
Downsides and Risks
Both lemons and limes, due to their acidic nature, can cause heartburn and aggravation of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms, especially when consumed on an empty stomach.
However, paradoxically, due to its alkalizing nature, watered down lemon juice can help some people reduce heartburn.
Limes and lemons can also cause tooth erosion by wearing away the dental enamel, making teeth more sensitive, yellow and eventually causing cavities.
To avoid this, it is better not to consume concentrated lemon or lime juice, but to water it down instead. You can also drink lemon or lime juice with a straw, to avoid contact with teeth.
A compound found in lemons and limes, called limonene, is a mild skin and eye irritant.
People who are allergic to limonene, may experience contact dermatitis after touching these fruits (16).
Overall, lemons and limes have very similar nutritional profiles. However, in small amounts lemons contain more protein and fats, whereas limes are higher in carbohydrates, due to total sugars. The two have approximately equal caloric values and are both low calorie foods. Lemons contain two times more of vitamin C, but limes are much richer in vitamin A. In general, limes are richer in minerals, containing higher levels of calcium, copper, zinc and phosphorus. Lemons, on the other hand, are richer in potassium and magnesium.
Both lemons and limes can aid with weight loss and possess cardioprotective, hypoglycemic and anticancer effects. Both can also act as irritants and cause heartburn and enamel erosion, due to their acidity.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Sugar|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in glycemic index|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Lower in Sodium||Equal|
|Lower in price||Equal|
|Rich in minerals||Equal|
|Rich in vitamins||Equal|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low glycemic index diet|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values