You may have heard friends or celebrities tout hot water with lemon as a do-it-all drink. Some people claim it promotes good digestion, others believe it can kick-start metabolism, and still others view it as a delicious way to spur weight loss. But can such a simple drink really live up to such a sterling reputation? We tapped two experts to help us separate the lemon-water fact from fiction.
The truth is, lemon water doesn’t directly promote weight loss.
Thanks to its citrusy flavor, lemon can jazz up the A.M. via your tastebuds. But it’s also pretty great for you nutrition-wise. “[It] has vitamin C, which has antioxidant properties. Vitamin C can help boost your collagen, and it can also strengthen your immune system,” Anna Z. Feldman, M.D., an endocrinologist at Joslin Diabetes Center, tells SELF. All awesome attributes, but there’s no research-backed reason to think lemon water can bring about weight loss.
“I personally drink lemon water every morning,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Nutrition Starring You, tells SELF. “Not because I think it’s going to help me lose weight, but because it’s a refreshing way to start the day.”
Although the drink can help your metabolism, it’s more about the water than it is the lemon.
Your metabolism works best when you’re fully hydrated, says Harris-Pincus. Actually, all of your body’s systems do, which is why both experts aren’t against drinking lemon water even though it isn’t magical. “Most of us are walking around a little dry, so drinking more water is always a good thing,” says Harris-Pincus.
If you’re really interested in starting the day with a bang metabolism-wise, Feldman recommends eating a morning meal full of protein and complex carbohydrates. “I’m not aware of a specific food that’s better than another for your metabolism, but having breakfast is important for getting it going,” she explains. It also helps ensure you eat regularly throughout the day rather than getting so hungry around lunchtime you eat way more than usual.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to force yourself to eat breakfast if it’s not part of your normal routine! But if it is, skipping it in favor of lemon water can throw your body for a loop.
Lemon water absolutely cannot “detoxify” you.
As good as it tastes, your body’s got detoxing handled! Organs like your liver, kidneys, and small intestines are designed to routinely get rid of toxins. “Humans have been around for thousands of years. We made it this far because our bodies are efficient at doing what they need to do to keep living,” says Feldman. “Your body gets rid of what it doesn’t need by excreting toxins in feces and urine.”
With that said, the beverage can actually aide digestion. “The acid in lemons helps to break down food much like stomach acid does,” says Harris-Pincus. Those acids could cause heartburn, though, says Feldman. If you start incorporating lemon water into your diet, be on the lookout for related discomfort, which will signal that you may want to cut back.
Making sure you’re drinking enough water also helps digestion. When you’re not properly hydrated, it’s hard for stool to pass through your digestive tract, leaving you uncomfortable and constipated. So in that sense, sipping lemon water throughout the day can help keep you regular.
Lemon water isn’t the answer to weight loss, but the concoction can indirectly help you shed some pounds.
The reasoning is two-fold. First of all, staying hydrated is an easy way to watch your calorie intake. “Drinking plenty of water during the day, and even a glass before you start eating, can help you feel fuller faster,” says Feldman. It can take some time for your stomach to send your brain the message that it’s full, she explains. Taking in water before and while you eat can slow you down, allowing more time for that message to reach your brain as you’re still eating.
Lemon water can also indirectly prompt weight loss by replacing other drinks. “If you’re drinking it instead of coffee with cream and sugar, orange juice, or sweet tea, you’re taking in less calories,” says Harris-Pincus.
The bottom line: Feel free to start your day with lemon water and pat yourself on the back for treating your body well, but it’s probably a good idea to follow up with a healthy breakfast so you truly start the day on the right foot.