When life gives you lemons (literally), let them help fuel your vitality!

When life gives you lemons, help it fuel something great.

I like eating lemons. It sounds weird but it is true. It started in my early twenties when I became obsessed with reducing food waste and used to eat the lemon slices out of everyone’s drinks to stop them from going in the bin. I like the taste of lemon and also know they are rich in vitamin C and are a low-sugar fruit. They are highly acidic and can rot your teeth, but if you roast or bake them with salmon, they are less acidic and more caramelised and taste fabulous. Recent science also shows they can increase the energy you absorb from your food, keeping you feeling full of energy and feeling more cheerful for longer. When life gives you sour lemons, let them fuel your optimistic vitality. Turn them into something sweet.

I am not ashamed to say it, but I used to have anorexia. It slowed my heart and nearly killed me. I tried recovery many times but found it hard as I never felt hungry and used to have loads of energy, despite eating few calories. I couldn't work out why and wasn’t always doing it deliberately. I wanted to be a mum and the only way I could do this was to gain weight, so I became obsessed with weight gain. However, the food I ate gave me loads of energy from a few calories and so it was hard to eat more. Calories are units of energy, and we eat for energy, and as I always had loads of energy, it was easy to eat less.

We used to go by the archaic idea that weight loss or gain was a simple calories in versus calories out formula. If you ate lots and were inactive you created a calorie surplus by which your excess calories were converted to fat and stored in the liver or adipose (fat) tissue, and you gained weight. If you ate less and were more active, you created a calorie deficit and lost weight. Sleep and exercise increased your basal metabolic rate. As you age your basal metabolic rate (BMR) declines and so it is harder to lose weight. It is not as simple as calories in versus calories out.

Some foods, like lemons, can decrease the glycaemic index of the carbs and fat we eat, keeping us full of vitality for longer, and so requiring less food. Glycaemic index is a measure of how much a food increases your blood sugar. Increased blood sugar increases respiration and respiration is the process by which we make energy. High blood sugar causes the release of Insulin hormone from the pancreas, which decreases blood sugar and makes us tired, irritable, depressed and low and makes us crave more simple carb sugary things for a quick energy supply. Low blood sugar is our cue to eat more and get more energy.

Foods that have a high glycaemic index cause massive peaks and rapid troughs in blood sugar (sugar highs and lows), so you feel hungrier quicker. Simple carbohydrates, like chocolate and cake, do this. They cause massive peaks and increased appetite and, despite being very sweet, make your life sourer as they then make you have decreased energy and tired. They provide quick-acting but short-lasting energy. Complex carbs, things like vegetable wholegrains, starchy carbs and fibre, protein and fat, have a lower glycaemic index, so they keep you fuller for longer. They provide slow-acting but longer-lasting energy.

Science also shows that some things can help us increase the energy we get from food, increasing our metabolism. Some can also decrease the glycaemic index of the food we eat, keeping us feeling full of energy for longer without requiring more calories. B12, B2, Magnesium, Omega-3, B9, Iron and Iodine rich foods can increase our metabolism. Iron increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells, and as we need oxygen also (it combines with glucose to make ATP energy) in respiration, increased iron increases vitality. Iodine is used by our thyroid gland to make Thyroxine, the hormone that controls our metabolism. The more Iodine you have, the faster your metabolism. B12, B2 and B9 also increase energy absorption, magnesium helps you sleep (as it works with melatonin) and sleep reduces fatigue and omega-3-rich foods provide long-lasting energy. A high omega-3 to omega-6 ratio also supports weight loss.

Some foods can decrease the glycaemic index of the simple carbohydrates we eat. Fibre, fat and fermented (acidic or salty) foods (the fs) all decrease glycaemic index. Lemons are high fibre and are acidic. Therefore they help to increase the energy you get from the carbs in your meal, keeping you full of energy for longer. Vinegar also does this, so adding a vinaigrette to a salad keeps you feeling fuller for longer (providing it is not full of sugar). Salty foods such as miso soups also do this. So my food waste lemon obsession was actually keeping me feeling full for longer, and that was one of the many reasons why I found weight gain so difficult, despite wanting it. To gain weight I had to stop finding and eating lemons and get myself to a healthy weight.

When healthy, I learnt that when life gives you sour lemons, don't waste them! Turn your bitter experiences, emotions or fruit into something sweet. Let them increase your energy and decrease your appetite. Let them fuel you towards positive things! When life gives you lemons, use them for energy for positive things!

References

  1. Freitas, D., Boué, F., Benallaoua, M., Airinei, G., Benamouzig, R. and Le Feunteun, S., 2021. Lemon juice, but not tea, reduces the glycemic response to bread in healthy volunteers: a randomized crossover trial. European Journal of Nutrition, 60(1), pp.113–122.

Copyright Laura Campbell 20/07/2022

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Laurentia (Laura)Campbell

Laurentia (Laura)Campbell

Neuroscience, mental health and nutrition academic and writer. Life-experimenter, trying to add value with an insatiable appetite for actioning positive change.