The benefits of eating limes have been known for centuries, as British sailors of bygone eras munched on them and drank bottled lime juice during long voyages to prevent an illness that was eventually called scurvy. Scurvy is caused by severe vitamin C deficiency, and although the vast majority of Americans need not worry about the disease, eating limes can still contribute to a variety of health benefits.
Vitamin C is essential for building and repairing a wide variety of tissues such as skin, connective tissue and blood vessels. Vitamin C is also a good antiseptic, and it boosts your immune system by triggering the production and enhancing the function of specialized immune cells. A lack of vitamin C leads to tissue deterioration and increases your risk of heart and infectious diseases. Limes are not the best source of vitamin C, as they typically contain less than oranges, lemons and grapefruits, but a medium-sized lime packs between 10 and 20 milligrams.
Limes contain compounds that deter the growth of harmful bacteria and other pathogenic microorganisms such as fungi and parasites. Citric acid readily kills numerous types of bacteria and is commonly used as a natural food preservative. Certain flavonoids in limes, such as flavonol glycosides and limonene, eliminate tissue-damaging free radicals, reduce bacterial and fungal proliferation and may deter the growth of certain types of cancer cells. This may explain why lime juice has been used to tenderize and preserve meat and poultry for countless generations. Mixing fresh lime juice with other food helps to protect against cholera outbreaks in underdeveloped countries.
Limes contain a variety of acids, which is why they taste acidic and sour, but they, along with other citrus fruits, have an alkalizing affect on your tissues and body fluids. Your blood and many other tissues must be alkaline to function properly, but the standard American diet is very acidifying because it’s relatively high in refined sugars, chemical additives, protein, hydrolyzed fat, coffee and alcohol. A more alkaline body is beneficial because many pathogens and diseases, including cancer, cannot develop in a consistently alkaline environment. Inflammation and pain are often less severe in alkaline tissues, which is significant for arthritis sufferers.
Limes are also a good source of dietary fiber, folate, vitamin B-6 and potassium. Dietary fiber is beneficial for digestive health, and the soluble type helps to lower blood cholesterol levels. Folate, also called vitamin B-9, is particularly important for pregnant women because it reduces the risk of developmental abnormalities such as spina bifida. Potassium is an important electrolyte needed for normal nerve transmission and heart rhythm.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- Human Biochemistry; Charles Dreiling
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.