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Lemon For Babies: When To Introduce, Benefits And Side Effects

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Lemon is a citrus fruit with a refreshing flavor, odor. Being rich in vitamin C and bioactive compounds content, lemon is healthy food and is used in several home remedies, too. Regular consumption of lemon is known to enhance immunity, increase iron absorption, and improve skin health. But is it safe to add lemons to a baby’s diet?

This post tells you about the safe use of lemon for babies, possible health benefits, and suitable ways to include it in their diet.

When Can Babies Have Lemons?

It is generally recommended to introduce citrus fruits between seven and ten months of age (1) (2). You may consider adding lemons after the age of eight months, which is when other citrus fruits, such as oranges, are included in a baby’s diet (3).

Some parents consider waiting up to the age of 12 months due to the high acidity of citrus fruits (4).  You may consult a pediatrician to know the best age to introduce lemons to your little one.

Though rare, allergy to lemons exists (5). However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no reason to delay feeding foods considered allergens (6). These foods can be added to the baby’s diet with other non-allergenic foods. But if your baby tends to display allergic reaction or intolerance to new foods, is allergic to other citrus fruits, or has a family history of allergies, then do not introduce lemons without consulting a doctor.

Nutritional Value Of Lemon

Lemons provide several essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, minerals, dietary fibers, and phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and phenolic acids (7) (8).

One fluid ounce (31g) of freshly squeezed, 100 percent lemon juice offers the following nutrients in comparison to the daily recommended intake for each nutrient (9) (10) (11) (12).

NameAmountRDA (7-12months)
Water28.6g
Carbohydrate, by difference2.14g
Fiber, total dietary0.093g
Magnesium, Mg1.86mg60
Phosphorus, P2.48mg275 (AI)*
Potassium, K31.9mg700
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid12mg35
Folate, total6.2µg80 (AI)*

*AI = Adequate intake – nutrient level considered to ensure nutritional adequacy

Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture, World Health Organization, and Oregon State University

Possible Health Benefits Of Lemon For Babies And Toddlers

Here are some significant health benefits of lemon juice a baby could reap over time.

  1. Provides hydration: One fluid ounce of fresh lemon juice can give 28.6g of water with essential vitamins and minerals, thus having hydrating effects (13). You can give diluted lemon juice in small quantities to your baby/ toddler.
  1. Boosts immunity: Lemon juice is rich in vitamin C, citric acid, and bioactive compounds, such as eriocitrin, that are considered good for immunity (14). Besides, it possesses antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit the immune system (13).
  1. Enhances digestion: When consumed in small amounts, D-limonene found in lemon juice could increase gastric motility, neutralize stomach acids, and reduce indigestion symptoms, such as nausea and gastric reflux (13). There are several home remedies where diluted lemon juice is used to boost a baby or toddler’s digestion.
  1. Increases iron absorption: Adding vitamin C-rich lemon juice to non-heme foods, like spinach and pulses, can enhance iron bioavailability (15). Babies on a solid diet need adequate iron to boost neurological development and a healthy circulatory system (16) (17).
  1. Relieves cold and flu: Research indicates that lemon has antiviral properties and could reduce mucus and phlegm. A cup of warm water with lemon juice may help alleviate cold and flu symptoms (13) (18).

Possible Side Effects Of Lemon For Babies And Toddlers

Avoid feeding undiluted lemon juice to babies and toddlers. Lemon may not have any side effects in a healthy child if taken in small quantities diluted in water, or in some recipes. Otherwise, below are some potential side effects of lemon consumption among babies and toddlers.

  1. Gastrointestinal disturbances: Lemon juice is acidic and may aggravate gastrointestinal issues, such as gastroesophageal reflux, in sensitive babies and toddlers. Therefore, feed only diluted lemon juice to babies as part of some recipe. If the baby seems uncomfortable, discontinue its use and try after some weeks.
  1. Tooth decay: Frequent and prolonged exposure to citric acid can cause enamel erosion making teeth susceptible to decay in the long run (19) (20). Rinse your toddler’s mouth with plain water every time they consume diluted lemon juice.
  1. Citrus allergy: Although rare, citrus allergy is possible. Babies with a family history of pollen and grass allergies may have a risk of developing citrus allergies (21) (22). A baby with such an allergy can display an allergic reaction on the consumption of lemon juice or on the touch of a lemon peel.

Some babies may display mild oral rash or gastric disturbances on the first consumption of lemons. These are not signs of allergy. Once the body adapts to the new food, these disturbances will be gone. However, if the baby displays signs of severe intolerance or allergy, then stop feeding lemons and consult a pediatrician.

Useful Tips To Buy And Store Lemons

Here are some tips for the proper selection and storage of lemon.

Selection tips

  1. Pick medium-sized, plump lemons with clean, smooth, firm, and shiny skin. Plump lemons are juicer.
  1. Discard lemons that look squishy and spongy and have green, black, or white molds.
  1. Do not pick lemons with wrinkled skin as they are likely to be aged and have less juice.

Storage tips

  1. As you get lemons home, clean them under cold, running water to remove soil, dust, and dirt.
  1. Pat dry with a clean cloth and store in a loose paper bag at room temperature, away from the sunlight for up to a week.
  1. Refrigerate in a zip-lock pouch between 4-10°C (39-50°F) to store lemons for longer.
  1. Avoid storing cut lemons as much as possible. If you do, either wrap the lemon in cling foil or store it in an airtight container for no more than three days.

Ways To Include Lemon In The Baby’s Diet

You can add lemon to your baby and toddler’s diet in several ways.

  1. Add a small quantity (no more than a squirt) of fresh lemon juice diluted in water to pureed and mashed foods. It can add flavor to otherwise bland recipes.
  1. If lemon juice suits the baby, add diluted lemon juice to savory recipes, such as curries, soups, and porridges.
  1. Prepare salads or boiled, roasted, or baked vegetable dressings with lemon juice for toddlers.
  1. Add lemon to plain water to prepare homemade lemonade for toddlers (recipe given below).
  1. Use lemon juice and lemon zest to prepare drool-worthy desserts such as a lemon bar, lemon cake, lemon pudding, and lemon tart.

You can also use lemon juice to marinate foods, such as meat and vegetables, and prepare tasty grilled finger foods.

Homemade Lemonade Recipe

Commercial lemonade contains refined sugar and additives. To avoid these, you can prepare homemade lemonade for children above one year of age. Do not serve more than four fluid ounces (120ml) per day (23).

homemade lemonade recipe

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Here is a simple homemade lemonade recipe that you can try.

You will need:

  • ½ tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • oz. (120ml) plain water
  • ½ tsp mint leaves (finely chopped)
  • ½ tsp jaggery powder/ brown sugar

How to:

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a cup or glass. Ensure there are no lumps.
  1. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for five minutes before serving.

Lemon is an appealing fruit that adds flavor and nutrients to the baby’s foods. Babies can consume lemon as diluted lemon juice or mixed in their regular food recipes. You can squeeze lemon juice over vegetables, curries, salads, soups, and other food items. Once your baby becomes a toddler, they can consume a variety of foods containing lemon juice and lemon zest.

References:

1. Jessica L. McCarthy, Feeding Infants & Toddlers; University of Oregon
2. Weaning Introducing your baby to solids original; Allergy UK
3. Feeding Your Baby the First 12 Months; University of Rochester
4. Bellows, A. Clark, and R. Moore, Introducing Solid Foods to Infants; Colorado State University
5. Bourrier and C. Pereira, Allergy to citrus juice; NCBI
6. AAP Clinical Report Highlights Early Introduction of Peanut-based Foods to Prevent Allergies; American Academy of Pediatrics
7. Yoji Kato et al.; Effect on Blood Pressure of Daily Lemon Ingestion and Walking; NCBI
8. Marta Klimek-Szczykutowicz et al.; Citrus limon (Lemon) Phenomenon—A Review of the Chemistry, Pharmacological Properties, Applications in the Modern Pharmaceutical, Food, and Cosmetics Industries, and Biotechnological Studies; NCBI
9. Lemon juice, 100%, freshly squeezed, FDC ID: 786573; Fooddata Central; USDA
10. Feeding and nutrition of infants and young children; WHO
11. Phosphorus; Oregon State University
12. Folate; Oregon State University
13. Mahendra Pal; Lemon: A Versatile Fruit of Multiple Uses; Researchgate
14. Omar M.E. Abdel-Salam et al.; Citric Acid Effects on Brain and Liver Oxidative Stress in Lipopolysaccharide-Treated Mice; NCBI
15. The Regulation of Dietary Iron Bioavailability by Vitamin C: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis; Cambridge Core
16. Iron; Infant And Toddler Nutrition; CDC
17. Iron; Breastfeeding; CDC
18. Tamara Qudah et al.; Lemon as a source of functional and medicinal ingredient: A review; Researchgate
19. Abhishek Ghosh et al.; Nutrition and Oral Health; Researchgate
20. Top 9 Foods That Damage Your Teeth; American Dental Association
21. Citric Acid And Citrus Allergy; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
22. Rosa Anna Iorio et al.; Citrus Allergy from Pollen to Clinical Symptoms; NCBI
23. Where We Stand: Fruit Juice; American Academy of Pediatrics
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