We swear, summer's almost here! But until then, let this sunshine-packed fruit brighten up recipes. It's packed with (no, not that ), and was a favorite of . Who are we to argue with royalty?

Lemon Aid — The Need-to-Know

Whole Lemons Photo by Nicole Fara Silver

Lemons are packed with flavor, but (thankfully) not calories — the juice of an entire lemon has only but a whopping third of the of vitamin C. But it's more than just a diet-friendly flavor-booster. In these post- days (yup, citrus fruits were back in the old days), lemons' vitamin C is still essential: It plays a role in in the body — that is, one of the key materials in blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Plus that vitamin C could reduce chances of catching a cold (though the jury's still out on just how much impact C has on immunity).

And lemons have another major : They're an antioxidant powerhouse (in addition to all the vitamin C) Murakami, A., Nakamura, Y., Ohto, Y., et al. Department of Biotechnological Science, Faculty of Biology-Oriented Science and Technology, Kinki University, Iwade-Uchita, Wakayama, Japan. BioFactors, 2000;12(1-4):187-92.. Those antioxidants, known as , could help lemons decrease heart disease risk, reduce inflammation, and fight some cancers (including pancreatic and stomach) Benavente-García, O., Castillo, J. Research and Development Department of Nutrafur-Furfural Español S.A., Camino Viejo de Pliego, Alcantarilla, Murcia, Spain. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2008 Aug 13;56(15):6185-205. Bae, J.M., Lee, E.J., Guyatt, G. Department of Preventive Medicine, Cheju National University College of Medicine, Jeju, Jejudo, Korea. Gastric Cancer, 2008;11(1):23-32. Bae, J.M., Lee, E.J., Guyatt, G. Department of Preventive Medicine, Cheju National University College of Medicine, Jejudo, Korea. Pancreas, 2009 Mar;38(2):168-74.. Flavonoids (also found in other citrus fruits) are so powerful because they help find and eliminate , potentially harmful that can damage the body's cells and DNA. Murakami, A., Nakamura, Y., Ohto, Y., et al. Department of Biotechnological Science, Faculty of Biology-Oriented Science and Technology, Kinki University, Iwade-Uchita, Wakayama, Japan. BioFactors, 2000;12(1-4):187-92.. More recent studies have even shown that lemons could play a role in protecting the brain and (at least in women) Hwang, S.L., Shih, P.H., Yen, G.C. Food Industry Research and Development Institute , P.O. Box 246, Hsinchu 30012, Taiwan. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2012 Feb 1;60(4):877-85..

When Life Gives You Lemons… — Your Action Plan

When looking for the most efficient vitamin C and antioxidant fix, opt for the whole fruit rather than supplements Egert, S., Rimbach, G. Department of Nutrition and Food Science, Nutritional Physiology, University of Bonn, 53115 Bonn, Germany. Advances in Nutrition, 2011 January; 2(1): 8–14.. To get even more nutrition out of these sour sweeties, pair with (like leafy greens or red meat) as the vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. On a liquid diet? Try for a soda substitute, or sub it in for the added sugar in a Tom Collins. Lemon is also the , or even baked in . The juice, zest, or flesh of fresh lemons can all be used for flavor, but the peel packs the .

When hitting the grocery aisles, stick to fresh lemons, as pre-squeezed juice loses its vitamin C very quickly. If fresh isn't an option, though, opt for juice in metal or glass containers over plastic for maintaining the vitamin content Abbasi, A., Niakousari, M. Department of Food Science and Technology, College of Agriculture, Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran. Pakistan Journal of Biological Science, 2008 May 15;11(10):1365-9. Martí N, Mena P, Cánovas JA, Micol V, Saura D. Unidad Mixta JBT Corp.-IBMC, Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular, Universidad Miguel Hernández, Orihuela, Alicante, Spain. Natural Product Communications, 2009 May;4(5):677-700.. Also keep in mind lemon juice alone is , so skip the juice cleanse and add lemon to an already healthy diet for flavor.