May 22, 2024/Nutrition

Are Pickles Good for You?

Pickles are low in fat and calories and rich in some vitamins and minerals, but they’re usually high in sodium

Big open jar of pickles

Pickles are kind of a big dill. After all, there are seemingly endless varieties of the classic snack.

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Some people like the tangy crunch of a kosher pickle spear, while others prefer the sweetness of a pickle relish. And then, there are those who like to walk on the wild side by opting for the fiery heat of spicy pickles. (Peter, Piper, is that you?) No matter your flavor preferences, there’s probably a pickle for you.

There’s no doubt that pickles taste delicious. But are they actually good for you? We asked registered dietitian Devon Peart, RD, MHSc, BASc, to give us the rundown on pickles’ nutritional profile.

Are pickles healthy?

As is so often the case, there’s no straightforward answer here. How healthy pickles are depends on which kind of pickles you’re eating and whether you have any preexisting health conditions.

On the plus side, pickles (which are made from cucumbers) are generally a low-calorie, low-fat food. They’re a source of fiber, as well as vitamins A and K. And, like all vegetables and fruit, they have antioxidants.

But Peart says pickles come with some serious nutritional drawbacks — namely that they’re generally very, very high in sodium.

“One large dill pickle has more than two-thirds of the ideal amount of sodium that an adult should have in a whole day,” she says. Sweet pickles aren’t quite as high in sodium, but they still have plenty of it. And they’re high in sugar.

Calories
Dill Pickles (100 grams)
12
Sweet Pickles (100 grams)
90
Carbohydrates (g)
Dill Pickles (100 grams)
2
Sweet Pickles (100 grams)
20
Fiber (g)
Dill Pickles (100 grams)
1
Sweet Pickles (100 grams)
1
Total sugars
Dill Pickles (100 grams)
1
Sweet Pickles (100 grams)
18
Beta carotene (mcg)
Dill Pickles (100 grams)
53
Sweet Pickles (100 grams)
325
Vitamin K (mcg)
Dill Pickles (100 grams)
17
Sweet Pickles (100 grams)
47
Sodium (mg)
Dill Pickles (100 grams)
809
Sweet Pickles (100 grams)
457

Because of their high levels of sodium, people who have heart issues should generally steer clear of pickles.

“If you have high blood pressure or any cardiovascular or heart health issues, then pickles are not the best choice,” Peart shares. “And even if you don’t have preexisting health conditions, I recommend looking for varieties of pickles that have less salt and less sugar.”

Health benefits of pickles

Pickles do offer health benefits. After all, they’re cucumbers! For example, they’re low in calories and fat and they’re a good source of:

  • Antioxidants: These powerful chemicals may protect your cells against free radicals, unstable molecules that are associated with the development of cancer, heart disease and other conditions.
  • FiberFiber offers multiple health benefits, including helping waste products (aka poop) move through your system.
  • Vitamin A: “Pickles are good sources of beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A,” Peart says. “This is a powerful antioxidant good for vision and cell health in general.”
  • Vitamin K: This vitamin is important for heart health. It helps your bones stay strong and your blood clot.

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Maybe surprisingly, pickle juice is also thought to offer certain health benefits on its own. Just be careful: Like the pickles it creates, it’s also full of sodium, so you really don’t want to overdo it.

Fermented pickles are a good source of probiotics

One of the biggest health benefits of pickles is that some of them are a good source of probiotics — “good” bacteria that protect your gut microbiome.

But how can you tell which pickles have probiotics and which don’t? It all comes down to how they’re made. Specifically, pickles made through fermentation are the kind packed with probiotics

Fermented pickles are made by packing airtight jars with cucumbers in a brine of just salt and water. Then, they’re left to sit at room temperature for a long period of time. A chemical reaction occurs between bacteria and the natural sugars in the food, creating lactic acid that keeps the pickles fresher longer.

“Probiotics are good for your brain and gut health,” Peart reiterates. “Having healthy gut bacteria can minimize symptoms of an irritable bowel, and it can help us digest food and absorb nutrients.”

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A healthy gut biome is also linked with better brain health.

“We’re even starting to see associations between higher levels of probiotics and lower levels of depression and anxiety,” she continues, “so anytime you can have more probiotics is good — and in the case of pickles, we get that if they’re fermented.”

Do all pickles have probiotics?

No. Most of the pickles you buy in the grocery store (“regular pickles,” for our purposes) aren’t fermented. They’re made through a process called fresh-pack pickling.

“Most grocery store pickles have had vinegar and spices added to the brine,” Peart explains. “That gives them their sour, tangy flavor, which is why they’re often called ‘vinegar pickles’ or sometimes, ‘quick pickles.’”

Pickling is an ancient way of preserving food. Pickled foods can last up to a year when they’re handled properly, so people used to pickle the crops they harvested during the summer to eat during the long, cold winter months.

Though fermentation and pickling share some parallels (they both use a brine of water and salt), they’re different processes. Fermented foods are sour because of the chemical reaction that produces healthy probiotics; pickled foods are sour because they’re soaked in acidic brine using vinegar, which doesn’t produce probiotics.

Can you eat pickles every day?

Daily pickle consumption depends on what the rest of your diet is like.

“If you’re someone who doesn’t eat a lot of processed foods, fast foods or store-bought foods, or if you’re mostly eating a very low-salt diet, then eating pickles daily might be fine,” Peart says.

But if you typically eat higher-salt foods, then munching on pickles will quickly put you over your recommended daily sodium intake.

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When you consider snacking on pickles, you should also consider your overall health. “If blood pressure is an issue or if heart disease runs in your family, this is not a good choice for you,” she states. “But if you’re a healthy person — your blood pressure is fine, you have no heart health issues, and you follow a minimally processed diet — then I think you can enjoy pickles.”

And what about other types of pickled foods? You can pickle pretty much anything, depending on the texture, including vegetables, fruit, eggs, and even meat and fish.

“The pickling process brings out different flavors,” she says. “And so there are many different foods that are pickled because people like the taste.”

Let’s take a quick look:

  1. Pickled vegetables are a common (and tasty!) snack and condiment; pickled beets have become especially popular. As with cucumbers, the process is the same, so the same concerns over sodium levels apply.
  2. Pickled eggs are made by packing boiled eggs into glass jars and adding pickling brine; sometimes, beet juice lends a pink hue and a tangy flavor. Most people who are healthy can enjoy one or two eggs up to three or four times a week with no effect on their cholesterol level. But proceed with caution: Sometimes, the egg is first punctured with a toothpick so the pickle flavoring seeps in. This dangerous practice can introduce botulinum toxin and cause a serious illness called botulism. It’s best to avoid pickled eggs made this way.

Are pickles good for weight loss?

Pickles aren’t necessarily a superfood that will help you lose weight. “No single food will make you lose weight,” Peart stresses.

But if you’re looking for a low-calorie snack, pickles do qualify, assuming your health allows for them.

“In general, if you’re keeping your calories down, pickles are a good option,” she says. “If you have heart issues, though, then it’s best to choose something else.”

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The healthiest way to enjoy pickles

Some varieties of pickles are higher in salt than others. If you’re comparing two different varieties or brands, look at the percent daily value (DV) on the nutrition label and choose the one that’s lower in sodium.

“Generally speaking, a percent daily value that’s 5% or less is low,” Peart says. “If it’s 15% or higher daily value for sodium, that’s considered high. And some dill pickles per serving might be 50% of the recommended daily value for sodium — or even more.” That’s a lot!

Or you could skip the grocery store and make your own pickles using seasonal produce you’ve bought or grown. Because you’re in charge of what goes into the brine, you’ll be able to control the amount of salt you use. Plus, you can experiment with spices and herbs for added flavor.

“Your pickles won’t be fermented, so they won’t have probiotics,” Peart notes, “but as a bonus, because you’re not cooking them, they’ll retain all of those healthy antioxidants.”

Still, if you decide to snack on pickles, be mindful of what else you’re planning to eat that day. Namely, keep an eye on your salt intake throughout your other meals, and pair your pickles with other foods that will help keep you full, so you don’t overdo it.

“To make pickles a filling snack, I suggest pairing them with a little bit of protein, like a handful of nuts or a small piece of cheese,” Peart says. “The protein will help turn a low-calorie food into something a bit more filling.”

Learn more about our editorial process.

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