Very few foods are as cool as a cucumber. What other food can you eat fresh or pickled and that also provides a refreshing cover for your eyes at the spa?
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But the best part about cucumbers? They offer big health benefits. “Cucumbers can help with disease prevention, weight management and digestion,” says registered dietitian Amber Sommer, RD, LD. “And because they are readily available and easy to eat, everyone can reap the benefits.”
Are cucumbers good for you?
Yes, cucumbers are a great part of a healthy diet! Cucumbers belong to the gourd or Cucurbitaceae family, along with pumpkins, squash and melons. This low-calorie fruit (yes, a fruit — it has seeds and grows from a flowering plant!) is chock-full of water and other nutrients, including fiber, vitamins A, K and C, potassium and calcium. One serving equals about 100 grams, or one-third of a medium-size cucumber.
A serving of raw cucumber, eaten with the peel, has:
- 15 calories.
- 0.1 grams of fat.
- 3.6 grams of carbohydrates.
- 0.5 grams of dietary fiber.
- 1.7 grams of sugar.
- 0.7 grams of protein.
Cucumbers offer essential nutrients, too. One serving of cucumber delivers:
- 16.4 micrograms of vitamin K (14% daily value).
- 147 milligrams of potassium (3% daily value).
- 2.8 milligrams of vitamin C (3% daily value).
- 16 milligrams of calcium (1% daily value).
Health benefits of cucumbers
Whether you like your cucumbers raw or pickled, eating them will benefit your health. They’re rich in antioxidants that can protect your cells and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Here are six ways eating cucumbers improves your health:
1. Increases hydration
Drinking water every day is crucial for your health. It helps with:
- Joint pain.
- Kidney function.
- Memory and cognition.
- Regulating body temperature.
But if you have a hard time drinking the water your body needs (even with one of those motivating water bottles), cucumbers offer a crunchier option. They contain more than 96% water. “Supplement the water you drink by adding cucumbers to a salad, wrap or snack,” suggests Sommer. “They offer an easy and refreshing way to boost hydration.”
2. Strengthens bones
Cucumbers are high in vitamin K — a big bonus for bone health. Getting enough dietary vitamin K reduces your risk of bone fractures and promotes healthy bone mass. If your bone mineral density is low, it raises your risk for osteoporosis.
The combination of vitamin K and calcium in cucumbers provides added bone benefits. Vitamin K helps your body absorb calcium, an essential nutrient for building and maintaining strong bones.
3. Promotes gut health
The water in cucumbers naturally aids digestion — it helps your body break down food and absorb nutrients. The fiber in cucumbers also keeps things running smoothly by regulating bowel movements so you can avoid constipation.
Pickling cucumbers can boost the benefits to your gut even further. “Some pickles have probiotic properties,” Sommer says. “When fermented, they contain good bacteria that stop unhealthy bacteria from growing in your gut.” So while a pickle-heavy diet is not great for your sodium levels, a pickle now and then can do good things for your gut.
4. Helps manage blood sugar and weight
You get a lot of bang for your buck when you snack on cucumbers, especially if you have obesity — the leading risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. They’re low in calories, carbohydrates and sugar. Plus, the water and fiber in cucumbers can keep you feeling full longer.
Cucumbers also offer benefits for people already living with diabetes, notes Sommer. They score low on the glycemic index (GI) — a rating system that measures how quickly a food affects your blood sugar.
“A low GI score means cucumbers have less of an effect on blood sugars than other high GI foods, making them a healthy option to include in your diet,” she continues. Research also shows that the antioxidants in cucumbers might help slow the progression of diabetes and reduce complications associated with the disease.
5. Protects against cancer
Cucumbers contain high amounts of Cucurbitacin B (CuB) — a naturally occurring plant compound gaining attention for its effect on cancer cells. A recent review of research confirms that CuB might be useful in fighting liver, breast, lung and prostate cancer. It shows that CuB may help stop cancer growth and possibly destroy cancer cells.
And put down that peeler! Cucumber peels also aid in cancer prevention. They are a good source of fiber, which helps reduce constipation and protects against colon cancer.
6. Improves heart health
High amounts of sodium lead to high blood pressure. Potassium helps lower blood pressure by lessening the effects of sodium. Combining the high potassium and low sodium found in cucumbers is a win-win for your blood pressure.
Lowering blood pressure isn’t the only way cucumbers affect your heart. The CuB in cucumbers protects your heart by fighting atherosclerosis — fatty buildup on your artery walls. And fiber helps reduce cholesterol. Research has even shown fiber can lower your risk of heart disease.
How to eat more cucumbers
The beauty of the cucumber is its versatility. The mild flavor makes it easy to add to a variety of dishes. Plus, they’re affordable and easy to find year-round. To add more cucumbers into your diet, you can:
- Slice them: Cucumbers are a great addition to salads, sandwiches and wraps — and they provide a little crunch.
- Blend them: Adding cucumbers to your smoothie provides all the health benefits of cucumber without overpowering your smoothie.
- Dip them: The crunch of cucumbers resembles a potato chip. Dunk it in salad dressing, hummus or your favorite dip.
- Drink them: Make cuke juice by blending peeled cucumbers with water and straining it.
- Eat them raw: Wash your cucumber and dive in. Keep the peel on to get all the benefits.
- Top them: Treat a cucumber slice like a cracker. Top it with veggies or cream cheese.
Cucumbers can last up to a week when stored properly — washed, dried and stored in the warmest part of your fridge (near the front or on the door). If slicing your cukes makes you more likely to snack on them, place cut cucumbers in the refrigerator in a lidded container filled with water. Get ready to rediscover the humble cucumber and the many benefits it provides.