You may have always assumed that cucumbers were full of water but offered little nutrients. Well, think again. More than just a way to make pickles or reduce puffiness around your eyes, cucumbers have some impressive benefits when it comes to fighting free radical damage and inflammation thanks to the impressive cucumber nutrition profile.
What’s there to love about cucumber nutrition? Cucumbers contain very few calories but supply powerful polyphenol compounds that can help naturally slow aging caused by oxidative stress.
Known among researchers for their anti-diabetic, lipid-lowering and antioxidant activity, cucumbers have a detoxifying, cleansing effect on the body. They’re also naturally “cooling” and a great way to prevent dehydration, constipation and overheating. And that’s not all when it comes to cucumber nutrition.
Cucumber Nutrition Facts
The cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is a widely cultivated “gourd” and member of the Cucurbitaceae plant family. Cucumbers have been studied most in regard to their diuretic effects. This has earned them a reputation as a healing food in both traditional folk medicine and modern medicine.
Technically, is a cucumber a fruit or a vegetable? Cucumbers are actually fruit, although they are treated more like vegetables. There are dozens of different cucumber varieties grown around the world, but three main varieties of cucumbers are most widely available today: those used for slicing and eating raw, pickling cucumbers (kirbys), and seedless cucumbers.
Some of the more common cucumber varieties include:
- Green Burpless
- Boston Pickling
- Suyo Long
After investigating cucumber benefits and the potential free radical-scavenging abilities of cucumbers, researchers from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Haryana, India, report that within cucumbers:
… the presence of flavonoids and tannins in their extract, as evidenced by preliminary phytochemical screening, suggests that these compounds might be responsible for free radical scavenging and analgesic effects … Regular consumption of natural antioxidants from vegetables, fruit, tea, and herbs may contribute to a shift in balance toward an ample antioxidant status.
According to cucumber nutrition data published by the USDA, a half cup of cucumbers with the peel (approximately 52 grams) has about:
- 7.8 calories
- 1.9 grams carbohydrates
- 0.3 gram protein
- 0.1 gram fat
- 0.3 gram fiber
- 8.5 micrograms vitamin K (11 percent DV)
- 1.5 milligrams vitamin C (2 percent DV)
- 6.8 milligrams magnesium (2 percent DV)
- 76.4 milligrams potassium (2 percent DV)
1. Good Source of Cancer-Fighting Antioxidants
Why are cucumbers good for you when it comes to boosting your immune system? Several bioactive compounds have been isolated from the nutritious cucumber, including cucurbitacins, glucosides, lignans, apigenin and flavanols like firestin. These are known to have strong cancer-fighting abilities since they can protect DNA and cells from damage due to oxidative stress. Fisetin is specifically tied to brain health and preservation of cognitive function, while cucurbitacins are known to have cancerous tumor-reducing effects.
Researchers from the University of Valencia in Spain have found that cucurbitacins antioxidants, a type of triterpene compound, may induce cancerous cell death (a process known as apoptosis). The most significant mechanisms with regard to the apoptotic effects of cucurbitacins are their ability to modify activities via nuclear factors or genes and to activate anti-tumor proteins. As such, eating plenty of high-antioxidant foods like cucumbers may help lower your risk of cancer.
2. High in Nutrients but Low in Calories
Cucumbers are one of the vegetables with the highest water content. This means cucumber nutrition offers valuable vitamins and minerals, yet tis super low in calories — with only about 16 calories per cup. Since the cucumbers are about 95 percent water, they do a good job of taking up room in your stomach and visually adding volume to meals without weighing you down.
This means you can eat more and feel satiated while still sticking to an overall healthy, low-calorie or low-carb weight loss plan if needed. Plus, cucumber nutrition can help quench thirst and prevent the desire to snack due to dehydration.
3. Helps Detoxify the Body
Cucurbitacins are a category of diverse compounds found in the plants of family Cucurbitaceae, including cucumbers. These compounds can support the digestive tract and liver. The liver is the main detoxifying organ that works to naturally remove toxins and waste materials from the blood and gut. Cucumbers are also a natural diuretic food. This means they can help the body produce more urine to carry out toxins and waste.
In the process, they’re great for reducing bloating and uncomfortable water retention — one reason to fill up on cucumbers after a night of salty food or alcohol.
4. Hydrates and Soothes Skin
Fresh cucumber juice has been used to naturally nourish damaged, dry or sensitive skin for centuries. According to some studies, cucumber slices or seeds applied directly to the skin gives a soothing and cooling effect against skin irritations and reduces swelling and redness. It’s even been used to naturally treat acne, scars and other blemishes.
Cucumbers also have the power to relax and alleviate pain, blotchiness and swelling following a sunburn, providing sunburn relief. The fruit is considered a “refrigerant, haemostatic and tonic, useful in treating hyperdipsia or thermoplegia.” In other words, they help stop bleeding, reduce heat buildup associated with inflammation, quench your thirst, relieve dehydration and fight “sunstroke” all at the same time.
5. Helps Depuff Swollen Eyes
What do cucumbers do for your eyes? Due to their anti-inflammatory and diuretic effects, cucumbers can help decrease swelling and puffiness around the eyes. They can also help keep the skin around the eyes hydrated and, according to some people, make them appear more awake and less tired. Can you sleep with cucumbers on your eyes? It’s unlikely that they wouldn’t fall off all night long, but you can give it a try.
Even letting cucumber slices sit on your eyes for 20–30 minutes can help. Cut cucumber slices and refrigerate them for a while, then lay them on your eyes as you sit back. Some people also use cold cucumber and grind it to make a paste with lavender oil or chamomile oil and some raw honey.
6. Helps Improve Metabolic/Heart Health
Cucurbitacins found in cucumbers have been researched for their cytotoxic, hepatoprotective, cardiovascular and anti-diabetic effects. Lignans found in cucumbers have well-documented immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory effects that are beneficial for fighting cardiovascular disease. Studies investigating the effects of consuming ligans from plant foods have found beneficial associations with C-reactive protein levels, a lowering effect on total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and improved blood pressure levels.
Cucumbers also provide important minerals that help maintain a healthy heart, including potassium and magnesium. Potassium is linked to healthier blood pressure levels since it helps control fluids in the body. Therefore, low potassium intake from fruits and veggies is often correlated with poorer heart health. Magnesium-rich foods are also beneficial for blood pressure in addition to general nerve functioning, heartbeat regulation, fluid balance, better blood sugar stability and higher energy expenditure.
7. Improves Digestion and Relieves Constipation
The seeds of a cucumber are known for having a healing, heat-reducing effect on the body, and they’re often used to prevent and naturally relieve constipation in traditional forms of medicine like Ayurveda. Many people suffer from magnesium deficiency without even knowing it, but cucumber nutrition is a source of magnesium and other electrolytes that can help hydrate the gut and digestive lining, which keeps you more “regular.”
Since they’re a great vegetable for juicing or making smoothies, you can try combining cucumbers with other hydrating foods — like melon, lime, avocado, celery and fennel — to create a natural anti-bloating drink.
8. Helps Alkalize the Blood
Cucumber nutrition includes being one of the top alkaline foods that help balance the body’s pH level and counteract the effects of an acidic diet. Limiting consumption of acid-forming foods and eating more alkaline-forming foods instead is beneficial for protecting your body from diseases that thrive in an acidic entrainment.
According to a report published in the Journal of Environmental Public Health:
Life on earth depends on appropriate pH levels in and around living organisms and cells. Human life requires a tightly controlled pH level in the serum of about 7. It is generally accepted that agricultural humans today have a diet poor in magnesium and potassium as well as … This results in a diet that may induce metabolic acidosis which is mismatched to the genetically determined nutritional requirements.
A properly balanced pH level is also thought to decrease leptin levels, the main hormone connected to hunger and appetite control, as well as inflammation. Since the body is able to easily digest nutrients in liquid form, this is one reason why cucumbers are a popular ingredient in green alkalizing juices.
9. Supports Strong Bones
With 22 percent of your daily vitamin K in every cup of cucumbers, eating more cukes is a good way to help maintain bone mineral density. Vitamin K (in the form of K2) is a fat-soluble vitamin that works with other essential nutrients like calcium and magnesium to preserve strong bones.
Vitamin K also supports a healthy metabolism, nutrient absorption, aids in heart health, helps with blood clotting, supports neurological function and can help protect against cancer. Yet vitamin K deficiency is common among adults and children due to a diet low in green vegetables, a low-cholesterol diet, medication use and poor absorption of nutrients.
10. Helps Prevent or Treat Headaches
Traditionally, cucumbers have been used as a natural headache remedy and somewhat of a pain reducer since they fight inflammation and swelling. Headaches or migraines can be triggered by many things, including dehydration, stress, fatigue, low blood sugar and nutritional deficiencies.
Many studies show that foods high in water and magnesium like cucumbers combat headaches by balancing fluids in the body and preventing dehydration.
Cucumber Nutrition in Traditional Medicine
Cucumbers have been used in traditional medicine since ancient times. What are the health benefits of eating cucumber, according to systems of medicine, such as Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine?
The uses for cucumber nutrition benefits known centuries ago, and still today, include: naturally treating PMS; fighting pain, skin irritations and headaches; and improving digestion. Certain plant species rich in cucurbitacins, including cucumbers, hold a coveted position in different systems of traditional medicine for their ability to reduce the risk for metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
The seeds of cucumbers are considered to be nourishing and cleansing, since they have a diuretic effect and help flush out excess fluids. The Sanskrit synonym of cucumber is sushitalam, which means “very cooling.” According to Ayurveda, cucumbers have cool, light, astringent, sweet and slightly bitter properties. The juice from cucumbers has long been used as a natural electrolyte booster before energy drinks like vitamin water existed. Since it has antibacterial properties and is an anti-inflammatory food, the cucumber has been used as a home remedy for acne or to reduce redness and puffiness on the skin.
Cucumber vs. Zucchini vs. Spinach
Cucumber and zucchini are in the same plant family and have a similar appearance, but the two are different in terms of texture and nutritional value. Cucumbers (gourds) have a waxy, bumpy exterior, while zucchinis have a rough and dry exterior.
Cucumbers are typically juicy, cool and crisp, while zucchini is a bit starchier and heartier. Another difference is that the flowers of the cucumber plant are not edible while the flowers of the zucchini plant are edible. Cucumbers are a bit lower in calories and carbohydrates than zucchini since they have a higher water content, but they also provide less vitamin C, vitamin B6 and certain phytonutrients. However, cucumber seeds and peels do have some antioxidants, such as flavonoids, lignans, and triterpenes.
How do cucumbers compare to leafy greens, such as spinach, in terms of nutrient content? There are more than a dozen different types of flavonoid antioxidants alone that are present in spinach. Spinach is packed with nutrients including fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, manganese, zinc, folate, iron and selenium. While cucumbers also supply some of the nutrients, they don’t pack the punch that most greens do. Both spinach and cucumbers are low in carbs and great vegetables to have if you’re eating a low-carb diet. However, unlike cucumbers, which are typically eaten raw or fermented, sautéing, boiling or cooking spinach for just one minute can improve its nutrient absorbability and bring out its taste.
How to Buy, Grow and Use Cucumbers
When it comes to choosing the best cukes, you have some options: Look for both regular cucumbers and smaller, bumpier “kirbys.” Kirbys are the kind most often used to make pickles.
- When shopping, look for cucumbers that are bright to dark green, firm and don’t have any soft, water-logged spots.
- Is the skin of the cucumber good for you? Yes! Plan on eating the whole cucumber whenever possible, since the skin and seeds contain important compounds. Cucumber skin is a good source of vitamin A and has diuretic effects.
- Cucumber nutrition benefits are most available when you buy organic and unwaxed cucumbers (especially since you want to eat the skin). Because cucumbers are so water-dense, if they’re grown in soil contaminated with pesticides, they’ll likely hold on to a lot of chemicals, which wind up getting passed onto you.
- Cucumbers are often waxed to protect them from becoming bruised during shipping. Even organic cucumbers can have wax, but these are made of less harmful substances. The only wax that’s allowed on organically grown cucumbers isn’t synthetic and is free of all chemical contaminants.
- When storing cucumbers, keep in mind they do best when kept in very cold temperatures. Keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them, but try to have them within three to five days.
- You can either peel the skin if you’d like, especially if they’ve been waxed, or leave it on and give the skin a good scrub.
Tips for Growing Cucumbers:
- Believe it or not, cucumbers are a tropical fruit/vegetable that thrive when the weather is hot. They also do well in humid climates where water is plentiful.
- Plan to grow cucumbers during times of the year when there’s warmer weather and rain. They are sensitive to frost and shouldn’t be planted until the soil temperatures is in the 70-degree range. Wait at least two weeks after the last frost date to plant cucumbers.
- Cucumber plants grow in two forms: vining (more popular) and bush. Vines scramble along the ground or clamber up trellises, while bush types form a plant lower to the ground. Bush types are suited to containers and small gardens, but vining types produce more crops.
- Plant cucumber seedlings 36 to 60 inches apart, depending on variety. For vines that you plan to have grow upward, space plants one foot apart.
- You can help to keep the plants warm and moist by using pine straw, wheat straw, chopped leaves or your favorite organic mulch shortly after planting the seedlings.
Unlike most vegetables, cucumbers actually taste better when eaten raw. Because they’re so high in water, they don’t usually come out well when cooked and tend to just turn into a soggy mess.
If plain old cucumbers gets boring, try making fermented pickles using some vinegar. Fermentation is what gives the cucumber its distinctively tangy, sour and salty flavor once it’s made into a pickle. You can combine two regular cucumbers and toss with three tablespoons of rice vinegar, two tablespoons chopped herbs of your choice (like dill), and a pinch of sugar and salt. While pickles have some great nutritional components, such as fiber, vitamin K and even probiotics in some cases, you’ll still want to stick with one to two per day due to the salt content.
The longer you let pickles sit, the stronger taste they’ll develop, but even just 30 minutes allows them to absorb some flavor. If you enjoy the flavor of dill, try this dill pickle recipe that uses a brine of water, vinegar, salt, and dill weed or dill oil.
Here are other healthy cucumber recipes to get you started:
- Secret Cucumber Detox Soup Recipe
- Creamy Cucumber Avocado Soup Recipe
- Super Hydrator Juice Recipe
- Cucumber Salad Recipe
- Cucumber Tomato Salad Recipe
Risks and Side Effects
Cucumbers seem to be pretty harmless and very rarely cause allergies. As mentioned earlier, it’s best to buy organic (ideally unwaxed) cukes whenever you can to avoid high levels of chemicals.
Another thing to consider is the potential for contamination if you make your own fermented pickles. Complex microbiota are responsible for the changes observed during cucumber fermentation, and it’s possible that if your equipment or jar is contaminated with bacteria, you can become sick once eating them. Use sterile equipment whenever fermenting veggies, and buy organic produce to further limit this risk.
Final Thoughts on Cucumber Nutrition
- Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are a widely cultivated “gourd” and a member of the Cucurbitaceae plant family. There are many different varieties of cucumbers, but they are typically split into three types: slicing, pickling and seedless.
- Cucumbers contain very few calories, but supply powerful polyphenol compounds. They are known among researchers for their diuretic, anti-diabetic, lipid-lowering, antioxidant, detoxifying and cleansing effects on the body.
- Cucumber nutrition benefits include helping balance the body’s pH, improving digestion, treating bloating and constipation, aiding in metabolic and heart health, preventing headaches, hydrating the skin, and depuffing swollen eyes.
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