When it comes to side dishes, there’s nothing more quintessentially American than the pickle spear. These pickled cucumbers, which have been beloved for generations, can be found in many restaurants alongside several different types of cuisine. Their delicious crisp and salty taste can help cut through the richness of dishes like hamburgers, fish and chips, and even meatloaf.
Although almost anything now can be pickled (ever heard of pickled strawberries or grapes?), today we’re isolating our discussion to standard pickled cucumbers. These pickles are usually pickled in a standard brine with vinegar or salt, or soured through the process of lacto-fermentation. Both of these processes turn a simple cucumber into a sour, salty treat.
Despite how much we love them, many people wonder “Are pickles healthy?” It’s easy to assume that they are because of their origin as cucumbers, but it’s much more complicated than that. Most pickles are low in calories but are very high in salt and sodium. Today we’ll delve into this question, and show you the benefits of pickles, as well as the potential health drawbacks of our favorite crispy, crunchy treat.
When It Comes to Nutrients, Are Pickles Healthy?
There are many different types of pickles available today, and each has its own unique flavor and nutrient profile. The most popular are:
Bread and butter pickles: which are made with added sugar in the brine
Cornichon: small, tart French pickles made with a vinegar and tarragon brine
Half to full-sour dill pickles: the large, standard pickles that are most common in the United States. They are made sour either through fermentation, or by using a brine.
Koolickles: a uniquely American treat that’s made by combining commercial pickles with Kool-Aid powder.
Despite their differences, most pickles have similar nutrient profiles. This includes the following nutrients.
One whole dill pickle contains 23% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin K. This important vitamin helps to maintain our body’s regular blood clotting capabilities, which can prevent excessive bleeding. Vitamin K has also been investigated for its ability to treat bone loss, but research is still in the early phases and remains inconclusive.
Vitamin A is essential for the ongoing health of our eyes, and has also been shown to help the maintenance and function of other organs like our kidneys, liver, and heart. One regular dill pickle contains between 21%-24% of our daily recommended intake of vitamin A.
Calcium is critical to many processes throughout our bodies, including the growth of healthy bones, healthy muscles, and regular blood clotting. Our bodies cannot produce calcium, so we need to get it exclusively through our diet.
One pickle contains almost 10% of our daily recommended intake of calcium, so they can be a good supplement alongside other calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, and leafy green vegetables.
When pickles are made through natural fermentation, they develop probiotics that are beneficial to our gut and a healthy digestive process. However, most pickles commercially available today are not fermented, and thus do not have helpful probiotics. Fermented pickles can only be found in the refrigerated section, or you can make them at home.
Are Pickles Healthy for Weight Loss?
Since pickles are low in calories and are often low in sugar, it’s tempting to consider them as a food to be eaten while trying to lose weight. One cup of pickles has just 17 calories, but a whopping 1,800 grams of sodium. That’s almost half of your daily recommended intake. For that reason, people should stick to eating pickles in small amounts.
However, they can be beneficial to weight loss if you’re using them as a substitute for another unhealthy, high-sodium snack like potato chips. By substituting a very small amount of pickles in place of the snack you’re craving, you can potentially lower your caloric intake.
Just be careful to avoid eating too many, or the high amounts of sodium can cause you to retain water, throwing off your weight loss efforts.
Are Pickles Healthy for People with Diabetes?
Research has determined that eating pickles may be extremely beneficial to some people with diabetes. Studies have linked the vinegar in most types of pickles to improved insulin sensitivity after meals, which helps to avoid unhealthy and dangerous blood sugar spikes.
While they still should be eaten in moderation, it may be worth talking to your doctor about including them in more meals, especially those that contain higher amounts of carbohydrates and sugar.
Are Pickles Healthy for Your Heart?
Since they’re so high in sodium, most pickles are not beneficial to your heart, and can even cause blood pressure spikes. It’s recommended that individuals with heart disease or high blood pressure avoid eating pickles.
How Can You Incorporate Pickles Into Your Diet?
There are many different ways to introduce more pickles into your diet. Here are some of our favorite ways to eat pickles.
Eat them plain
Pickles are typically eaten solo as a snack, or on the side of a meal. It’s common for restaurants to include a dill pickle spear or two alongside dishes like hamburgers, hotdogs, fish and chips, and sandwiches.
If you want to include more pickles in your diet, experiment with a few different types to see which ones you like. Some people love the sweeter taste of bread-and-butter pickles, while others crave the addictive, vinegary flavor of a half-sour or full-sour dill pickle. You may even be able to find some pickles that have a lower sodium content, making them healthier to eat.
Use them in salads
Pickles make a great addition to many different salads, including picnic staples like potato salad and macaroni salad. Looking for something a bit healthier? Try chopping up pickles, and using them as a sour and savory addition to a regular green or spinach salad.
Make them into soup
A traditional Eastern European soup called rassolnik uses pickles as the main component, mixed with tender cuts of beef, barley, potatoes, and carrots. If you love the taste of pickles but need to make a more filling dish, try this tasty soup.
Should You Be Eating Pickles?
Ultimately, pickles may be delicious, but they have such a high sodium content that it’s only sensible to eat them in limited quantities. Try buying them in spears or slices, so you can indulge your love of pickles without having to eat a whole one every time.
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