There are hundreds of varieties of cucumber, and they come in dozens of colors, but the edible types are classified as being for either slicing or pickling, according to Cornell University’s Growing Guide. Most people think of cucumbers as vegetables but they are actually a fruit. They contain seeds and grow from the ovaries of flowering plants and are members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, which also includes squashes and melons. When it comes to nutrients, I was surprised by how much nutrition is contained in a cucumber. Just adding one to your salad every day or to your natural juice every morning can make a big difference in the overall health of your body!
Cucumbers are good sources of phytonutrients, plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties such flavonoids, lignans and triterpenes, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits.
Health benefits of cucumbers
Cucumbers are 95 percent water and are a great way to stay hydrated, especially during the summer. A cup of cucumber slices is “nearly as thirst-quenching as a glass of water,” according to Eating Well magazine.
They say we can get 20-30 percent of our fluid needs through our diet alone, and foods like these certainly help. Not only are they high in water content, they also contain important nutrients that play a part in hydration like magnesium and potassium.
The anti-inflammatory compounds in cucumbers help remove waste from the body and reduce skin irritation, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Preliminary research also suggests cucumbers promote anti-wrinkling and anti-aging activity.
Cucumbers contain two phytonutrient compounds associated with anti-cancer benefits: lignans and cucurbitacins. In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have been paying special attention to cucurbitacins, hoping to use them in new cancer drugs. According to a 2010 research review published in Scientific World Journal, scientists have found that cucurbitacins can help block the signaling pathways that are important for cancer cell proliferation and survival.
Cucurbitacins can also inhibits the growth of pancreatic cancer cells, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Cancer Research looked at cucurbitacin B (which cucumber contains) on human pancreatic cancer cells and found that cucurbitacin supplements inhibited the growth of seven pancreatic cancer cell lines by 50 percent, and also increased apoptosis, or “death by suicide,” of pancreatic cancer cells.
According to World’s Healthiest Foods, lignans may protect against cancer through working with the bacteria in the digestive tract. The bacteria take the lignans and convert them into compounds such as enterodiol and enterolactone, which can bind onto estrogen receptors and possibly reduce the risk of estrogen-related cancers, such as ovarian, breast, endometrial and prostate cancers. The research is not yet clear on whether lignans actually assert anti-cancer benefits.
You’ve probably seen pictures of people at a spa relaxing with cucumber slices over their eyes. It turns out there’s science behind this pampering ritual. Cucumbers have a cooling and soothing effect that decreases swelling, irritation and inflammation when used topically. Cucumber slices can be placed on the eyes can decrease morning puffiness or alleviate and treat sunburn when placed on the affected areas.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, in the past few decades, it has become clear that vitamin K is important to bone health, and one cup of cucumber contains about 19 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K. One review published in Nutrition noted that vitamin K intake might reduce fracture rates, work with vitamin D to increase bone density and positively affect calcium balance.
The human body uses vitamin K when building bones, and the effects seem to be especially important for women. A large 2003 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study showed that low vitamin K levels were associated with low bone density in women, but not in men. Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999 found that low intakes of vitamin K were associated with an increased risk of hip fractures in middle-age women. This is especially interesting because the women saw results from eating lettuce, showing that dietary consumption of vitamin K via eating vegetables (not supplements) is beneficial. When it comes to men, the affects of vitamin K and bone health may become more apparent as they age: A 2000 study saw reduced risk of hip fracture among both elderly women and elderly men who consumed more vitamin K.
Foods that are high in antioxidants allow your body to function optimally and antioxidants help prevent damage and cancer. Cucumbers contain several antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene and manganese, as well as flavonoids, triterpenes and lignans that have anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin C is well known for its immune system benefits, and beta-carotene has been shown to be beneficial for vision, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables of all kinds is associated with a reduced risk for many health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity and cucumbers’ potassium content may be especially helpful in this regard. One cup of sliced cucumbers contains only about 4 percent of the body’s daily potassium needs, but it comes with significantly fewer calories than most high-potassium foods like bananas. Potassium is an essential part of heart health, according to the American Heart Association.
Several studies have linked cucumber consumption to reducing hypertension and many studies have linked it with lower blood pressure because it promotes vasodiliation (widening of the blood vessels), according to Today’s Dietitian. A 2017 study published in Public Health of Indonesia found that elderly participants with hypertension saw a significant decrease in blood pressure after consuming cucumber juice for 12 days.
A 2013 review in Fitoterapia noted that cucumbers might help relieve constipation because they provide both fiber and water. Tufts University notes that cucumbers can pack even more of a digestive punch if they are turned into pickles during a home-fermentation process. Cucumber pickles contain probiotic bacteria that promote healthy digestion and cultivating beneficial gut flora. Store-bought pickles usually do not have these bacteria because they have been boiled out.
Cucumbers are a low-calorie food therefore a popular ingredient in diet meals. A 2011 study in the journal Obesity found that greater water consumption correlated with more weight loss in middle-age and older adults. Participants who consumed 1 pint (500 milliliters) of water prior to eating a meal lost an average of 4 lbs. (2 kilograms) more than participants who did not. Snacking on water-dense foods like cucumbers can be an effective way to up water intake.
But Lemond cautions against relying too much on water-dense foods like cucumber. “We know that people that eat higher quantities of fruits and vegetables typically have healthier body weights. However, I do not recommend eating only cucumber. You will lose weight, but that weight will be mostly muscle,” she said.
Brain health and memory
Recently, scientists have taken interest in the flavonoid fisetin. Cucumbers are a good source of fisetin, which studies have associated with protecting nerve cells, improving memory and decreasing the risk of Alzheimer’s in mice, according to a 2013 review in the journal of Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. The same review found promising results for the relationship between fisetin and cancer prevention.
Risks of eating cucumbers
There can be a few risks from eating cucumbers. Pesticide consumption is one concern. The Environmental Working Group produces a list each year of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue, known as the Dirty Dozen. Cucumbers are one of the fruits and vegetables that the Environmental Working Group has placed on its Dirty Dozen list, meaning the exposure to pesticide residue is high.
Additionally, cucumbers may be waxed to help protect them during shipping. According to World’s Healthiest Foods, both organic and conventionally grown cucumbers may be waxed, but organic ones can only use non-synthetic waxes with chemicals approved under organic regulations. For this reason and the pesticide concerns, World’s Healthiest Foods encourages buying organic cucumbers. This does not mean you should avoid cucumbers altogether if you can’t find or afford organic. The nutritional benefit of eating conventionally grown produce outweighs the risk of not eating produce at all.
Healthy as they are, you don’t want to overdo it on cucumbers. It is recommended to always vary your selections.
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