Just because cucumbers are pale in color and almost 96% water don’t be fooled into thinking that they are not nutritious!
Though commonly thought to be a vegetable, cucumber is actually a fruit. Cucumbers are low in calories and contain a good amount of water and soluble fiber, making them ideal for promoting hydration and aiding in weight loss.
The top nutrient in cucumbers is vitamin K, which is key for bone health. One cup of cucumber with the peel still on supplies over 20% of the recommended daily target for vitamin K. Several studies have linked low K levels to osteoporosis and increased fracture risk. (More about bone health next week.) Although calcium is important, calcium isn’t the only nutrient that keeps your bones strong. You also need vitamin K to bind the calcium. A study from the journal PLos Medicine found that postmenopausal women who took five milligrams of vitamin K every day for two years experienced 50 percent fewer fractures than the control group. Because vitamin K helps clot blood, however, talk to your doctor before any sudden increase in cucumber intake if you’re taking blood thinners.
To maximize their nutrient content, cucumbers should be eaten unpeeled. Peeling them reduces the amount of fiber, as well as certain vitamins and minerals. One cup of cucumber provides:
- Calories: 16
- Protein: 1 g
- Fat: 0 g (0 g saturated)
- Fiber: 1 g
- Carbohydrates: 4 g
- Sugar: 2 g
- Sodium: 2 mg
- Vitamin C: 14 percent of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 62 percent of the RDI
- Magnesium: 10 percent of the RDI
- Potassium: 13 percent of the RDI
- Manganese: 12 percent of the RDI
According to the Journal of Aging Research and Clinical Practice, cucumbers contain a group of polyphenols called lignans, which may be helpful in treating estrogen-related cancers. They also contain other types of antioxidants like beta carotene and flavonoids, which help fight inflammation and protect cells from chronic disease.
Because cucumbers are high in the electrolyte potassium, they may reduce sodium-induced water retention and thus lower blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.
Nearly all the calories in cucumbers come from fiber. Fiber helps improve gut health and bowel movement regularity, is beneficial in managing certain conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol, and will even fill you up to prevent you from overeating.
Water is crucial to your body’s function, so staying hydrated is crucial for carrying nutrients to your cells, preventing constipation, and flushing out bacteria, to name just a few. Eating cucumbers can help you reach your recommended daily fluid intake (eight cups of H2O, FYI). Hydration is involved in processes like temperature regulation and proper hydration can affect everything from physical performance to metabolism.
While you meet the majority of your fluid needs by drinking water or other liquids, some people may get as much as 40% of their total water intake from food. According to the USDA, one medium cucumber contains 194 grams of fluid. That translates to nearly seven ounces. Adding sliced cucumber to water also adds flavor, which can help boost your water intake even more.
Cucumbers offer a trio of characteristics that promote weight loss. They’re low in calories, but contain filling fiber and fluid. One medium cucumber provides a quarter of the calories in a medium-sized apple. And of the 4 grams of total carb in the cucumber, one and a half are from fiber. Scooping up hummus with a medium peeled cucumber rather than 10 pita chips saves 100 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate, and takes up far more space in your stomach.
Along with flax and sesame seeds, kale, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries, apricots, and other plant foods, cucumbers contain a natural substance called lignans. Bacteria in the digestive tract convert lignans into compounds that bind onto estrogen receptors. Some preliminary studies suggest they may protect against estrogen-related cancers, including those of the breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate.
The pulp of cucumbers is primarily composed of water, vitamin C, and caffeic acid, a natural chemical that possesses anti-inflammatory properties. So, slices of cucumber on your puffy eyes actually works. The combo triggers a soothing effect on skin, and reduces skin irritations and swelling. For these reasons cucumbers have long been applied topically as a home remedy for both acne and sunburn.
How to Buy
Cucumbers are one of the “Dirty Dozen” vegetables that have been shown to have more pesticide residue. This is a vegetable you should buy organic.
Look for firm cucumbers, without blemishes or soft spots, which can indicate they have started to rot. They should be dark green without any yellow spots, which develop as the cucumber is getting overly ripe. At that point, it will often produce off-flavors and odors. You also want to avoid any that have wrinkles, which shows they have been stored for too long or at higher temperatures and have lost their moisture.
Sometimes you have to pick up and feel the vegetables when you go shopping. Doing so will help you examine if there are any spongy spots, which means that they are not fresh. In today’s Covid-19 world, touching anything is frowned upon if you are not going to buy it. So, when you select one, and if it turns out to be soft, give it to someone working in that area and choose again.
Unfortunately, in order to make vegetables last longer, many growers tend to apply wax on the skin. Most co-ops and healthier stores will not have waxed fruits and vegetables.
Make sure to choose a cucumber variety that fits your purposes. They are generally grouped as slicing varieties, which are longer, and pickling varieties, which are shorter.
English and Persian cucumbers are delicious without peeling. Lemon cucumbers and Kirbys are great for eating raw or pickling. Gherkins, National, and Regal varieties are best for pickling.
Chinese or Asian cucumbers are the same species as melons and they can be very long and have fewer seeds.
How to Store
Cucumbers tend to lose moisture easily, which is why the way you store them can make a huge difference. When you buy cucumbers, always keep them in the refrigerator in the front side of the vegetable rack to retain their moisture rather than stacking them towards the back.
There are some people who believe that cucumbers should be stored at room temperature, not in the refrigerator. Root Simple cites the University of California, Davis, which determined that cucumbers are sensitive to temperatures below 50°F. According to them, stored at room temperature, cucumbers thrive and last longer.
How to Cook
Because cucumbers are mild with a distinctly crisp and refreshing flavor, they are commonly enjoyed fresh or pickled in everything from salads to sandwiches.
Cucumbers are also often eaten raw as a low-calorie snack or can be paired with hummus, olive oil, salt or salad dressing to add a bit more flavor.