Cucumbers hardly need a hype man. Tons (literally) of cucumbers are grown each year across the globe to keep us stocked for salads, tzatziki sauce, and pickles.
So yeah, we know cukes are delicious, but cucumbers are also a low calorie and low sodium snack that gives you a good dose of hydration, vitamins, and minerals.
Here’s what’s so great about cucumber nutrition.
The nutritional breakdown of an average-size, raw cucumber (about 8.25- inches or 301 grams) includes:
- Calories: 45
- Water: 287 grams (g)
- Protein: 2 g
- Carbohydrate: 11 g
- Fiber: 1.5 g
- Sugar: 5 g
- Calcium: 4% of the recommended daily value (DV)
- Magnesium: 9% of the DV
- Potassium: 9% of the DV
- Sodium: 0% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 2% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 9% of the DV
- Iron: 5% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 41% of the DV
- Thiamin: 7% of the DV
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 8% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 7% of the DV
- Folate: 5% of the DV
- Zinc: 5% of the DV
- Copper: 14% of the DV
- Manganese: 10% of the DV
Just note that you’re probably not going to munch on a whole cucumber. So IRL expect about 1/2 to 1/3 of these nutrients.
Cucumbers (technically a fruit because they contain seeds and grow from flowers) are related to other juicy bulbous garden goodies like melons, squash, and gourds. There are 100s of varieties of cucumbers, but you’ll probably recognize these main types:
- Slicing cucumber (includes Kirby and Persian). These are the tough-skinned, dark green varieties you’re used to seeing in the supermarket and sliced in salads. They have lots of seeds, which makes them more bitter, but it also adds more nutrients.
- Pickling cucumber (includes Gherkin). Smaller, bumpy little dudes usually turned into pickles by fermenting them in a solution of salt or vinegar. Pickling will have a major impact on the sodium content of your cukes!
- Burpless cucumber (includes Asian and English cucumber). These are usually the longer and narrower cukes you’ll see in plastic wrap. They contain less of the compound cucurbitacin, which is linked to gastrointestinal probs and burping (the more your know 💫). They may also be seedless and usually taste mild or even sweet. If cukes make your stomach weird, these are for you.
So, which one is the best nutrient-wise? Researchers say the composition of a cucumber varies depending on the variety grown, geographic location, harvest time, and processing techniques.
No matter where you get your cucumbers (or if you grow your own!) they all contain several elements for good nutrition like — water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Cucumbers originated in India and have been used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries. Some health benefits are assumed based on long traditional use. But there’s also research supporting health claims based on the nutritional value of cucumbers.
No single food can treat disease, but there’s evidence that enjoying cucumbers in your diet could have some health benefits. Here’s what the research says.
1. Super hydrating!
Cucumbers are about 96 percent water, so eating one is not that far from drinking a big glass of water.
Our own bodies are about 60 percent water. And being hydrated helps with everything from eliminating waste, regulating temperature, lubricating joints, and protecting tissues like your brain.
But it’s not just the water content that helps your hydration status. Cucumbers also contain potassium, which helps your body maintain an electrolyte and fluid balance.
Potassium is also important for muscle contractions, your heartbeat, and other processes in your body.
2. Keeps you regular
Cucumbers contain two things that keep the No. 2 train right on schedule: water and fiber. Specifically, cucumbers contain a soluble fiber called pectin, which may help increase bowel movements.
In particular, pectin, the type of soluble fiber found in cucumbers, can help increase bowel movement frequency.
3. May help heart health
So, eating a cucumber a day, doesn’t keep the cardiologist away. But the veggie (erm, fruit) does have some benefits that may translate to heart health.
As a naturally low sodium food with potassium, it’s a good pick if you have high blood pressure (and when eaten with as part of a nutrient-rich diet *might* help you avoid high BP).
While we need more research, the burp-causing cucurbitacins in cucumbers may is also linked to preventing the hardening of the arteries. But this is for curcubitacins in general, not necessarily those specifically found in cucumbers.
A small study in Indonesia of 20 elderly people also found a connection between drinking cucumber juice and lowered blood pressure. The effect might be due to cucumber’s mineral (thanks, magnesium!) and water content, but we need more studies to know for sure.
4. May help regulate blood sugar
Cucumbers have a low glycemic index (GI), which is good if you have diabetes. Basically, this means you’ll get some carbs from cucumbers, but it won’t significantly impact your blood glucose levels. Fiber also makes cukes a win-win for heart health and diabetes.
There’s also a theory that cucurbitacins might help insulin regulation and metabolize hormones needed for processing blood sugar. (TBD if it’s legit, though).
In a 2020 study of rats with induced diabetes, treatment with cucumber extract reduced blood sugar to nondiabetic levels. This might be because of cucumber’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, but we need more human research to know for sure.
5. Supports healthy bones and tissues
If you ate 1 cup of cucumber slices, you’d get about 14 percent of the daily value for Vitamin K.
At grocery stores, slicing cucumbers are typically coated with wax to help keep their high water content inside and to protect the skin from damage. Burpless cucumbers will normally be in plastic wrap.
For the longest shelf-life, store cucumbers in the refrigerator crisper drawer set to higher humidity. Do not store cucumbers with apples or tomatoes — they produce a chemical that will cause cucumbers to turn yellow.
Heads up: Cucumbers rank No. 17 on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) list of produce types with the highest pesticide residue. If you’re concerned about pesticide exposure, consider organic cucumbers and give your cukes a good wash.
Before eating, wash thoroughly with warm water and a produce brush. Then cut off any discolored or damaged parts before you slice and enjoy.
What could be risky about a sweet little cucumber? Even the best things in life come with a little risk. Here’s what to watch out for:
- It’s possible to be allergic to cucumbers.
- The wax coating on cucumbers may trap bacteria (Ew!). Be sure to wash thoroughly before eating.
- From 2010 to 2020, 32 cucumber-associated foodborne illness outbreaks were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But TBH, any fruit or veggie can cause foodborne illness.
Ready to eat more cucumbers? Try some of these recipes for inspiration to add a few more cukes to your life.
Cucumbers are refreshing and full of good stuff like water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Don’t get stuck thinking that cucumbers are a bland, low cal bore. They can be added to sweet and savory dishes to get the most of their nutritious benefits.
Try experimenting with different cuke varieties, recipes, pickling, or growing your own (we believe in you!).