Pickles are not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of health food. While they may have earned some bad name due to their high sodium content, you will be glad to know that this old school deli food offers a variety of health benefits. Several studies show that fermented foods like pickles are rich in health-boosting probiotics. Even unfermented pickles contain vitamin K and vitamin A. Learn more about the nutrition and health benefits of pickles in this article.
What are pickles?
Pickling is defined as the process of extending the shelf life of food by immersing it in brine or vinegar. In the United States, the word pickle has become synonymous with pickled cucumbers. The vinegar or brine helps to ferment the cucumbers, which in addition to preserving them, also produce probiotic bacteria as a by-product of the process.
However, not all pickles are fermented. Vinegar is used to give pickles their tangy flavor when they are not fermented. Some kinds of vinegar like apple cider vinegar, are themselves fermented. Many pickles available in the supermarkets these days are the unfermented variety. You can also easily make fermented pickles at home.
Nutrition facts of pickles
One spear (35 grams) of Pickles, cucumber, dill or kosher dill contains (1) –
- Calories – 4.2
- Carbohydrates – 0.9 grams
- Dietary fiber – 0.4 grams
- Sugar – 0.5 grams
- Protein – 0.2 grams
- Sodium – 306 mg (13% DV)
- Vitamin K – 13.7 mcg (17% DV)
History of pickles
Pickles have been known to man for thousands of years. Their history goes as far back as 2030 BC when pickles from India were pickled in the Tigris valley. The word ‘pickle’ comes from the Dutch word ‘pekel’ or the German word ‘pokel,’ which means salt or brine.
During ancient times pickling was a necessity. It was the easiest way to preserve food for long periods, which was essential for sailors and soldiers. Pickles were also a source of food for people during the cold winter months.
- Suggested read: 12 Probiotics Benefits on Your Health
Health benefits of pickles
1. Boosts antioxidant intake
Pickles are good sources of antioxidants. Cooking can destroy food-sensitive nutrients, including antioxidants. Pickling raw foods help to preserve their antioxidant content. Antioxidants help to fight against free-radicals, which can lead to a wide variety of health issues, including cancer, heart disease, and inflammation.
Antioxidants also help to slow down the signs of aging. Studies have also shown that antioxidants can slow down the progression of age-related macular degeneration (2).
2. Improves digestion
Pickles also act as probiotics and support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Sometimes due to a heavy dose of antibiotics, these healthy bacteria are killed along with the invading bacteria. The fall in the number of healthy bacteria can lead to digestive problems. Pickles made with salt brine encourage the growth of these bacteria and restore digestive health.
3. Restore electrolyte balance
Our body needs electrolytes for proper functioning. When we are dehydrated, we also lose electrolytes. Pickle juice is an incredible source of electrolytes. Many athletes prefer to use pickle juice to restore their electrolytes after their workout. Pickles are also a good option for people who have lost a lot of electrolytes due to dehydration caused by fever and vomiting.
4. Improve muscle cramps
Several studies have shown that pickles may help with muscle cramps. Several athletes drink pickle juice to ease their cramps.
During a 2010 study, muscle cramps were induced in men one week apart. This process was followed by ingestion 1 ml per kg of bodyweight of deionized water or pickle juice. The results of the study showed that the men who drank pickle juice showed rapid relief from muscle cramps. Deionized water did not have the same effects (3).
Studies show that consuming pickles, especially the ones with vinegar in them, can help control blood sugar levels. A 12-week study examined the effects of vinegar on adults who are at risk of developing type-2 diabetes. The results showed that the participants who consumed vinegar at mealtime had lower blood glucose levels than those who did not (4).
According to the American Heart Association, vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high-carbohydrate meal in people with insulin resistance or type-2 diabetes (5).
6. Treats restless leg syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is a neuromotor disorder that causes sensations like tingling, tugging, stinging, and itching inside the legs. These sensations cause an irresistible urge to get up and walk. While walking eases the feelings for a little bit, but they return as soon as you lie down.
Pickle juice is a traditional home remedy for the treatment of restless leg syndrome. High concentrations of electrolytes in pickle juice may be the reason why this remedy is effective.
7. Helpful during pregnancy
Pickles help relieve nausea and vomiting, which is common during the first trimester of pregnancy. Consumption of pickles helps to alleviate morning sickness. The tangy and tart flavor of pickles tickles the taste buds and improves appetite. Pickles cure nausea and reduce vomiting.
Our bodies produce some vitamin K-2 on their own. However, we do need more vitamin K from food sources to reach proper levels. Pickles are a great way to get your vitamin K fill. One cucumber dill pickle contains 35 mcg of vitamin K. Vitamin K helps build healthy bones, and it also plays a vital role in blood coagulation.
One whole dill pickle can provide 21 to 24% of your daily value for vitamin A. Vitamin A plays a vital role in maintaining healthy vision, healthy pregnancy, and boosting immunity.
Drawbacks of pickles
A significant drawback if pickles is the high content of salt in them. One large dill pickle has almost two-thirds of the total amount of salt that a person should have in a whole day. Consuming too much salt can increase your blood pressure, which can then increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease.
Food that is high in salt content also increases the risk of stomach cancer. According to a 2015 study from China, a 5 gram per day increment in daily salt intake can increase the risk of stomach cancer by 12%. Sodium can also leach calcium from your bones, which can weaken the bones and increase the risk of fractures.
Choose the right pickle
The variety of pickles available at the grocery stores these days can be daunting. Here’s a list of the various types of pickles available and what gives them their unique flavor.
1. Half sour and full-sour
Traditionally pickles are soaked in the salty brine to ferment them. When they are soaked for one of two weeks, they get a sour flavor but retain their green color. These pickles, with a subtle flavor, are called half-sours. When these pickles are soaked for more than three months, they develop a stronger flavor and darker color and are called full-sours.
2. Kosher dill
After soaking and fermenting in brine, these pickles get a wash. They are then put into a jar with more brine, garlic, and dill. These pickles have a strong garlic flavor.
3. Baby gherkins
These baby pickles have a unique flavor as they are pickled with tarragon and mustard seed.
4. Bread and butter
The name for this pickle originated during the great depression when they were used in sandwiches of bread and butter. They have a sweet and sour flavor. Brown sugar, turmeric, and ginger are added to the brine to give this pickle its unique taste.
How to make pickles at home
Pickles are nutritious and delicious and easy to make at home. Follow these simple steps to make home-made pickles –
- Small pickles – 8 to 10
- Garlic cloves – 3 to 5
- Fresh dill – ½ cup
- Sea salt – 2 tablespoon
- Mason jar – 1
- Water – two cups
- Add garlic cloves and dill into the Mason jar. Now add cucumbers into the jar. Add water to the jar so that all the cucumbers are completely submerged.
- Now pour this water back into a measuring cup. For every cup of water, add between ½ to 1 tablespoon of sea salt. Stir in the salt till it is completely dissolved and pour back this water into the Mason jar.
- Seal the jar and keep it at a place that is neither too hot nor too cold. Make sure that the cucumbers stay submerged in the brine. You can place a rolled leaf of cabbage on top of them to keep them soaked.
- Keep it like this for three days and then transfer to the refrigerator.
Pickling is an ancient technique for food preservation. Nowadays, the word pickle has become synonymous with pickled cucumbers. Pickles are not just tasty and make great snacks; they also provide a variety of health benefits. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamin K, vitamin A, improve electrolyte balance, improve digestion, treat muscle cramps and restless leg syndrome, control blood sugar levels, and are helpful during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, pickles also have high salt content. High salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, increase the risk of stomach cancer, and can also weaken bones.