health benefits of cucumber

Crisp and refreshing cucumbers are a popular snack around the world. It may seem like they are mostly water, but cucumbers are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and soluble fiber that improve digestion and reduce inflammation. Read on to learn more about cucumber, its nutritional content, and health benefits.

What is cucumber?

Cucumbers are fruits that belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. Close relatives to melons, gourds, and squashes, cucumbers originated in northern India around 4,000 years ago. Cucumbers are the fourth most cultivated crops around the world. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and flavors.

These versatile fruits can be added to salads, pickled, juiced or blended and used as a base for smoothies or cold soups.

Types of cucumber

Cucumbers are of two main types –

Slicing cucumbers

They are produced for fresh consumption, and are eaten as salads. They can be 12 inches or longer and have smooth skin.

Pickling cucumbers

They are smaller in size and are used to make pickles. They are between 3 to 7 inches in size and have bumps or spines on their skin.

History of cucumbers

Cucumbers originated in Ancient India, where they grew in the wild. There they have been cultivated for over 3000 years. Cucumbers were introduced to the Middle East and Europe through trade. There is a mention of cucumbers in foods of ancient Ur and the legend of Gilgamesh. According to the Bible, cucumbers were one of the foods eaten by the Israelites in Egypt.

Later on, the use of cucumbers spread to the Greek civilization, where they were called sikyon. Cucumbers also reached Turkey, Italy, China, Bulgaria, Africa, and Modern-day Serbia during those times. The Roman emperor Tiberius had cucumbers on his table every day during the summer and winter months. The Romans made an artificial structure to ensure that cucumbers could be grown all around the year.

Later, Charlemagne had cucumbers grown in his garden during the 8th and 9th centuries. During the reign of King Henry VIII, cucumbers were introduced to England. Columbus is credited for introducing cucumbers to the New World.

The nutritional profile of cucumbers

Cucumbers are low in calories, carbohydrates, sodium, fats, and cholesterol. They are a good source of phytonutrients like flavonoids, lignans, and triterpenes. A ½ cup serving (52 grams) of sliced cucumbers with peel contains (1) –

  • Calories – 7.8
  • Carbohydrates – 1.9 grams
  • Fiber – 0.3 grams
  • Fat – 0.1 grams
  • Protein – 0.3 grams
  • Vitamin K – 8.5 mcg (11% DV)
  • Vitamin C – 1.5 mg (2% DV)
  • Magnesium – 6.8 mg (2% DV)
  • Potassium – 76.4 mg (2% DV)

Health benefits of cucumber

1. Promotes hydration

Almost 95 percent of cucumber is water. Eating cucumbers is a great way to stay hydrated during summers. You can meet 20 to 30 percent of your fluid needs from the food you consume. In fact, people in France get 36 percent of their total water intake from food (2). Food like cucumbers can be a good source of water in your diet. Cucumbers also contain potassium and magnesium, which play an essential part in hydration.

2. Cancer prevention

Cucumbers contain lignans and cucurbitacins, which are associated with cancer prevention. According to research from The University of California, cucurbitacins, and their derivatives, and help prevent cancer by blocking the signaling pathways that are important for cancer cell proliferation and survival (3).

According to a study published in Cancer Research, cucurbitacin can inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer cells. The study showed that cucurbitacin B inhibited the growth of seven pancreatic cell lines by 50 percent (4).

The lignans present in cucumbers can also protect against cancer. The bacteria in the digestive tract convert lignans into compounds like enterodiol and enterolactone, which can bind to estrogen receptors and reduce the risk of estrogen-related cancers like ovarian, breast, endometrial, and prostate cancers.

3. Good source of antioxidants

Cucumbers are rich in several beneficial antioxidants like vitamin C, manganese, beta-carotene, flavonoids, triterpenes, and lignans. These antioxidants scavenge free radicals that the root cause of many diseases linked to the heart, lungs, cancer, and immune system.

According to a 2015 study from the Tianjin Institute of Health and Environmental Medicine, when volunteers over the age of 60 took cucumber powder for 30 days, there was a significant increase in the markers of antioxidant activity (5).

4. Lowers blood sugar

Cucumbers can also lower blood sugar and control and prevent diabetes. They help prevent spikes in blood sugar (6). Cucumbers have a low glycemic index, which means they provide essential nutrients without adding carbohydrates that can increase blood sugar. The cucurbitacins in cucumber stimulate insulin release and regulate hormones critical for the processing of blood sugar.

Cucumber peel also helps to reduce diabetes symptoms in mice. When mice with diabetes were treated with cucumber peel extracts for 15 days, it reversed most of the change caused by diabetes (7). Another 2016 study showed that cucumber could be a safe and effective treatment for decreasing oxidative stress and carbonyl stress that is typically observed in diabetes (8).

5. Improves digestion

Cucumbers are a good source of both water and fiber, which can help relieve constipation. Pectin, a type of soluble fiber found in cucumbers, can help increase the frequency of bowel movements. During a 2014 study from China, 80 patients with slow transit constipation were given 24 grams of pectin per day for four weeks.

The results showed that pectin could alleviate symptoms of constipation and provide protective effects on gut microbiota by increasing the population of healthy microflora (9). Cucumbers that are pickled at home through the fermentation process are even better as they cultivate beneficial gut flora and promote healthy digestion.

6. Improve heart health

According to the American Heart Association, eating food rich in fiber can help prevent the build-up of cholesterol and the cardiovascular issues that may result from this. The cucurbitacins present in cucumber can also prevent atherosclerosis.

Cucumbers also contain potassium and magnesium, which can help in preventing high blood pressure. Though one cup of cucumbers provides only four percent of our daily requirement of potassium, cucumbers contain fewer calories as compared to other potassium foods like bananas.

7. Improves bone health

Vitamin K is vital for maintaining healthy bones and reducing the risk of fractures. One cup of cucumber provides around 22 percent of our daily requirement for vitamin K. According to a 2001 study from Switzerland, vitamin K and vitamin D work together to improve bone mineral density. Vitamin K also helps reduce fracture rates and positively affect calcium balance (10). According to another study, consuming more vitamin K through food sources is more beneficial than taking it through supplements (11).

8. Soothes skin

Cucumbers contain vitamin C and caffeic acid, which help to reduce inflamed and irritated skin. Its peel contains silica, which helps to firm up sagging skin. The antioxidants present in the cucumbers help to reduce swelling, redness, and irritation of the skin. They provide a cooling effect and shirk dilated vessels, which helps to reduce the puffiness of the eyes.

Water, potassium, sulfate, vitamin A and C, present in cucumbers, help to treat sunburns. The cleansing and hydrating properties of cucumber also help to keep the skin looking youthful.

9. Help in weight loss

Cucumbers are low in calories, so they are often used in diet meals. One cup of sliced cucumber contains only 16 calories, which means you can eat cucumber without the fear of piling on calories. Cucumbers are also high in water content. According to a meta-analysis of 13 observational and experimental studies, eating food with high water content and low-calorie content can help in weight loss (12).

10. May help improve memory

Cucumbers contain a flavonoid called fisetin, which is associated with improved brain health. According to a 2013 study, fisetin has neurotrophic, anticarcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory benefits. It can protect nerve cells, improve memory, and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s (13).

Side effects of cucumbers

There are very few side effects of eating cucumbers. Some people may find cucumbers hard to digest. You can opt for a burpless variety of cucumbers that are easy to digest. Cucumbers are generally waxed to protect them during transportation. This wax can be harmful, so peel the cucumbers before eating. You can also opt for organic cucumbers that have natural wax on them.

As per the World Environment Group, cucumbers are high o the list of fruits and vegetables that have high pesticide residue. Always eat organic cucumbers and peel them before eating.

Final thoughts

Cucumbers are fruits that belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. You can add them to salads, pickled them, juiced or blended them, and use them as a base for smoothies or cold soups. Cucumbers are low in calories, carbohydrates, sodium, fats, and cholesterol. They are a good source of phytonutrients like flavonoids, lignans, and triterpenes.

Cucumbers promote hydration, prevent cancer, improve heart health, benefits digestion and aid in weight loss, improve bone health, and memory and are suitable for the skin. Cucumbers can have some side effects due to their high pesticide content. So, always wash the cucumber and peel them before eating. Opt for organic cucumbers to avoid any side effects.