Pickles: What's the dill? We talk about how they're made and if they're good for you.

Lainey Younkin, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
December 20, 2019
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Pickles are made by soaking cucumbers in vinegar and brine (water and salt). This is called pickling and has been a way to preserve food for thousands of years. You can pickle any vegetable, but cucumbers are the most commonly used when we think of "pickles" in the United States.

Credit: Getty Images / Paul Taylor

Some pickles are fermented, the process whereby good bacteria are introduced which break down sugar and starch into acid. Fermented foods contain good-for-the-gut probiotics. But most pickles in the grocery store today are not fermented. The ones that are usually say "fermented" on the label to market this health benefit and you will likely find them in the refrigerated section of the store.

Pickle nutrition facts

Pickles are a very low-calorie and low-carb food. One dill cucumber pickle has just 4 calories and 1 gram of carbohydrate. Pickles are high in sodium, though. One cup (about 23 slices) of dill pickles has 1,250 mg of sodium, over 50% of the recommended maximum of 2,300 mg sodium per day. While you likely won't find any low-sodium pickles, sodium does vary from brand to brand, so compare labels when you're at the store. Bread-and-butter pickles are also significantly higher in sugar and calories because they're sweet.

Serving size: 1 dill cucumber pickle spear

Calories: 4

Total fat: 0 g

Carbohydrate: 1 g

Sugars: 0 g

Fiber: 0 g

Protein: 0 g

Sodium: 283 mg

Serving size: 1 cup (about 23 slices) dill cucumber pickles

Calories: 19

Total fat: 0.5 g

Carbohydrate: 4 g

Sugars: 2 g

Fiber: 2 g

Protein: 1 g

Sodium: 1,250 mg

Some pickles, such as bread-and-butter pickles, have added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 24 grams of added sugars per day, and men no more than 36 grams of added sugars per day.

Serving size: 1 cup sliced or chips

Calories: 140

Total fat: 0.5 g

Carbohydrate: 32 g

Sugars: 28 g

Fiber: 2 g

Protein: 1 g

Sodium: 699 mg

Health benefits

Aside from sodium and added sugar (in some varieties), pickles can be a tasty part of a healthy diet. Pickle juice has been touted for helping relieve muscle cramps in athletes, but research hasn't proven that this works (see our best foods to eat if you get muscle cramps). Fermented pickles offer probiotics, so check the ingredients list for bacteria such as L. curvatus or L. acidophilus, for example.

How to enjoy pickles

Pictured recipe: Oven-Fried Pickles

Enjoy pickles on sandwiches, as a snack, or to curb that salt craving for a fraction of the calories you would get eating something else salty, like chips. You can also bread and oven-fry pickles for an easy party appetizer or use them as mini-sandwich "buns" for a crowd-pleasing snack.

Don't overdo it with pickles if you have high blood pressure, especially if you already consume a lot of other salty foods like bread, cheese, processed meats, or if you eat out a lot.

Bottom line

Pickles are cucumbers that have been soaked in vinegar and brine. Any vegetable can be pickled, and pickles can be part of a healthy diet. Eat bread-and-butter pickles in moderation to limit added sugars, and keep an eye out for sodium too—if you already eat out or eat foods high in sodium, a pickle spear or two per day could push you over the limit. Buy fermented pickles for added gut health benefits.