Is Cucumber Good for You? Here's What a Dietitian Says
Slice them up for salad or pickle them in your favorite brine; cucumbers are a delicious kitchen staple no matter how you enjoy them. We love their crisp, refreshing flavor, which is celebrated in many different dishes from cultures all over the globe. While there's no arguing about their value in culinary applications, you may be wondering, are they actually good for you? Let's explore cucumber nutrition and the potential health benefits of cucumbers.
Cucumbers are a member of the gourd or Curcurbitaceae family, which also includes melon, squash and pumpkins. They grow on vines and produce flowers that, when pollinated, turn into fruit!
Here are the nutrition facts for a 1-cup serving of raw, sliced cucumbers:
- 16 calories
- 0.6 g protein
- 4 g carbohydrates
- 2 g sugar
- 0.6 g fiber
- 0.1 g total fat
- 0 g saturated fat
- 2 mg sodium
Health benefits of cucumbers
What are the health benefits of cucumbers? Here's what we know:
High water content
Cucumbers are mostly water, about 95%, and that makes them a great food choice for hydration. Being well hydrated benefits your entire body—helping you stay focused, regulating body temperature, keeping joints and organs healthy and protected, and ridding your body of waste. Staying on top of your fluid intake also helps prevent constipation, while promoting gut health.
Low in calories
With cucumbers, you'll get plenty of refreshing crunch without many calories, making them a helpful food when it comes to weight loss or maintenance. "For folks who like a crunchy snack, cucumbers are ideal because they only contain 16 calories per cup," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a dietitian and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen.
Nourishes skin and sunburns
Cucumber's high water concentration and antioxidant profile help keep skin hydrated and protected. "Cucumbers are rich in the mineral silica, which helps keep skin healthy," says Largeman-Roth. Silica is known for its role in collagen synthesis, keeping your skin smooth and firm. And because of their natural cooling effect, cucumbers are often used to soothe sunburn and alleviate eye puffiness and irritation.
Reduces cancer risk
Cucurbitacin is a chemical compound found in cucumbers and is often the focus of studies because of its potential health-protective benefits. "According to a study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences, the natural plant chemicals found in cucumbers have been shown to have anticancer properties by helping prevent cancer cells from reproducing," says Christy Wilson, RDN, a nutrition counselor at University of Arizona Campus Health Service. She notes that cucumbers also contain fisetin, a flavonol molecule found in fruits and vegetables that has been shown to have antioxidant and anticancer benefits. Many domestically grown cucumbers have been bred to contain less of this compound, but the peel is still a concentrated source—so keep it on to reap the health benefits.
Protects against diabetes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 88 million Americans age 18 or older have prediabetes (that's 34.5% of the U.S. adult population). We know that diet plays a significant role in the diagnosis and management of diabetes, and that's why food choices are so important. "Animal studies have shown a correlation between cucumbers and the potential reversal of diabetes markers," notes Largeman-Roth. These studies were done with rats using cucumber extracts, but the data is promising. Tamara Melton, M.S., RDN, LD, notes similar research done in animals that points to cucumbers as having a role in lowering blood sugar. Human studies are needed before recommendations can be made, but one thing we know for sure is that cucumbers are low in carbohydrates. This means they won't have much impact on blood sugars, making them a great food for those with prediabetes and diabetes.
What about the bitterness and burps?
Cucurbitacin is the culprit behind the bitterness of some cucumbers and the burping they might cause. Growing conditions and cucumber variety impact the amount of this compound in your cucumber. While we love cucurbitacin's health-protective benefits, if you find you're sensitive consider trying "burpless" cucumbers, which have been cultivated to remove that bitterness.
How to choose and store cucumbers
No matter what type of cucumber you choose—Persian, Kirby (pickling), English (seedless), garden or slicing—it's important to know what to look for and how to store them when you get home.
At the store, look at all sides of the cucumbers you plan to buy. You'll want one that doesn't have any nicks, wrinkles or cuts. It should be green all over with no signs of mold. Next, feel it. Your cucumber should be firm and free from soft spots.
When you get home, store your cucumbers in the fridge. Ideally, cucumbers should be stored at around 55°F, but they won't last long at warmer room temperatures on your counter. So keep them in a warmer spot of the fridge, like the top shelf or toward or in the door. Since cucumbers are so high in water, Largeman-Roth recommends avoiding the back of your fridge as they might freeze.
What to do with cucumbers
If your garden is running over with cucumbers or if you took advantage of the sale on cucumbers at the store, have no fear, there are plenty of delicious dishes you can create with them! Wilson loves their "mildly sweet flavor and crisp texture," characteristics that she says make them versatile. She recommends adding them to salads, using them as a cool side to a spicy entree, pickling them or using them in dips and dressings. Need more ideas? Try some of our favorite recipes like Cucumber & Avocado Salad, Creamy Cucumber Dill Soup and Cucumber, Mint & Melon Smoothies.