Cucumbers scientifically known as Cucumis sativus have not received as much press as other fruits and vegetables in terms of health benefits, but this widely cultivated food provides us with a unique combination of nutrients.
There are hundreds of varieties of cucumber, and they come in dozens of colours, but the edible types are classified as being for either slicing or pickling.
Cucumbers can be pickled for flavour and longer shelf-life. Pickling is a method of preserving food to prevent spoiling by having it soaked in brine, which is water that has been saturated with salt. Brines can also contain other ingredients, such as vinegar, dill seed, garlic and lime.
While most people think of cucumbers as vegetables, they are actually a fruit. They contain seeds and grow from the ovaries of flowering plants. Cucumbers are members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, which also includes zucchinis, watermelons, pumpkins, and other types of summer squash.
Cucumbers are a good source of phytonutrients (plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties) such as flavonoids, lignans and triterpenes, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits, according to World's Healthiest Foods.
The peel and seeds are the most nutrient-dense parts of the cucumber. They contain fibre and beta-carotene.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, a cup of raw sliced cucumber with peel (approximately 119 grams) provides the following percentage of your recommended daily allowance:
11 percent of vitamin K
4 percent of vitamin C
4 percent of magnesium
4 percent of potassium
4 percent of manganese
2 percent of vitamin A
2 percent of thiamin
2 percent of riboflavin
2 percent of B6
2 percent of folate
2 percent of pantothenic acid
2 percent of calcium
2 percent of iron
2 percent of phosphorus
2 percent of zinc
2 percent of copper
Health Benefits of Cucumbers
Help you stay hydrated
Cucumbers are 95 percent water. This makes cucumbers a great way to stay hydrated, especially during the summer. A cup of cucumber slices is nearly as thirst-quenching as a glass of water.
Not only are they high in water content, they also contain important nutrients that play a part in hydration like magnesium and potassium.
Give bright and glowing skin
Doctors often recommend cucumber juice because of the silica content to create healthier and brighter skin. Cucumber’s high water content makes it naturally hydrating, and it is well known that moisture is the best friend to healthy skin.
The extract of cucumbers is often used topically for treating various types of skin ailments, including sunburn and swelling under the eyes. You've probably seen pictures of people at a spa relaxing with cucumber slices over their eyes. It turns out there's science behind this pampering ritual. Cucumber slices placed on the eyes can decrease morning puffiness or alleviate and treat sunburn when placed on the affected areas.
Ascorbic acid and caffeic acid are the two vital compounds in cucumbers that prevent water loss from the body. These are some of the reasons why cucumbers are applied topically for various skin problems.
Preliminary research also suggests cucumbers promote anti-wrinkling and anti-aging activity.
Prevent constipation and keep kidneys healthy
Cucumbers are a perfect blend of both fibre and water. Therefore, it helps to protect your body from both constipation and kidney stones. By drinking cucumber juice, you can consume both fibre and water at the same time.
Cucumbers have been useful for diabetic patients for many years. Cucumbers possess a hormone required by the beta cells during insulin production. The Glycemic Index of cucumbers is actually zero. The presence of carbohydrates and their result on the body is measured by the quantity Glycemic Index. Every food item contains essential nutrients in different percentages. The carbohydrates contribute in raising the glucose level, however the carbohydrates present in the cucumber can be easily digested by diabetic patients. Thus, consumption of cucumbers keeps the glucose level in check. Nowadays, some commercial stores have cucumber supplements as spiny sea cucumber extract powder, which is very effective in combating the effects of diabetes.
Support heart health
Cucumbers contain potassium, which can help lower blood pressure. A review of the best studies conducted on potassium intake showed that a higher intake “is associated with lower rates of stroke and might also reduce the risk of total cardiovascular disease.”
Protect your brain from neurological diseases
Recently, scientists have taken interest in the flavonoid fisetin. Cucumbers are a good source of fisetin.
It has recently been suggested that fisetin plays an important role in brain health: It would have “the ability to reduce the impact of age-related neurological diseases on brain function,” and it would also help maintain cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Fight inflammation in the body and reduce the risk of cancer
Cucumbers can help lower the inflammatory response in the body. They contain polyphenols called lignans, which can potentially reduce the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
They also contain plant nutrients called cucurbitacins, which have anti-cancer properties: “Scientists have already determined that several different signalling pathways required for cancer cell development and survival can be blocked by activity of cucurbitacins.”
Flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory substances, and tannins in cucumbers have both been shown to limit the release of free radicals in the body and to reduce pain.
Reduce bad breath
Bad breath is usually caused by bacteria in the mouth. Fibre and water-rich fruits and vegetables like cucumbers can boost your mouth’s saliva production, which in turn helps wash away the bacteria that cause the odour in the mouth.
Protect your bones
Cucumbers are a good source of vitamin K. Low intake of vitamin K has been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption can be achieved by eating a proper intake of fruits and vegetables and is important for improving calcium absorption which is essential for optimal bone health.
Maintain a healthy weight
Cucumbers are very low in calories and they also contain fibre in the skin. And foods that contain fibre can help maintain a healthy weight.
Cucumbers contain numerous antioxidants, including the well-known vitamin C and beta-carotene. They also contain antioxidant flavonoids, such as quercetin, apigenin, luteolin, and kaempferol, which provide additional benefits.
For instance, quercetin is an antioxidant that many believe prevents histamine release, making quercetin-rich foods "natural antihistamines." Kaempferol, meanwhile, may help fight cancer and lower your risk of chronic diseases including heart disease.
Cucumbers contain multiple B vitamins, including vitamin B1, vitamin B5, and vitamin B7 (biotin). B vitamins are known to help ease feelings of anxiety and buffer some of the damaging effects of stress.
Cucumbers have excellent cleaning properties, and actively remove accumulated waste and toxins from your body. In many cases, cucumbers have been shown to be an effective treatment for arthritis since it removes uric acid. Since it aids in urine secretion, cucumber is considered a natural diuretic.
Cucumbers are very good for optimizing urinary bladder, kidney, liver and pancreatic functions. Cucumber juice along with carrot juice is extremely effective for rheumatic conditions caused by excessive uric acid in the body. Because cucumbers are so rich in minerals, it prevents splitting of the nails on the fingers and toes.
Cucumbers are extremely beneficial for overall health, especially during the summer since they are mostly made of water and have important nutrients that are essential for the human body.
Risks of Eating Cucumbers
There can be a few risks from eating cukes. Pesticide consumption is one concern. Cucumbers have been placed among one of the fruits and vegetables that have very high levels of pesticide residue due to exposure to pesticides used on farms.
It is suggested that you buy organic to ensure a lower risk of pesticide exposure. If you can't afford organic, don't fret; the nutritional benefit of eating conventionally grown (non-organic) produce far outweighs the risk of not eating produce at all.
Healthy as they are, you don't want to overdo it on cucumbers. Always vary your plant foods selections. Cucumbers are great hydrating foods, so keep them in along with other plant foods that offer other benefits.
How to Buy and Store Cucumbers
Cucumbers are very sensitive to heat, so try to select the ones which are displayed in the refrigerated cases in the store. Cucumbers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Look for firm cucumbers and check if the colour is bright medium green to dark green. Avoid the yellow, puffy cucumbers that have sunken water-soaked areas or wrinkled tips. You will find less seeds in the thinner cucumbers.
If you store the cucumbers in the refrigerator, they will retain their freshness for a longer time.
If the entire cucumber is not used in one meal, then wrap the remainder tightly in plastic or place it in a closed container so that it does not get dried out.
For maximum quality, try to eat cucumbers within one or two days of buying them, or else they will become limp, especially if kept for more than a week.
Some cucumbers are treated with a wax coating after they are picked; do not wash these before storing but make sure to wash thoroughly or peel before consuming. Avoid cucumbers with ends that are shrivelled or withered.
How to Enjoy Cucumbers
Cucumbers can be cut into various shapes and sizes, and can be sliced, diced or cut into sticks.
Cucumber seeds are edible and very nutritious, but some people prefer not to eat them. You can cut the cucumber lengthwise and use the tip of a spoon to gently scoop the seeds accordingly.
Cucumbers are commonly used in a number of recipes such as:
Use half-inch thick cucumber slices as petite serving "dishes" for chopped vegetable salads.
Mix diced cucumbers with sugar snap peas and mint leaves and toss with rice wine vinaigrette.
For refreshing cold gazpacho soup that takes five minutes or less to make, simply purée cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and onions, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Add diced cucumber to tuna fish or chicken salad recipes.
Cucumbers can be eaten alone in its sliced form, or with a sprinkle of salt or pepper. No matter how you eat it, you are sure to get a whole lot of nutrition from this wonderful fruit.