Equal parts crispy and cool, the cucumber is one of the most delicious veggies you can eat. But beyond its crunch and flavor, the summer favorite is great for your body too. It offers antioxidants, vitamins, and even some fiber, resulting in an impressive list of health benefits.
Intrigued? Read on to learn about the benefits of eating cucumber, plus recipe ideas for enjoying the food.
What Are Cucumbers?
First, one fact that’ll have you questioning everything: Cucumbers are not vegetables. They’re actually fruits — berries, in fact — according to Colorado State University. In botany, a berry is a single fruit with a fleshy pulp and seeds, as noted by an article in the journal Antioxidants. Since the cucumber fits this definition, it’s categorized as a fruit. However, since it’s often eaten like a veggie (think: in salads or sandwiches), this article will call it a “vegetable” from here on out.
Native to India, the cucumber grows on a vining plant and thrives in warm weather. It’s part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and summer squash, e.g., zucchini, according to an article in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Depending on the variety, cucumbers can range in size and color (from yellow-green to dark green), though the most common type in the U.S. is called the garden or slicing cucumber, according to Purdue University. This variety — which is dark green, long, and cylindrical — is probably what comes to mind when you think of cucumbers.
There’s a lot to love about the humble cucumber’s nutrition facts. The veg offers essential nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin K, and fiber, the latter of which is found mostly in the peel, according to Paula Doebrich, M.P.H, R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Happea Nutrition. Even the seeds (which are also edible) have benefits, as they offer digestive-friendly fiber and beta-carotene, says Doebrich. ICYDK, beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A (i.e., your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A), which boasts antioxidant properties.
On that note, the entire cucumber is teeming with antioxidants called flavonoids. This includes compounds such as quercetin and kaempferol, according to an article in the Chilean Journal of Agricultural Research. Several cucumber health benefits relate to the food’s antioxidant content.
Here’s the nutritional profile for one raw, 301-gram cucumber, according to the United States Department of Agriculture:
- 45 calories
- 2 grams protein
- 10 grams carbohydrate
- < 1 gram fat
- 2 grams fiber
- 5 grams sugar
Health Benefits of Cucumber
If the crunchy veggie isn’t already part of your rotation, these cucumber benefits will surely convince you to change your ways.
May Reduce Risk of Disease
Cucumbers contain myriad antioxidants, including beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, and vitamin K, according to Doebrich. That’s on top of flavonoids such as quercetin and kaempferol, as mentioned earlier. Antioxidants fight free radicals by neutralizing them, which ultimately renders them harmless, explains Doebrich. This is important because an excess of free radicals can cause cellular damage and oxidative stress, a major player in chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer. But by fueling up on antioxidant-rich foods, e.g., cucumbers (and living a generally healthy lifestyle), you can reduce your risk by effectively managing oxidative stress.
It’s impossible to talk about cucumber benefits without mentioning its water content. The cucumber is made of about 95 percent water making it a wonderfully hydrating food, according to Laura Iu, R.D., C.D.N., C.N.S.C. Translation: The crispy veg can totally help you meet your daily hydration needs. This is notable, as your body requires water to perform essential biological processes such as regulating its temperature and removing wastes via urine, as noted by the Mayo Clinic. While you’ll still need to drink fluids throughout the day, eating cucumbers is a great way to stay hydrated.
Supports Healthy Digestion
The hydrating benefits of cucumber extend to your gut too. When you don’t consume enough fluid, your colon (large intestine) will extract water from stool, causing it to dry up, as Iu explains. This can make the stool harder to pass, potentially leading to a bout of constipation. However, staying hydrated (via drinking water and eating cucumbers, for example) will help keep things moving and prevent constipation, says Iu.
In the fiber department, “cucumbers are not particularly high [in the nutrient], but they do contain a small amount of soluble and insoluble fiber,” says Iu. (ICYW, they’re found in both the flesh and skin, according to Iu.) “Insoluble fibers add bulk to stool, while soluble fibers help bind [it] together,” she adds. These effects both regulate bowel movements, thereby paving the way for more comfortable number twos.
Manages Blood Sugar Levels
The antioxidant kaempferol may help your body manage blood glucose, or blood sugar, according to an article in IntechOpen. The antioxidant works by suppressing amylase and glucosidase, two enzymes that break down carbohydrates. (FYI: In your body, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which your cells use for energy.) This slows down the rise of blood glucose, hence preventing drastic spikes and potentially managing diabetes. What’s more, cucumbers are naturally low in sugar and offer fiber, which may help control blood sugar levels, according to Doebrich.
May Promote Healthy Blood Clotting
Another cucumber benefit involves healthy blood clotting. This is due to its high content of vitamin K, which is essential for the process. Specifically, “vitamin K helps the body make some of the proteins needed for blood clotting,” explains Doebrich. This ensures you don’t lose too much blood when you get a cut or wound, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Potential Risks of Cucumbers
It’s technically possible to develop an allergic reaction after eating cucumbers. An allergy is more likely if you’re also allergic to ragweed pollen, as well as zucchini, banana, melons, and sunflower seeds, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. That’s because these plants contain proteins that are similar to the allergy-causing proteins in cucumbers.
If you’re allergic to these items and new to cucumbers, use caution when eating the veg. Common signs of a food allergy include a tingling or itchy mouth, hives, swollen lips, wheezing, trouble breathing, and stomach cramps. If you develop any of these symptoms after noshing on cucumber, talk to your doctor or allergist.
If you’re taking blood thinners to prevent blood clots, talk to your doc before eating high-vitamin K foods like cucumber, suggests Doebrich. As noted, vitamin K can promote blood clotting, which may negatively interact with blood thinners.
How to Buy and Eat Cucumbers
At the grocery store, you can find cucumbers fresh in the produce section, pickled in jars, or blended into bottled juices or smoothies. When selecting fresh cucumbers, look for cukes that are firm, dark green, and heavy for their size, as recommended by the University of Maryland. At home, store whole cucumbers in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Before eating, wash the veggie under warm running water and use a produce brush to remove any dirt or debris. This is especially important if you want to eat the skin — which, again, contains most cucumber nutrients. From there, you can slice or cube the cucumber, depending on your recipe. Store cut cucumber pieces in an airtight container in the refrigerator for one or two days.
If you’re ready to enjoy the health benefits of cucumbers, you’re in luck. The veggie has a mild, fresh flavor that pairs well with plenty of dishes. Here are a few tasty cucumber recipe ideas to get you started:
In a salad. One of the easiest ways to eat cucumbers is as a salad topping. The veg will offer extra crunch and color, making your salads so much tastier.
In a snack board. Sliced cucumbers are a classic option for grown-up snack boards. Try pairing them with your favorite dips, such as hummus or green goddess dressing.
In sandwiches. Speaking of sliced cucumbers, they’re perfect for layering in sandwiches or wraps. Another option is to mix diced cucumbers into sandwich fillings such as tuna or chicken salad.
In a juice or smoothie. If plain ol’ H2O just isn’t your thing, consider sipping on cucumber juice. It’s a delicious way to stay hydrated and cool as a…well, cucumber. You can also blend the veggie with frozen pineapple, kale, and/or watermelon for a refreshing smoothie.
Infused in water. For a simpler take on a cucumber drink, try infusing water with the vegetable. All you need to do is add cucumber slices to a pitcher of water, then refrigerate it for one or two hours. For even more flavor, toss in lemon slices, mint leaves, or sliced strawberries.