It is easy to think of the pickles you slip into a burger or sandwich almost by habit as just another condiment to enhance the flavor. But unlike a dollop of ketchup or mustard, which offers little beyond zesty flavor, health benefits of pickles are a real thing. Pickles can ease nausea and stop muscular cramps. They can even provide a dose of probiotics and antioxidants and do your body a world of good.
Western-style pickles usually involve a brine solution, vinegar, or a sugar and salt solution to preserve the vegetable.
- Quick-processed pickles sold in jars in supermarkets are usually made by heating the packed jar of pickled vegetables to 160 ºF, a pasteurization process used to kill bacteria.
- Fermented pickles use salt or brine to slowly soften the vegetable and preserve it through controlled decomposition. If they retain the probiotic bacteria – the good bacteria that help your gut bacteria – they can double up as a dietary source of probiotics.
- Vinegar- or alcohol-based pickles use acids to kill bacteria and preserve the vegetable for longer than in its fresh state.
Aside from spicing up your favorite dish, a pickle can help your health flourish. Here’s how.
1. Offers Antioxidants And Nutrients
Pickled gherkins, dill pickle, pickled garlic, pickled chilies, bread and butter pickles, kosher pickles, sweet pickles, and sour pickles – the choices are seemingly endless. So how do these stack up on the nutrition stakes?
Most pickles contain a lot of water along with sodium or sugar to preserve them. On the upside, these pickles are often low calorie and have little to no fat.
A 4-inch cucumber pickle contains 15 Calories, 3.05 g carbs, 258 mg vitamin A, 63.5 mg vitamin K, and 31 mg potassium.
Most of the nutrients from the vegetable it is made from are preserved as well. So if you’re having a cucumber pickle, you’ll get the vitamin K, vitamin A, potassium, and other micronutrients from the cucumber. Although water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C may leach out in the pickling process, some amount is retained.1
Antioxidants like vitamins C and A or beta-carotene from these pickled vegetables are excellent for your body. They fight reactive molecules called free radicals which damage cells and put the body under oxidative stress, leading to diseases such as cardiovascular problems, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.2
Plus, because they’re full of nutrition, they do count toward your “5 a day” serving of fruit or vegetables. Just be sure to eat fresh produce to balance things out.
2. Serves As ProbioticThanks To The Helpful Bacteria
Some pickles, including traditional versions like Korean kimchi or European sauerkraut (both usually made from cabbage) are made using a fermentation process. Popular American kinds like dill pickles also use this method.
Eat fermented pickles to get the benefits of the good bacteria that support your digestive health and immunity.
During fermentation, sugars in the vegetable are broken down to lactic acid. Specifically, lactic acid bacteria are probiotics (“good bacteria”) that can help gastrointestinal issues, including irritable bowel syndrome. Vinegar-based pickles will not have this effect.
Research also points to how foods rich in probiotics can enable the body to ward off allergies in kids. They can even help women stave off urinary or vaginal infections.3
3. Eases Nausea And Morning Sickness
Pickled lemon or ginger may be just what you need when a wave of nausea hits you. But a sweet pickle may worsen it.
There’s a good reason for the lore on pregnant women and pickle cravings. Nausea that can kick in during pregnancy in the form of morning sickness, especially during the first trimester, can be relieved with pickles. The tangy, tart flavor of a pickle tingles the taste buds, revives the appetite, and eases nausea. The American Pregnancy Association suggests sour foods, such as lemon or ginger flavors, to curb nausea.4
Take care to not have too much, too often – high sodium and sugar levels can mess with blood pressure and blood glucose, putting you and your baby at risk. Rehydrating with water is especially crucial if you have been throwing up.
However, if your nausea is caused by gastritis, skip the pickle. The salt can damage the gastric lining further.
4. Cures Muscular Cramps In 85 Sec In A 1 ml/kg Dose
Pickle juice is also being studied for its possible benefits, including its ability to resolve a bout of cramping.
In one test, researchers studied the effect of consuming a 1 ml serving of pickle juice per kg of body weight (1.5 oz/100 lb), compared to drinking plain water or no liquid. They found that test subjects recovered 36% quicker when they drank pickle juice compared to plain water. This recovery was also 45% quicker than when no liquid was consumed.
If you have a muscle cramp, pour yourself some pickle juice, about 1 ml per kg of your body weight, and drink it slowly.
The underlying cause for this has yet to be understood. The researchers don’t support the general belief that electrolyte loss leads to muscle cramping.
However, one theory is that the mouth signals a reflex message to the nerves of the muscle. This stops neurons from firing, resulting in a cessation in cramping.5
How long does it take for pickle juice to relieve muscle cramps? As little as 85 seconds, reveals the study. But brace yourself for the strong taste of the juice.
5. Prevents Blood Sugar Levels From Rising After Meals
If you’re having a pickle that includes vinegar as an ingredient, you could also tap into the benefits of delayed gastric emptying or slow digestion. This helps your stomach release glucose slowly and prevents the blood glucose spike typical after a meal, especially a carb-heavy one.6 This is also why people drink apple cider vinegar for weight loss.
Putting a pickle in your burger is a good idea. It will keep your blood glucose levels from rising too high even though the burger is full of carbs.
This antiglycemic or glucose-lowering effect has potential for those with insulin resistance and at risk of type 2 diabetes. The benefits for someone who already has type 2 diabetes needs further investigation, though.7
6. Can Help Fight Spleen Cancer
A 2014 study has found that Lactobacillus brevis KB290, a bacteria usually found in Japanese turnip pickles called suguki, can enhance the activity of the immune system against spleen cancer in mice.8 However, further large-scale research is required to see if this holds true for humans as well, and whether special types of pickles can prevent or cure cancers.
Don’t Get Yourself In A Pickle
While there is goodness in them, there are also side effects of pickles to watch out for. They aren’t ideal for everyone, thanks to the high sodium content. Remember, excessive intake of sodium can interfere with your blood pressure regulation, causing it to spike. This is bad news, especially if you have a history of cardiovascular problems. Some varieties like sweet pickles also have a high sugar content. All those additional calories and the risk of heart disease is something you should be wary about. Eat pickles in moderation. This way, you can make sure your body doesn’t take a beating even as you reap the benefits.
|↑1||Pickles, cucumber, sour, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. USDA.|
|↑2||Antioxidants: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.|
|↑3||Health benefits of taking probiotics. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑4||Morning Sickness Relief. American Pregnancy Association.|
|↑5||Miller, Kevin C., Gary W. Mack, Kenneth L. Knight, J. Ty Hopkins, David O. Draper, Paul J. Fields, and Iain Hunter. “Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 42, no. 5 (2010): 953-961.|
|↑6||Liljeberg, H., and I. Björck. “Delayed gastric emptying rate may explain improved glycaemia in healthy subjects to a starchy meal with added vinegar.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 52, no. 5 (1998): 368-371.|
|↑7||Johnston, Carol S., and Cindy A. Gaas. “Vinegar: medicinal uses and antiglycemic effect.” Medscape General Medicine 8, no. 2 (2006): 61.|
|↑8||Sasaki, E., S. Suzuki, Y. Fukui, and N. Yajima. “Cell‐bound exopolysaccharides of Lactobacillus brevis KB290 enhance cytotoxic activity of mouse splenocytes.” Journal of applied microbiology 118, no. 2 (2015): 506-514.|