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This crunchy snack is secretly packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and electrolytes.
A crunchy salad addition that rarely gets centre stage, don’t be fooled by the humble cucumber. They may look innocuous but this marvellous vegetable offers more than mere hydration. The savoury snack is secretly packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and electrolytes, most of which are concentrated in its peel and seeds.
Though cucumber is a savoury food, it’s technically a fruit. It belongs to the cucurbitaceae family, which includes watermelon, courgette, and pumpkin. Cucumbers may not be as well-publicised as other superfoods, but they’ve been a staple in Indian traditional medicine since ancient times.
Curious about what the humble cucumber can do for your health? To dig up the full breadth of cucumber benefits, we spoke with Chloe Twist, qualified nutrition coach and PT at fitness educator OriGym:
Whether fresh or pickled, cucumber is naturally low in calories, carbohydrates, sodium, fat and cholesterol, making it a worthy addition to any plate. But its impressive nutritional profile is where cucumber really shines.
Nutrients found within the cucumber provide increased hydration, weight loss, digestion and gut health.
‘When combined, the nutrients that are found within the cucumber provide benefits such as increased hydration, weight loss, digestion, and gut health,’ says Twist. ‘Cucumbers are also known to contribute to regulating blood pressure, and have anti-inflammatory and bone-strengthening properties.’
Read our 12 healthful benefits that prove once and for all that cucumber is more than just salad filler:
Despite being low in calories, cucumber has plenty going for it on the nutrient front – specifically in its peel and seeds, which are the most nutrient-dense part of the fruit. A whole (300 gram) cucumber contains:
In addition to those impressive nutrients, cucumber also contains ‘antioxidants such as vitamin C, manganese, beta-carotene, flavonoids, lignans, tannins, and triterpenes,’ says Twist, plus ‘minerals such as phosphorus and copper’.
There’s little more refreshing than a few slices of chilled cucumber on a hot summer’s day. ‘Cucumbers have a high water content, 95 per cent to be exact,’ says Twist. ‘Therefore, one portion of sliced cucumber, around 120 grams, is almost as effective as a glass of water for hydrating the body.’
They also contain important electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium and phosphorus which supercharge their hydrating properties.
Cucumbers contain high levels of cucurbitacin, a class of plant compounds. ‘Cucurbitacin is what gives the cucumber its bitter flavour, and is also one of the most researched plant compounds produced by it,’ says Twist.
‘It’s intended as a defence mechanism against herbivores, but is a phytonutrient that works against inflammation, microorganisms, and even cancerous tumours within humans,’ she adds.
🥒 A review by Qassim University concluded that cucurbitacins may help prevent cancer by stopping cancerous cells from reproducing.
Thanks to high water content and the fact that they contain zero fat, ‘cucumbers are an ideal snack for those looking to lose excess weight,’ says Twist. ‘They will help to hydrate the body, and satisfy hunger cravings as a result.’
Sliced into chunks, cucumber makes the ultimate healthy portable snack – especially when paired with a pot of hummus.
Like most vegetables, cucumbers aid the digestion process. ‘Cucumbers work to slow down your digestion thanks to soluble fibre,’ says Twist.
‘Their water content contributes to this, since staying properly hydrated also regulates bowel movements and prevents constipation,’ she adds.
Soluble fibre also helps you feel fuller for longer, and has been shown to help lower your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Win-win-win.
Cucumbers are great for gut health. Unlike some other forms of carbohydrate, they’re easy to digest.
‘Being low in FODMAPs – rapidly fermentable carbohydrates – cucumbers are ideal for boosting your gut health when consumed alongside other nutrient-dense foods,’ says Twist. ‘The minerals that they contain are easily digested, especially magnesium, which has anti-inflammatory properties.’
To further their gut-healthy properties, consider fermenting your cucumbers by pickling them at home. Cucumber pickles contain high levels of probiotics that feed your gut bacteria and make it flourish (store-bought pickles often don’t, since they’ve usually been boiled).
Believe it or not cucumbers also have blood pressure-lowering potential – in fact, several studies have linked the fruit with a reduction in hypertension (high blood pressure). This is mostly due to their high potassium content.
A whole cucumber contains around 13% of your recommended daily intake of potassium.
‘Potassium is one of the main nutrients known for regulating blood pressure as it reduces water retention brought on by high levels of sodium,’ says Twist. ‘A whole cucumber contains around 13 per cent of your recommended daily intake of potassium, making them a good source of this nutrient.’
Inflammation, your body’s natural immune response, is a bonus in small doses. But when it’s chronic, it can damage healthy cells, leading to serious health issues like heart disease and certain cancers. Cucumbers can help to alleviate this dangerous type of inflammation.
‘When it comes to the anti-inflammatory properties of cucumbers, most of these come from the phytonutrients that are found within them,’ says Twist. ‘Flavonoids and triterpenes are known to combat the oxidative stress that causes inflammation.’
For bone health, look to cucumbers. ‘They contain around 19 per cent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K, which holds bone-strengthening properties when it is paired with calcium,’ says Twist.
‘Cucumbers also contain four per cent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C,’ she adds, ‘which aids in the production of collagen within the body, which plays a vital role in ensuring the healthy development of bones.’
Forget the humble carrot – to protect your eyesight, munch cucumbers instead. ‘Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A by the liver, and this can improve both peripheral vision and night vision by decreasing the oxidative stress that is caused when our eyes are exposed to light,’ says Twist. ‘They, along with the flavonoids and triterpenes found in cucumbers, also fight the oxidative stress that triggers inflammation.’
One of the less-researched cucumber benefits is brain health. Cucumbers are rich in a flavonoid called fisetin, which research has shown to protect nerve cells, improve memory and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s. The kicker? The review, by the University of Wisconsin, involved rodent studies – but even so, the conclusion shows promise.
Early animal and test-tube studies indicate that cucumbers may alleviate problems related to diabetes. In a study by Metropolitan Autonomous University, cucumbers were shown to effectively reduce and control blood sugar levels in mice.
A test-tube study found that cucumbers may be effective at reducing oxidative stress and preventing diabetes-related complications. This is likely due to their phenolic compound content, which includes flavonoids and triterpenes.
So what more excuses do you need? Get down to the shops and pop some cucumber in your trolley.
Last updated: 12-11-2020