Are Pickles Good for You? 7 Effects of Eating Them
Warm weather is here, which for many people means more BBQs, cookouts, block parties, beach days, crawfish boils, and any other excuse to get together with loved ones and chow down on delicious food. And while each event brings its own unique characteristics of cuisine, there's one common denominator among most summer-inspired events: pickles. This salty snack goes hand in hand with your favorite fried chicken sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, or deli subs. They're also easy to grab and take on the go. Even though they're made from cucumbers and seem to be a nice low-calorie snack, many people still wonder if pickles are actually good for you.
Pickles are made with a simple process of taking cucumber and preserving it in some sort of acidic liquid—most often vinegar—and salt. Other flavorings can be added as well. While cucumbers are the most common form of pickles, other vegetables and fruits can go through a "pickling" process as well. Because of the process it takes to make pickles, many people are left wondering how the vinegar and salt may affect the nutritional value of this snack.
A look at the nutrition info for pickles
According to the USDA, 100 grams of pickles will yield:
- Calories: 14
- Fat: 0.43 grams
- Carbs: 1.99 grams
- Sugar: 1.2 grams
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Protein: 0.48 grams
- Sodium: 808 milligrams (35.13 %DV)
- Calcium: 54 milligrams (4.15 %DV)
- Magnesium: 7.1 milligrams
- Potassium: 112 milligrams (2.38 %DV)
- Vitamin C: 2.1 micrograms
- Vitamin K: 16.8 micrograms (14 %DV)
It's evident that pickles offer some essential vitamins and minerals, while also being low in calories, fat, and carbs. But when it comes to being a potentially unhealthy food, they're also not totally off the hook—particularly with respect to your recommended daily intake of sodium. According to the FDA, the daily value of sodium is less than 2,300 milligrams per day, and a mere 100 grams accounts for over 35% of this.
To help us get to the bottom of whether or not pickles are good for you, we spoke with two expert dietitians about some of their benefits and nutritional drawbacks. Read on for more info about how eating pickles can potentially affect your body—then for more healthy eating tips, check out 8 Science-Backed Benefits of Eating Cucumbers.
7 effects of eating pickles
1. Pickles help you meet your daily vegetable needs
Because pickles are made from cucumbers, the nutritional value is similar for both veggies. Because of this, Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility, says that pickles can help you get a few extra veggies into your day.
"Most Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables every day, and since pickles are made from cucumbers, eating them on occasion as a snack can help people meet their veggie needs and sneak in some important fiber too," explains Manaker.
Getting enough vegetables in your day is crucial for a number of reasons, such as lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, reducing the risk of diabetes, and even lowering the risk of certain cancers.
Because pickles are higher in sodium than cucumbers, they shouldn't be your only source of veggies. But if you're in need of a quick snack on occasion, these can be a helpful option.
2. They may help support your gut health
Even though not all pickles are technically fermented, some of them go through a fermentation process, which according to Manaker, "results in a food that contains live probiotics." Probiotics comprise "good" bacteria that can help fight the "bad bacteria" and bring more balance to your gut microbiome. Probiotics are found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and some brands of pickles.
"Eating fermented foods, like certain pickles, may, in turn, help support gut health and promote a balanced and diverse gut microbiota," says Manaker.
In fact, some research has shown that probiotics may also aid in healthy weight loss and improve the health of your immune system.
According to Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and member of our Medical Expert Board, the probiotics in fermented pickles can also "help reduce the risk of digestive disorders and infections."
3. They may help support weight loss
Another appealing characteristic of this cucumber-adjacent snack is that it is low in calories. With only about 12 calories on average per serving, you can't find many snack foods—or at least ones that actually taste good—that are this low calorie-wise.
"In comparison to other snacks, pickles are generally low in calories and thus can be a great snack option for weight loss or for someone trying to reduce calorie intake," says Young.
However, how healthy this snack is also depends on your personal health needs. If you're counting calories, pickles can be the perfect choice. But if you're watching your sodium levels or needing a higher-protein snack, you may want to opt for something else.
RELATED: 12 Low-Calorie Foods for Weight Loss That Will Keep You Full
4. They promote bone health & blood clotting
Like other vegetables, pickles also contain certain minerals and vitamins that are helpful for different bodily functions. For instance, a serving of pickles will give you about 16.8 micrograms of vitamin K, a nutrient "necessary for bone health and blood clotting," says Young.
Chowing down on one serving of pickles certainly won't give you all of the vitamin K your body needs, as adults are recommended to take in between 90-120 micrograms per day. However, when choosing a mid-afternoon snack or a small side for your lunch sandwich, grabbing a pickle (or a few) can give you a nice boost of this vitamin.
5. They support immune function
"Overall, pickles can help provide essential nutrients to maintain good health," says Young.
This includes small amounts of vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. "Vitamin C boosts immune function, and potassium plays a role in regulating fluid balance and controlling blood pressure," says Young.
Many of the other vitamins and minerals found in pickles aren't in large enough quantities to make a huge difference, but it's worth noting that eating foods with these helpful nutrients can add up to your total amounts on any given day.
6. Pickles contain antioxidants linked to better eye health
Along with vitamins, pickles also contain a small amount of plant pigments that act as antioxidants in your body. Lutein and zeaxanthin are natural compounds that are responsible for the green coloring in many fruits and vegetables.
Along with helping to fight oxidative stress in the body—a general function of antioxidants and the reason they're so important—lutein and zeaxanthin are specifically necessary for your eye health.
This is because they gather in your eye's macula region, which is located in the back of your eye. These antioxidants can protect your eyes from harmful free radicals and can also act as a natural block from blue light.
7. The high sodium content may negatively impact your blood pressure
One downside of eating pickles is that most store-bought brands are going to have high levels of sodium added, and "eating too much salt is linked to elevated blood pressure," says Manaker.
As previously mentioned, the daily recommended limit is around 2,300 milligrams of sodium, which is equal to only one teaspoon of table salt. But for those with heart problems or who are trying to lower their blood pressure, it's recommended to stick to levels as low as 1,000–1,500 milligrams. With the average serving of pickles having over 800 milligrams of sodium, this may not be the best snack for those with higher blood pressure levels.
Young adds that aside from higher blood pressure, eating too many pickles can also lead to "water retention and overall unhealthy sodium intake."
"Consume [pickles] in moderation and choose pickles that contain low sodium instead," advises Young.
- Source: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/324653/nutrients
- Source: https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet#:~:text=The%20Daily%20Values%20are%20reference,milligrams%20(mg)%20per%20day.
- Source: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/#:~:text=A%20diet%20rich%20in%20vegetables,help%20keep%20appetite%20in%20check.
- Source: https://www.europeanreview.org/article/16301
- Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31368544/
- Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900701007092
- Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-k/
- Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331551/
- Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4698938/
- Source: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/shaking-the-salt-habit-to-lower-high-blood-pressure