Food and Nutrition

We Need to Know Once and for All—Are Pickles Good for You?

Emily Laurence

Emily LaurenceSeptember 19, 2018

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It’s pretty undisputed that most vegetables are good for you. You don’t see many nutritionists telling their clients to steer clear of kale or cauliflower, for example. No one is out there arguing over cucumbers either, which is why it’s a real head scratcher that once you pickle them, the confusion sets in.

On the one hand, fermented veggies are good for the gut, but on the other, the sodium content is pretty up there. In case you haven’t been up close and personal with the pickle making process, here’s how it’s done: Cucumbers are put in a mason jar with water, salt, and spices of your choice (though garlic and dill are popular ones). Then, you let them soak for three days, and voila, your cucumbers have metamorphosed into beautiful pickles, ready to be crunched on. And of course, you can pickle other veggies beyond cucumbers.

But…beyond just being a delish sandwich supporter, are they actually healthy? I went to the research to find out once and for all.

The pros

1. They’re probiotic. As previously mentioned, pickles are a fermented food, meaning they’re high in probiotics and good for your gut. During the fermentation process, the sugars in the vegetable are broken down and turned into lactic acid, which holds the probiotic benefits. By now, you likely know that a happy gut means happy everything: The microbiome is ground zero for not only digestion but also your immune system and even plays a major role in maintaining a healthy weight. The moral here: Adding pickles to your hot dog could just be the best thing you do for your body at a cookout.

2. They’re good for your eyes. If you stare at a computer all day, incorporating pickles into your diet could do you some good. They’re high in vitamin A, which is linked to supporting healthy vision. As an added bonus, vitamin A is good for your immune system, too.

3. Pickles help keep bones strong. Besides vitamin A, pickles also contain vitamin K, which has been connected to helping prevent osteoporosis because of its ability to regulate calcium levels.

4. They help with muscle cramps. According to one study, athletes who drank pickle juice had shorter muscle cramps than athletes who drank water, due in large part to the salt. Taking in moderate levels of sodium can help with muscle contractions.

The cons

1. Processed pickles can be full of preservatives and lack probiotic benefits. If you really want to reap the nutritional benefits of pickles, the key is to buy them refrigerated. Pickles made to be left on store shelves are typically made with vinegar, which kills most of their gut-healthy benefits. Processed pickles often include preservatives and more sodium so they last longer. By opting for refrigerated ones, however, you’ll get all the healthy benefits.

2. They can cause bloating. If your stomach starts to balloon after eating pickles, you can blame the salt used in the fermentation process, because salty foods notoriously cause bloating. This mostly happens with processed, jarred pickles which don’t have the probiotic benefits of fresh pickles, which have less salt, and therefore cause less bloating. Alternatively, you could simply be having too many pickles, which might account for the bloat.

3. And yes, they can be high in sodium. To echo the above sentiment, while pickles are good at assisting athletes whose electrolytes have been depleted, because they’re fermented with salt, pickles do have quite a bit of sodium, averaging 313 milligrams per serving. (The American Heart Association recommends capping it at 1,500 milligrams a day.) Cue the “everything in moderation” chorus.

The verdict

While processed, jarred pickles made to sit on store shelves for months aren’t exactly superfoods, fresh pickles are full of nutritional benefits. The sweet spot is having one or two to get the probiotic benefits while keeping sodium intake moderate. If you keep all that in mind, pickles can be beneficial part of a healthy diet.

If you’re on the hunt for more nutrition tips, here’s how to have a healthy late night snack. And these are the five anti-inflammatory staples every kitchen should have.

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