Cucumbers 101: Calories, Nutritional Value and Health Benefits

Overview

Scientifically known as Cumis sativus, cucumbers belong to the same botanical family as cucumber caloriesthe squashes and the melons. Typically, cucumbers are divided into two divisions when grown for commercial purposes:

  • Slicing cucumbers: – produced to be consumed when fresh
  • Pickling cucumbers: – produced to be eventually processed into pickles

The slicing cucumbers are noticeably larger and with thicker skins as compared to the pickling cucumbers that are smaller in size with thinner skins.

Facts and Description of Cucumbers

Though familiar produce sections of most groceries crowd with the long, dark green and smooth-skinned cucumbers, they come in a variety of shapes, size, color, and texture. The stores may have white, yellow, or even orange-colored cucumbers but at times they fall short of the slightly oval and round-shaped cucumbers. In a technical viewpoint, cucumbers are fruits and not veggies-argument based on the fact that fruits are constituents of flowering plants that hail from the ovaries.

All cucumbers belong to the botanical plant family Curcubitaceae, and hundreds of varieties of Cucumis sativus can be sub-grouped into two types; which are pickling and slicing cucumbers. All of the varieties cultivated for consumption when fresh comprise the slicing cucumbers.

In the United States, some of the commonly cultivated slicing cucumber varieties include Conquistador, Victory, Sprint, Burpee Hybrid, Comet, Dasher, and Slicemaster. These varieties tend to be thicker-skinned and larger in size thus they aren’t overly damaged during transportation.

On the other hand, pickling cucumbers constitute all those varieties cultivated for pickles processing purposes. In the United States, some of the commonly cultivated pickling cucumber varieties include Calypso, Bounty, Duke, Blitz, Pioneer, Regal, and Royal. Some of these varieties include the black-spine and white spine types of cucumbers. Even though the pickling cucumbers can also be eaten fresh, their small size and thinner skins render them the best options to ferment and jar.

In general, ‘pickling’ refers to the process of inhibiting food spoilage through fermentation or soaking in brine, (water saturated with salt).  The word ‘pickle’ is derived from the Dutch word ‘pekel’ that refers to brine. The brine solution can at times constitute other ingredients such as dill seeds, garlic, lime, and vinegar. There are two types of pickles; which are fermented and non-fermented pickles. When cucumbers ferment in appropriate liquid solutions, they can withstand lengthy shelf life.

  • Dill pickles: – Come about with the addition of dill seed to the brine solution.
  • Kosher dills – Hail from the addition of garlic and dill seeds to the brine solution. Note, they are not necessarily pickled cucumbers prepared under the governing kosher dietary laws. Nonetheless, if you are out for pickles prepared according to the governing kosher dietary laws, you should look for pickles labeled ‘certified kosher’ rather than those labeled just ‘kosher.’
  • Gherkin pickles: – At times the word ‘gherkin’ may be used to refer to those cucumbers that hail from the same species of the plant (Cucumis sativa). Also, the term may be used to refer to a variety of cucumbers that hail from a different plant species (Cucumis anguiria).

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Even though there are species of cucumbers that are genetically engineered, this is not the reason as to why there are seedless varieties of cucumbers. Cucumbers can fruit without pollen through a natural process referred to as parthenogenesis. Though some people nurture a preference for the seedless varieties of cucumbers, it is vital to note that the cucumber seeds are a rich source of nutrients that may not be present in the cucumber’s pulp or skin.

Cucumbers were introduced n North America in the 1500’s. Today, the states of California and Florida avail cucumbers for the growing consumer market in the United States throughout the year. In the state of California alone, there are about 6,600 acres for the cultivation of slicing cucumbers varieties and about 4,400 acres for the cultivation of the pickling cucumber varieties. During the winter months of January, February, and December, there are imported varieties from Mexico.

With worldwide production of approximately 84billion pounds of cucumbers annually, China is the largest producer with about two-thirds of the entire global supply.

Health Benefits

  • Prevention of cancer

Cucumbers have two phytonutrient compounds that associate anti-cancer aspects (cucurbitacins and lignans). Over the recent years, pharmaceutical companies have invested loads in researching on cucurbitacins in an attempt to make use of them in new cancer drugs. Back in 2010, research conducted and review published in the Scientific World Journal showed that cucurbitacins help to block signaling pathways; that is essential for the survival and proliferation of cancer cells.

In a study conducted back in 2009, and published in the Journal of Cancer Research, showed that when cucurbitacin B subjects to human pancreatic cancer cells, it inhibits the growth of the pancreatic cancer cells by over 50% as well as increased the apoptosis of the pancreatic cancer cells.

According to World’s Healthiest Foods, lignans work with bacteria in the digestive tract to work against cancer. The bacteria are responsible for the conversion of the lignans into compounds that can clutch onto estrogen receptors and possibly help to reduce the risk of exposure to estrogen-related cancers (ovarian, breast, endometrial, and prostate cancers). However, the research did not conclude that lignans can assert anti-cancer benefits.

Back in 2009, a published meta-analysis found little, or no association at all, beneficial aspects that lignans’ intake hold in the reduction of the risk of breast cancer. Similarly, most of the studies that have been conducted to find the correlations between lignans’ intake and reduced prostate cancer risk found no correlations.

On the other hand, a study on 800 American women by the Journal of Nutrition found that those with the highest lignan intake had the lowest risk of contracting ovarian cancer. Furthermore, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute undertook research in San Francisco on 1,000 women and found out that those that were postmenopausal, and with highest lignan intake, had the least risk of contracting endometrial cancer.

  • Hydration

As cucumbers are 95% water, they are a good option for keeping hydrated especially during summer. A full-cup of slices, or chops, of cucumbers, is equal to a glass full of water.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the cucumbers’ anti-inflammatory compounds help to reduce skin irritation and to remove waste from the body. Also, preliminary studies conducted suggest that cucumbers have a reduction effect on wrinkling, as well as aging.

  • Skin benefits

You probably have come across, or seen, people chilling out in spas with cucumber slices placed over their eyes. It turns out there is some scientific explanation to the pampering ritual. When topically used, cucumbers have a soothing and cooling effect that can decrease irritation, swelling and even inflammation.

Placing the cucumber slices over the eyes can reduce morning puffiness of the eyes and can be used to alleviate or treat sunburns when placed over the affected areas in the body. In essence, a healthy, and steady, veggie-intake associates a healthy complexion in general.

  • Improves bone health

Over the past few decades, it has become pretty clear that vitamin K is essential for bone health. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a cup-full of cucumber slices constitutes about 19% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K. In a review published article in Nutrition, Vitamin K intake was found to significantly reduce fracture rates, as well as the ability to work in conjunction with vitamin D to have positive impacts on bone density, as well as on the body’s calcium balance.

The human body makes use of vitamin K for building bones and the subsequent effects are essential for women. In 1999, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study that showed that low vitamin k intakes, among the middle-aged women, associated the risk of hip fractures. Surprisingly, most of the middle-aged women sourced the vitamin K from eating lettuce, concluding that a steady dietary consumption of vitamin K through eating veggies can be beneficial to your bone health. On the other hand, the effects of vitamin K on bone health become more apparent as they age.

According to a study conducted back in 2000, both the elderly men and women who had steady consumption of vitamin K had a feel of reduced risk of hip fracture.

  • Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties

Cucumbers are an essential source of antioxidant aspects (vitamin C, manganese, and beta-carotene). Also, the cucumbers’ flavonoid antioxidants (quercetin, luteolin, apigenin, and kaempferol) have beneficial anti-inflammatory properties. In animal studies that have been conducted over the recent years, cucumbers’ fresh extracts have been depicted to avail specific antioxidant benefits;

  • Improved overall antioxidant capacity
  • Increased scavenging of free radicals

Free radicals associate a diverse range of human diseases and antioxidants help to keep them in check.

  • Reduce unwanted inflammation

In accomplishing this task, cucumbers inhibit processes of pro-inflammatory enzymes such as COX 2, as well as prevent the overproduction of nitric oxide; for the situations where it could increase the likelihood of excess inflammation.

  • Improves heart health

Eating a variety of veggies associates the reduced risk of a variety of health conditions; diabetes, stroke, heart disease, as well as obesity.  Cucumbers are high in potassium content, and a full cup of cucumber chops constitutes about 4% of the daily potassium intake that the body needs. However, unlike most high-potassium foods such as bananas that have a substantial calories count, cucumbers have a low calories count.

According to the American Heart Association, potassium is an essential part of heart health.

In a study conducted on about 12,000 adults and published in Archives of Internal Medicine associated the potassium to lowering blood pressure; which is brought about by vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels).  The study showed that the adults that consumed a daily potassium intake of 4,069 mg had their cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease risk lowered by 37% and 49% as compared to those that consumed a daily potassium intake of 1,793 mg.

According to the Harvard School of public Health, cucumbers contain vitamin K that is essential for the overall blood clotting process.

Nutritional Value of Cucumbers

Cucumbers are rich in phytonutrients that are health-supportive. These phytonutrients include:

  • Lignans: – lariciresinol, pinoresinol, and Seco iso lariciresinol
  • Flavonoids: – luteolin, kaempferol, apigenin, and quercetin
  • Triterpenes: – cucurbitacins A, B, C, and D

Additionally, cucumbers are a good source of molybdenum, pantothenic acid, and vitamin K. Also, you can source manganese, vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin B-1, copper, potassium, phosphorous, and biotin. Cucumbers constitute the mineral silica that helps to uphold the health of the nails.

Calories & Nutritional Profile

For an in-depth analysis of the cucumbers’ nutrients, consider the table below;

Amount:          100grams

Calories:          16

 % Daily Value *
Total Fat (0.1g)

Saturated fat (0g)

Polyunsaturated fat (0g)

Monounsaturated fat (0g)

0%

0%

Cholesterol (0mg)0%
Sodium (2mg)0%
Potassium (147mg)4%
Total Carbohydrate (3.6g)

           Dietary fiber (0.5g)

Sugar (1.7g)

1%

2%

 

Protein (0.7g)1%
Vitamin A2%
Vitamin C4%
Calcium1%
Iron1%
Vitamin D0%
Vitamin B-60%
Vitamin B-120%
Magnesium3%

 

How to Select and Store Cucumbers

Cucumbers are highly sensitive to heat, and it will be safer for you to make purchases of those displayed in refrigerated cases in the market. Opt for the cucumbers that are firm have rounded edge and with their color bright to dark green. Avoid the cucumbers that are puffy, have wrinkled tips, and with sunken water-soaked sections.

Thin-skinned cucumbers have fewer seeds as compared to those that are thick-skinned. When stored in the refrigerator, cucumbers keep for several days. In the case that you will not use up an entire cucumber for a meal, ensure that you have the cucumber placed in a tightly-sealed container to prevent it from drying up. Use the purchased cucumbers within a day or two, to reap the utmost benefits. Also, avoid leaving the cucumbers at room temperature for too long because they wilt and become limp.

Tips to Prepare and Cook Cucumbers

Before making a consumption decision about cucumbers’ skins and seeds, you have to take a few facts into consideration. First, both the cucumbers’ skins and seeds are rich in nutrients. In fact, the nutrient count for both the sections is significantly higher as compared to that of the flesh itself. Therefore, the eating of the skins and seeds is pretty desirable from a nutritional viewpoint.

You can wax both the organically, and conventionally, grown cucumbers. However, the only useable waxes that may be put to use in organically grown cucumbers are the non-synthetic waxes that must be free of all possible chemical contaminants, prohibited under the organic regulations.  On the other hand, synthetic waxes that may contain chemical contaminants are used to wax the conventionally-grown cucumbers.

As a result, recommendations are that, for;

  • Organically-grown cucumbers

Regardless of whether you have the cucumbers waxed or not, leave the skin intact.

  • Conventionally-grown cucumbers

Remove the waxed skins of the cucumbers. Though there is no enough research conducted to support the claim for the removal of the skins of the waxed conventionally grown cucumbers, ensure that you thoroughly wash the cucumbers if you decide on eating them.

It is recommended to consume seeds as they are an unusually rich source of nutrients. To have an optimal feel of nourishment from cucumbers and minimize your health risks, you will have to opt for the organically grown cucumbers over the conventionally grown cucumbers.

Quick Serve Tips

  • Use half-inch cucumber slices petite serving dishes for chopped veggie salads
  • Mix sugar snap peas, mint leaves, and diced cucumbers, to toss with rice wine vinaigrette.
  • Puree cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and green peppers then add salt to taste for a refreshing cold gazpacho soup.
  • Add cucumbers’ chops to tuna fish or chicken salad.

Cucumber Concerns

  • Pesticide residues

Virtually, all of the United States municipal’s drinking water, as well as a vast majority of the foods in the U.S food supply (except organic foods), have traces of pesticide residue.  Though the presence of pesticides’ residue in food is at very small trace levels, there is ample documentation of their negative impacts on health. Pesticide exposure can compromise the ability of the liver to process toxins, the cells’ ability to produce energy, as well as the ability of the nerves to transmit messages.

In 2014, the Environmental Working Group published a report, Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, documenting that conventionally grown cucumbers are among the top 12 fruits and veggies in which the highest traces of pesticide residue reside. Therefore, to avoid pesticide-related health risks, avoid the consumption of conventionally grown cucumbers.

  • Wax Coatings on Cucumbers

As described in our ‘Tips to Prepare and Cook Cucumbers’ section, both the conventionally grown and organically grown cucumbers may be waxed to reduce the risk of bruising during the shipment process. However, only non-synthetic waxes may be put to use with the organically grown cucumbers, and they should be free of any contaminants restricted under the organic regulations.

The synthetic waxes to be used on the conventionally grown cucumbers can constitute unwanted chemical contaminants. Also, the addition of compounds such as milk casein, ethyl alcohol, and soaps to the synthetic waxes is for consistency purposes as well as eased flow of the wax on to the cucumbers. In the case that you find all this unappealing, merely settle for the organically grown cucumbers.

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