This underestimated veggie is full of surprising perks.
I adore cucumbers. I snack on slices, and add them to salads and jugs of H2O. I use cucumbers to scoop up guacamole, tahini, pesto, or olive tapenade; and I marinate them with other veggies for a chilled side dish.
Some of my clients believe cucumbers are devoid of nutrients, because they’re pale in color and high in water. But the truth is, their fluid content is one of their many perks. Here are all seven ways cukes (which contain about 20 calories and 4 grams of carb) help protect and improve your health.
Cucumbers promote bone health
The top nutrient in cucumbers is vitamin K, which is key for bone health. One cup of cucumber with the peel still on supplies over 20% of the recommended daily target for vitamin K. This nutrient is required for bone formation, and several studies have linked low K levels to osteoporosis and increased fracture risk.
Cukes may boost cardiovascular health too
Cucumbers contain dozens of antioxidants, including flavonoids, which are known to protect against heart disease. The seeds may also be beneficial: In a study published last year, a small group of people with mildly elevated blood fats consumed dried cucumber seed extracts daily. After six weeks they experienced a number of favorable changes, including decreased total cholesterol, decreased “bad” LDL cholesterol, increased “good” HDL, and decreased triglycerides.
According to the USDA, one medium cucumber contains 194 grams of fluid. That translates to nearly seven ounces, just an ounce shy of a cup! Adding sliced cukes to water also adds flavor, which can help boost your water intake even more.
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And great for weight management
Cucumbers offer a trio of characteristics that promote weight loss. They’re low in calories, but contain filling fiber and fluid. One medium cuke provides a quarter of the calories in a medium-sized apple. And of the 4 grams of total carb in the cucumber, one and a half are from fiber. Scooping up hummus with a medium peeled cucumber rather than 10 pita chips saves 100 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate, and takes up far more space in your stomach.
Cucumbers may help reduce cancer risk
Along with flax and sesame seeds, kale, broccoli, cabbage, strawberries, apricots, and other plant foods, cucumbers contain a natural substance called lignans. Bacteria in the digestive tract convert lignans into compounds that bind onto estrogen receptors. Some preliminary studies suggest they may protect against estrogen-related cancers, including those of the breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate.
Cucumbers can soothe skin
Popping a few cuke slices on puffy eyes actually makes a lot of sense. The pulp of cucumbers is primarily composed of water, vitamin C, and caffeic acid, a natural chemical that possesses anti-inflammatory properties. The combo triggers a soothing effect on skin, and reduces skin irritations and swelling. For these reasons cucumbers have long been applied topically as a home remedy for both acne and sunburn.
They help combat bad breath
One common cause of bad breath is odor produced when bacteria attack trapped food particles. The fluid in cucumbers, as well as the saliva production triggered by chewing, helps to cleanse the mouth and wash away these smelly culprits.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.