The phrase "cool as a cucumber" says it all. This unassuming vegetable is both cooling for the body, as it is made up of 95% water, and is just straight up cool because of it's array of other calming and stabilizing health benefits! It's abilities range from the mundane— aiding digestion, to the miraculous— fighting cancer.
Believed to have originated in India, as it is a popular veggie in the ayurvedic tradition, the cucumber is now cultivated all over the world. Cucumbers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, ranging form the glossy green, foot-long Armenian cucumber to the tiny and mild, egg-shaped lemon variety. Most cucumbers are divided into two groups: the "table" variety (those that are eaten raw) and "picklers" (cucumbers that are traditionally made into pickles).
The mild mannered cucumber usually takes a nutritional back seat to the dark leafy greens, but it's time to let this guy shine! Rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as the minerals magnesium, potassium and silica, the cucumber packs quite a nutritional punch.
Health Benefits of Cucumbers
Stabilize your blood sugar
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed the blood sugar levels of subjects eating a breakfast with a high glycemic index; that is, a meal that would ordinarily cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Interestingly enough, they found that if the subjects also had pickled cucumbers with their breakfast, their blood sugar levels did not rise [II].
Lower high blood pressure
The minerals of potassium and magnesium found in abundance within cucumbers has been shown to be helpful in lowering blood pressure and supporting the heart. Cucumbers are also high in fiber, and this too, can help with high blood pressure problems.
Lower cholesterol levels
A study published in 2004 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that esterified plant sterols (a substance found in cucumbers) can reduce the absorption of "bad" cholesterol from the rest of one's diet [III]. When this cholesterol isn't absorbed, it doesn't end up in your blood stream; helping to prevent the possibility of plaque buildup and heart attacks.
The lingans in cucumbers (lariciresinol, pinoresinol, and secoisolariciresinol) have been shown to have cancer-fighting properties. A study published by the National Institutes of Health in 2005 showed that people who had diets rich in these natural substances were less likely to get certain types of cancer [I]. Cucumbers also contain phytonutrients called cucurbitacins that have anti-cancer properties as well.
Cucumbers are full of both water and insoluble fiber. The water element can help to balance the pH of your body and potentially help with digestive ills like heartburn. The fiber and water combo will add bulk to your stool while at the same time keeping things moving for proper elimination.
We all know the classic scene of a woman in a robe, with her hair wrapped in a towel and cucumber slices on her eyes. You've probably seen that image so much that you don't ever even question it! The vitamin C and caffeic acid in cucumbers is actually great for reducing swelling and puffiness. Cucumbers also inhibit the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes.
Eliminates Bad Breath
I have yet to try this, but apparently, if you take a slice of cucumber and hold it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for about 30 seconds, your bad breath will disappear! The phytochemicals are said to kill the bacteria in your mouth that are responsible for that not-so-pleasant pucker.
Fun Ideas for Cukes!
Cucumbers are a go-to, especially in the hot summer months because of their light, refreshing quality. They're a great replacement for chips when dipped into some hummus or tzatziki sauce and add a beautiful flavor to any glass of water. Make a pitcher to share with your family! Of course you can also toss raw cukes into a salad, make your own pickles, or even use thinly sliced cucumbers as a replacement for the rice in a sushi roll. These Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rolls are an even easier way to get that sushi feel.
Oh, and by the way, eat as many as your heart desires because they have next to no calories! One cup contains just 16 calories.
All in all a pretty impressive resume for a bumpy green vegetable, don't you think? So the next time you line up at the salad bar, reach for the dark, leafy greens, but don't pass up the cucumbers. They're crunchy, refreshing and tasty, and they're packed with powerful nutrition!
[I] Milder I.E., et al. "Intake of the plant lignans secoisolariciresinol, matairesinol, lariciresinol, and pinoresinol in Dutch men and women." J Nutr. 2005 May;135(5):1202-7. Web. July. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15867304>.
[II] Ostman E.M., et al. "Inconsistency between glycemic and insulinemic responses to regular and femented milk products." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2001. 74(1). p.100-96. Web. July. 2016. <http://lup.lub.lu.se/search/record/830316>.
[III] Richelle M, et al. "Both free and esterified plant sterols reduce cholesterol absorption and the bioavailability of β-carotene and α-tocopherol in normocholesterolemic human." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. July 2004. vol. 80 no. 1 171-177. Web. July. 2016. <http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/1/171.short>.