Cucumber nutrition: glycemic index, calories weight loss and diets
Complete nutrition and health benefits analysis for Cucumber
Cucumbers are one of the most widely spread vegetables in the world. They consist 95% of water and are often associated with the feeling of refreshment. The inside temperature of a cucumber can be up to 7°C (20°F) cooler than the outside air, which is where the term “cool as a cucumber” originates. In this article we will gather everything important about this food: what exactly a cucumber consists of, what qualities does it possess and what effects it has on the human organism.
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are creeping vine plants that belong to the Cucumis genus and the Cucurbitaceae family, also known as the gourd family that includes squashes, melons and pumpkins, among other things.
Cucumbers grow as creeping vines up supporting frames or trellises. The large leaves that grow on these vines provide a canopy over the growing fruit. From a botanical point of view a cucumber is not a vegetable, but a false berry. It is classified as a pepo: a modified berry, with a thick outer rind and no internal divisions, just like a watermelon. However, cucumbers are commonly cooked and used as vegetables.
Origin and History
Cucumbers originated in South Asia, more specifically in certain areas of India around 3000 years ago, with the probable ancestor being Cucumis hardwickii (Royle), which is also often called wild cucumber. From India, cucumbers were brought to Greece, Italy and later to China. Records confirmed the cultivation of cucumbers in France by the 9th century, in England by the 14th century and in North America by the mid-16th century (1).
First have a look at our cucumber nutrition infographic
Cucumber nutrition infographic
Cucumbers are known for consisting 95% of water, but what comprises the other 5%?
The nutritional facts are calculated for a 100g of raw cucumbers, with peel.
Cucumbers are naturally very low in fats. A serving of cucumber contains less than 1g of fats. Cucumbers do not contain trans fats or cholesterol.
The predominant macronutrients in cucumbers are carbohydrates. A 100g has 4g of carbohydrates, of which 1g is dietary fiber, 2g is total sugars and another gram is added sugars.
Cucumbers are low in protein, containing only one gram of protein per serving, however they do contain, in small amounts, all essential amino acids. Out of the essential amino acids, cucumbers contain tryptophan, threonine and isoleucine in highest amounts.
Cucumbers are a low calorie food. A100g of raw cucumbers, with peel, contain only 15 calories. Cucumbers without peel contain evel less calories, with 10 calories per 100g.
Cucumbers, like most fruits and vegetables, contain some principal vitamins. They are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K. They also contain moderate or low amounts of vitamin E, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B9 (folate).
Cucumbers completely lack vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Cucumbers contain low amounts of many minerals. They are highest in calcium, manganese and potassium. They also contain certain amounts of magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, phosphorus, choline and selenium.
Cucumbers are low in sodium.
Cucumbers are a great source of hydration. Other than vitamins and minerals, they also contain important phytochemicals, such as lignans, cucurbitacins and their derivatives, flavonoids and other antioxidants. These phytochemicals give cucumbers many beneficial qualities.
Oxidative stress is one of the main mechanisms that lies in the development of cardiovascular health issues. Cucumbers showed a good amount of total phenolic and flavonoid content, as well as carotenoids, tannins and lycopenes, expressing significant antioxidant activity (4).
Studies have shown that yellow cucumbers express stronger antioxidant qualities, when compared to green and white cucumbers (5).
People with high blood pressure are advised to avoid foods high in salt. Luckily, cucumbers contain very low amounts of sodium.
One research has concluded that cucumber juice lowered blood pressure in elderly people, decreasing both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. This effect is said to be due to cucumber’s ability to decrease the amount of fluid that circulates the bloodstream, reducing the heart’s workload. Cucumber also contains calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber, which is the basis of the DASH diet, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, to decrease blood pressure (6).
Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of heart attacks, strokes and peripheral vascular disease. It is the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other compounds in the walls of the body's blood vessels. Compounds that cucumbers are rich in, cucurbitacins, have been studied to have a therapeutic role in the process of atherosclerosis by modifying lipoproteins (7).
Cucumbers have been investigated for their hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects. One study showed that cucumber extracts decrease blood glucose, low density lipoprotein and cholesterol levels in alloxan-induced diabetic rats (8).
Cucurbitacins have also expressed hypoglycemic and antihyperglycemic, antidiabetic qualities. The underlying mechanism for the antihyperglycemic effect is possibly the stimulation of insulin release and regulation of the liver’s glucose metabolism (7).
Another study showed that consumption of an increased dose of cucumbers demonstrates a significant hypoglycemic and antidiabetic, as well as antihypertensive effects (9).
Cucumbers can also be efficiently used to decrease oxidative and carbonyl stress, protecting diabetic patients from complications (10).
A study has concluded that adding yoghurt and pickled cucumbers to a high glycemic index meal, such as white bread, significantly lowered the postprandial glycemic and insulinemic response of the meal (11).
Foods with high water and fiber content have been proven to benefit weight loss. Cucumbers consist of 95% water and are rich in fiber.
A study has concluded that cucumber has greatly assisted weight loss in female albino rats (12).
Cucumbers have been researched in several studies for their potential antitumor activities.
Cucurbitacin I, found in cucumbers, has been demonstrated to possess antitumor qualities against human breast carcinomas by inhibiting malignant signaling pathways, playing a potential role in the development of future anticancer drugs (13).
Other cucurbitacin groups have been found to possess certain antiproliferative effects against laryngeal, pancreatic (14), prostate and lung cancers, by inhibiting tumor angiogenesis and certain enzymes in cancer cell lines (7).
Cucumber flowers, more specifically the ethyl acetate fraction of the cucumber flowers, have been proved to have significant anticancer effects on liver cancer, by inducing apoptosis in human cancer cell lines (15).
One research has shown the phosphate buffer solution of Cucumis sativus extracts to have antimicrobial activity specifically against gram positive Staphylococcus Aureus and gram negative Pseudomonas Aeruginosa (16).
Another study examined the antimicrobial effects of cucumber seed extracts and their effectiveness against Serratiamarcescens , E. coli, Streptococcus Thermophilus, Fusarium Oxysporum and Trichoderma Reesei (4).
The ethanol extract of Cucumis sativus has also been demonstrated to possess some antifungal activities against Aspergillus niger, Candida albicans and other fungi (17).
Cucumbers have also been studied to have antacid, carminative, hepatoprotective, wound healing effects and some activity against ulcerative colitis (4).
Cucumber allergies are not that common but, like most food allergies, if ignored can lead to severe issues.
People with certain allergies have a higher possibility of being also allergic to cucumbers. One of these allergies includes hypersensitivity to ragweed (18). However cross reactivity between cucumbers and birch, grass and mugwort has not been found (19).
The gourd family, that includes squash, pumpkin, zucchini, watermelon and others, may contain the same compounds that cause hypersensitization in cucumbers.
Cucumbers contain a natural acid called salicylate, that is a major ingredient in the drug Aspirin, therefore people with an allergy to Aspirin, may need to avoid cucumbers as well.
The symptoms of a cucumber allergy can vary from mild to severe. These can include oral allergy syndrome (itching, tingling, redness or swelling of the mouth area) or oropharyngeal symptoms, watery eyes, asthma, nausea, diarrhea and in rare cases anaphylaxis.
A study has shown that a cucumber allergy following primary sensitization to pollens, other than birch, may be effectively reduced by pollen-specific injection immunotherapy (20).
Generally, the glycemic index of vegetables tends to be low. The glycemic index of a cucumber is said to be 15, which makes it a low glycemic index food.
Cucumber is one of the most alkaline foods, due to compounds found within, called triterpenes. Because of this quality it may also help regulate diseases that involve the immune system, as well as having anti-inflammatory qualities (21).
The acidity of cucumbers based on the potential renal acid load (PRAL) is calculated to be -2.4, making it alkaline.
The serving size of a cucumber is half a cup in slices that is equal to 52g.
As previously mentioned slicing cucumbers are often used fresh in salads or eaten raw, whereas pickling cucumbers are fermented.
When fermenting or pickling cucumbers, safety measures must be applied to avoid foodborne illnesses. The recipe portions must be followed, it is advised to avoid homemade vinegar or vinegar with unknown acidity. There must be enough acidity in the mixed product to avoid the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria that can cause severe food poisoning (22).
Cucumbers can also be sauteed, fried or used in soups.
Storing, Keeping and Conservation
The correct storing of a cucumber is 10 to 14 days at 10˚C (50˚F) to 13˚C (55˚F) with 95% humidity (23). Cucumbers should not be left out at room temperature for too long as it may cause cucumbers to wilt and become limp.
Cucumbers in Diets
One half cup serving of cucumbers contains only 2g of carbohydrates, so cucumbers fit into a keto diet.
Cucumbers are a wonderful choice for people on the DASH diet, since they are low in sodium, but high in calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber. Cucumbers have been studied to have hypotensive effects (6).
Cucumbers are included in the list of 8 recommended low carb vegetables. During Atkins 20 Phase 1 of the program, you’re encouraged to eat 12-15 grams of carbs from vegetables per day. This can be several servings for cucumbers. You are encouraged to eat fresh low carb vegetables in every phase of the diet (24).
Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of the Mediterranean diet. Cucumbers definitely fit this diet.
You can add cucumbers to almost any meal on the paleo diet (25).
Vegan/ Vegetarian/ Pescetarian
Cucumbers are plant based, therefore fit vegan, vegetarian and pescetarian diets.
You cannot eat cucumbers in the first (Attack) phase, however pickles are allowed, only as gherkins, still in moderation since they are a high salt food. The same goes for the second (Cruise) phase. You can add fresh cucumbers to your diet in the third (Consolidation) and fourth (Stabilisation) phases (26).
Cucumbers are not allowed in the fasting period, but can be freely used during the eating periods. However some people choose to eat cucumbers during their fast, since it is low in calories and is a good source of hydration.
Low Fat & Low Calorie
In a 100g serving, cucumbers contain less than 1g of fats and 15 calories. You can freely use cucumbers on a low fat and a low calorie diet.
Cucumbers only contain 4g of carbohydrates per 100g. They fit in a low carb diet.
Cucumbers are rich in phytonutrients that potentially possess anti inflammatory effects. In addition, cucumbers are alkaline foods (21). They fit into the anti inflammatory diet.
Cucumbers can be used in the BRAT diet, since they are a great source of hydration and are easy to digest (26).
Over the years, domestication of cucumbers have led to the formation of numerous cucumber cultivars. Cucumber varieties differ from each other by many characteristics, such as size and shape, color, the spine type (coarse or fine), the colour of the spine (black or white), the thickness or the texture of the skin.
Based on production there are two main varieties of cucumbers: greenhouse and outdoors.
Based on consumption, cucumbers are often divided into three large groups: slicing, pickling and burpless.
Slicing cucumbers are produced for fresh consumption and are often the cucumbers used in salads. They usually have thicker rinds, which make them less prone to damage during harvest and transportation, and they are larger than pickling cucumbers, about 20-23 cm (8-9 inches). Slicing cucumbers can be both monoecious (having both female and male reproductive organs) and gynoecious (producing only female flowers).
American cucumbers are a cultivar of slicing cucumbers, they are quite thick, with a bulge in the middle and contain many large seeds. They also have smooth skin and are waxed after harvest to elongate the shelf life and better retain moisture.
These cucumbers are processed not for fresh consumption, but for processing into pickles, although they can be eaten fresh. Pickling cucumbers are much smaller in size, about 8-18 cm (3-7 inches), have thin and warty skins, larger seeds and a lighter green colour. They can have both black and white spines, however, white-spined cucumbers take longer to grow and later retain their colour and firmness for a longer period of time. The white-spine varieties are more often grown and used in warm temperatures, whereas black-spined cultivars are found in cooler climates (2).
The word gherkin often refers to fermented or pickled cucumbers. The gherkin pickles are small 2.5 to 13cm (1-5 inches), have bumpy skin and are the cucumbers that are most commonly pickled.
West Indian gherkins or maroon cucumbers are closely related to the common cucumber and its gherkin cultivar. However they are much smaller than most pickling cucumbers, and also have a distinctive fruit stem and short spikes. Their colour ranges from yellow to green and they can be pickled as well.
Kirby cucumbers are small and often have an irregular shape. They also have thin and bumpy skin and few seeds. The flavour can range from mild to sour.
Burpless cucumbers are also named seedless cucumbers, and in accordance to the names, they have very few seeds and smooth skin. They are usually even bigger in size than slicing cucumbers. Burpless cucumbers often have a mild taste, since they don’t contain as much of a compound called cucurbitacin, that gives cucumbers their bitter taste.
English cucumbers are often referred to as just seedless, greenhouse or hothouse cucumbers. They have thin, ridged skin and underdeveloped seeds, and are usually from 25 to 30cm (10 to 12 inches) long. They have a mild to sweet flavour.
Japanese cucumbers are usually seedless, burpless, slender and quite long, sometimes growing up to 50cm (20 inches). However some varieties of Japanese cucumbers can be smaller and have bumpy skin.
Japanese cucumbers are never bitter and often have melon-like taste.
Lemon cucumber, as the name suggests, resembles a lemon with its round shape with a somewhat protruding end, small size and golden yellow colour. However lemon cucumbers do not taste like actual lemons, they have a mild or a slightly sweet taste. They also have much thinner and more tender skin.
Very much like lemon cucumbers, apple cucumber resembles an apple by its appearance. It has a round shape, a white or light green colour, a crisp texture and a mild, sweet taste.
The Armenian cucumber (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus), also known as snake cucumber, is not actually a cucumber but a cultivar of muskmelon. However it does look and taste like cucumber. It is light green and thin, with bumpless skin that has indents along its length.
Bitterness in Cucumbers
The bitter taste of cucumbers is associated with the formation of compounds called cucurbitacins (terpenoid compounds). Usually this compound does not accumulate equally in the whole fruit and it is more likely to concentrate in the stem and under the peel.
The bitterness of cucumbers varies depending on the year and location. The growing conditions of cucumber decide the production amount of an enzyme, called elaterase, that breaks down the cucurbitacins, making the cucumbers less bitter. Cool temperatures can enhance bitterness, but fertilization practices, plant spacing, and irrigation frequency have exhibited little consistent effect on the number of bitter cucumbers produced (3)..
To avoid bitterness it is recommended to not grow cucumbers in cool or shaded locations and to provide ample water and nutrients for the fruit to grow.
Peeling the cucumber and removing the stem ends of the cucumber will usually eliminate the bitter taste (3).
From the year 1998 to 2013 there have been 10 outbreaks associated with cucumbers in the United States. During these outbreaks 483 people became ill and eight of them were hospitalized (2).
In 2013 there was an outbreak of Salmonella in the United States, associated with cucumbers imported from Mexico. This outbreak caused 84 people to be infected, 28% of which were hospitalized. No cases were fatal (28).
Another serious outbreak in the United States took place in 2015. This time the outbreak was associated with a different serotype of Salmonella. During this, 907 people were infected, out of which 204 were hospitalized with 6 fatal outcomes. Once again, the contamination was associated with distributors and not domestically produced cucumbers (2).
Consumption and Production
Cucumber plants naturally thrive in both temperate and tropical environments, and for this reason have been widely cultivated worldwide. At present, China is by far the world's largest producer of cucumbers with over 54 million tons of total production. Turkey, Iran, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Spain are the next four highest producers, followed by the United States, Mexico, and Egypt (29).
From 1995 to 2005, there was a 15% growth in the consumption of fresh cucumbers - an approximately 1 pound per capita increase. As of 2012, Americans consumed an average of 6.5 pounds of fresh cucumbers per person. When it comes to pickled cucumbers, Americans annually consume around from 9 to 11 pounds per person. According to the 2006–2007 FoodNet Atlas of Exposures, 46.9% of the survey cohort reported eating cucumbers within the past seven days (2).
Important nutritional characteristics for Cucumber
Cucumber Glycemic index (GI)
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All nutrients for Cucumber per 100g
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