Cool As a Cucumber
This summer favorite is a low-calorie, tasty way to stay hydrated as the weather warms.
Whether you enjoy them plain, pickled, dipped, dressed or diced, cucumbers are a refreshing and nutritious treat, and their natural cooling effect makes them even more desirable in the summer months. Grown on a vine, cucumbers are part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes watermelon, pumpkin, zucchini and squash.
Cucumbers are at least 95 percent water, making them ideal if you want to avoid dehydration and cut calories (only 16 in one cup), but being high in water means they’re not so great if you’re hoping for a nutrient-dense snack. Still, somehow cukes manage to cram 17 micrograms of vitamin K (about 22 percent of the daily recommended value) into a cup. Vitamin K helps the blood to clot properly, preventing excessive bleeding, and allows the body to use calcium as a bone builder. Cucumbers also contain trace amounts (less than 5 percent of your daily value) of potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, copper, biotin and vitamin B1, and they’re rich in numerous antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation.
There are less conventional benefits too. According to a study published in Fitoterapia, a journal focusing on the medicinal uses of plants, cucumbers may be effective in removing waste materials from the body, reducing swelling and puffiness (hence the cucumber eye covers at many spas) and soothing sunburn. They’re also useful in fending off bad breath, especially if you mix them with mint, a deliciously refreshing combination.
Of course, we can’t talk about the cucumber without mentioning its brined brother, the pickle. Although much higher in sodium (785 milligrams in one pickle) than plain cucumbers, pickles have the benefit of being fermented, which can promote good gut health and may stabilize blood sugar levels, a recent study reported. Also, some endurance athletes believe that drinking pickle juice can relieve post-workout muscle cramps (one can even purchase a shot-sized bottle of pickle juice, no cucumber included, for this purpose), but this remedy has yet to receive an official backing from medical authorities.
Cucumbers just missed making the 2017 “Dirty Dozen,” a list by the Environmental Working Group of produce with high levels of pesticide residue, ranking 13, so buy organic when you can. The most common types found in grocery stores are the slicing cucumber (the thick variety with a waxed skin to preserve moisture) and the English cucumber (long and skinny with a thinner skin wrapped in plastic, which does the work of the wax). Both are good to eat, as long they’re firm and unblemished. But if you’re planning to pickle, you’ll want the pickling variety, which is shorter than the slicing variety, with a thick, bumpy skin.
As for preparation, there’s not much you can’t do with cucumber. It goes well in salads, in chilled soups (gazpacho, anyone?) and in sandwiches (with high tea, of course). You can add slices to water (or a cocktail) to give it a boost of flavor. And don’t feel restricted by their “cool” reputation: Jersey’s own Martha Stewart recommends sautéing chunks of cucumber with butter, salt and fresh dill.
Did You Know?
Most cucumbers are green, but some varieties have white, cream, yellow, brown and even orange skin.