7 Health Benefits Of Pickles & Fermented Foods You Probably Already Eat On The Reg
A longtime traditional favorite and unwavering companion to your favorite sandwich, pickles are chock-full of crunchy, briny deliciousness. And, as it turns out, this old school deli food might be great for your health to boot. Studies show that fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi are loaded with gut health-promoting probiotics. Yes, your salty half sour does admittedly have a lot of sodium, which isn't great for your health in large amounts, but there are plenty of other benefits that justify putting them on a burger. So while you might not think of your unassuming lunchtime pickle as a health food, it may actually have more health benefits than you thought.
"Cultured, or pickled, vegetables are mainly known for their probiotics," Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition tells Bustle by email. "Vitamin C is lost in the heating pickling process, but other nutrients, like B vitamins, may become amplified. Fat-soluble vitamins present in the original vegetable (like Vitamin A in carrots) will remain preserved. Fiber will remain intact."
Cultured vegetables like pickles are made via a process of food preservation through fermentation, and are made with either brine or vinegar. In addition to keeping foods from spoiling, fermentation also produces probiotic bacteria as a byproduct of the process, which are super beneficial for diversifying gut flora and upping your health in numerous ways. Research suggests that probiotics may promote clearer skin, better immune function, increased gastrointestinal health, and could even reduce depression, though more research is needed for all of these conclusions.
Basically, the fermentation process ups good bacteria while getting rid of the bad, which is why it's so prevalent in many traditional food preparation techniques stemming from ages without refrigeration. This is great news for the love of all things pickles, so let's take a closer look at some of the benefits of your favorite deli food, shall we?
1. Pickles Are Actual Vegetables
Well, here's an obvious one you probably didn't think about: Pickles are made from raw cucumbers, and while the fermentation process changes their nutritional profile a bit, pickles are still definitely a legit veggie. One dill pickle spear counts as 1/4 cup of your recommended vegetable intake for the day, according to LIVESTRONG.
2. Drinking Pickle Juice Can Soothe Muscle Cramps
According to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, skipping the pickle and sipping on the juice soothed muscle cramps in dehydrated men. Healthline reports that just 1/3 of a cup of the briny juice was all it took to have a positive effect on muscle soreness, which may be partially due to the potential pain-relieving effects of vinegar. Gross, but effective.
3. Get Some Antioxidants
Healthline reported that pickles contain natural antioxidants found in fresh fruits and vegetables, and while cooking can break down some of these heat-sensitive nutrients, the fermentation process preserves their nutritional profile and antioxidant power. Healthline also notes that pickle juice — the brine — boasts even higher amounts of the free radical-fighting and immune boosting antioxidants C and E.
4. Pickles May Help Fight Spleen Cancer
According to Healthline, a 2014 study found that the probiotic content of traditional Japanese pickles were effective at combating spleen cancer in mice, which could lead to the development of new human cancer treatments in the future.
5. Pickles May Help Keep Your Blood Sugar Down
6. Help Restless Legs
According to the Farmer's Almanac, pickle juice is a traditional folk remedy that can help with treating restless leg syndrome, though the reasons why are still a bit unclear. The high concentration of electrolytes may have a role in soothing those symptoms.
7. And Don't Forget The Probiotics
Probiotics are microorganisms that offer lots of benefits when consumed, Healthline reports. These beneficial bacteria offer all sorts of health perks, from better skin to increased cardiovascular health, and cultured foods like pickles are teeming with the lovely little bugs. There is a caveat though: according to Healthline, pickles fermented in vinegar don't have probiotic effects, so for maximum health benefits, choose pickles fermented in a brine of salt and water.
"Your gut is home to trillions if not more beneficial microbes that aid in various digestive processes, so theoretically, introducing more numbers and species of these probiotics should be beneficial," Moreno says.
While it's always great news to learn that our favorite foods are good for us too, remember that pickles are also super high in sodium; while you can feel free to nosh on those kosher dills on the regular, make sure not to overdo it in order to keep your salt intake to a minimum.