By Anne Palumbo
We eat a lot of pickles here in the Palumbo household, and we are not alone.
Americans eat about 20 billion pickles a year. Thatzalotta pickles!
But, are pickles healthy?
They can be for many, but pickles and their high salt content are definitely not for everyone. So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this crispy, crunchy, salty snack.
Since pickles start as cucumbers, their nutritional profile is quite similar to this non-starchy veggie’s. One dill pickle spear is high in water, low in calories and boasts a decent amount of vitamin K: nearly 20% of our daily needs.
Vitamin K helps maintain strong bones, ensures proper blood clotting and may offer protective health benefits in older age. New research, published in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” has found that low levels of vitamin K among older adults may increase their risk of early death. While the exact reason for the link is unclear, scientists know that vitamin K helps prevent calcium buildup in arteries, which is associated with decreased blood flow throughout the body.
Whether you’re watching your weight or are looking to lose some, pickles are a dieter’s dream food. They’re fat free, low in calories (only 4-5 calories per spear) and have scant carbs and sugar. What’s more, all the water and all the vinegar in these tangy babies may help you feel full longer.
Pickles made by fermentation have probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria linked to better digestion, enhanced nutrient absorption and improved immune function. Fermented pickles, found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, are made when bacteria break down the natural sugars found in the flesh and turn them into lactic acid. Most pickles you’ll find on grocery-store shelves, however, are unfermented vinegar pickles that don’t offer the same probiotic benefits that fermented pickles do.
Pickles brim with salt, with an average spear delivering about 300 mg. Consume just two spears and you’ve already reached more than one-quarter of the recommended daily limit (nearly one-half if you’re watching your salt intake). While our bodies need salt for many essential body functions, too much can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Homemade Dill Pickles
1 cup fresh dill sprigs
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ cup chopped onion (optional)
1-2 English cucumbers (shrink-wrapped in plastic)
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Place dill, garlic, red pepper flakes, and onion in a quart-size mason jar.
Fill jar to the top with cucumbers that have been sliced horizontally for chips or quartered lengthwise into 4-5” spears.
Heat the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve, about 1 minute. Let cool slightly and pour over the cucumbers. Cool to room temperature, place top on jar, and refrigerate.
Homemade pickles will be lightly pickled in 1 day, and will become more flavorful every day after that. Store in fridge for several weeks.
Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.