Cucumbers are, in many ways, the underdogs of the vegetable world when it comes to being recognized for their health benefits. They don’t tend to be the first vegetable you think of when you consider a nutrient-dense multifaceted food. But it’s time that cucumber is recognized for its impressive nutritional profile that can benefit you inside and out!
A member of the gourd family along with pumpkins, squash, and watermelon, cucumber roots into the ground and typically grows in a creeping vine up trellises or other supporting frames. It can also spread out on the field if there are no support beams for it to grow up on.
Cucumber is classified as a pepo, which is a type of berry with a hard outer rind and a softer unspecified center, similar to a tomato or squash.
Is Cucumber a Fruit?
Although most Americans would classify the cucumber as a vegetable, this green conical-shaped gem is a fruit made up of 95% water.
The cucumber is a fruit trivia question may be the most shocking to learn about this otherwise underrated salad topper. So, let’s explain it a bit further. A fruit is defined as the part of the plant that develops from the flower and contains the seeds of the plant—precisely as the cucumber does, emerging from a budding flower and carrying the seeds of its future.
This may leave you wondering what other types of produce are technically a fruit. Here’s a short list: peppers, pumpkins, peas, and the clear fruit/vegetable OG favorite, the tomato.
There are two types of cucumbers: those for eating fresh known as slicing cucumbers and those that are grown for pickling.
Slicing cucumbers are the ones you're most likely to find at your local grocery store. They’re typically 6 to 9 inches long and have dark-green skin and a tapered end. Often, the surface is waxed after harvest to maintain longer shelf life.
Pickling cucumbers are not commonly found in your local supermarket but may be found at local farmers markets and specialty stores. The types of pickling cucumbers tend to be smaller and thicker than the slicing cucumber.
Things get a little more convoluted when you throw in the Mexican sour gherkin, which is typically treated as a pickled cucumber even though it technically is not. While the gherkin belongs to the same Cucurbitaceae family, it is not of the same Cucumis Sativus species and is a member of a different genus entirely.
But wait! You my luck out and find one of these several varieties of cucumbers.
Armenian Cucumbers (Aka snake melon or snake cucumber)
These are typically very long, twisted cucumbers with thin, dark-green skin that is marked with paler green furrows. The Armenian cucumber turns yellow as it ripens and is mild in flavor.
Hothouse Cucumbers (Aka English)
Sometimes these varieties are also called European or English cucumbers, as they originated in Europe. They tend to be about 1 to 2 feet long and seedless. Hothouse cucumbers are a bit easier to digest due to the absence of seeds. Grown in hothouses instead of fields, they’re mild in flavor and usually more expensive than other types of cucumbers.
Japanese Cucumbers (Aka kyuri)
Japanese cucumbers have tiny bumps on the thin dark-green skin. They’re also quite thin with a crisp bite and sweeter flesh.
Kirby cucumbers tend to be used as the base for dill pickles, but they can also be sold fresh. Kirbies tend to be the preferred cucumber of chefs and cooks because they are usually unwaxed and have thin, crisp skin and flesh.
Lemon cucumbers resemble...you guessed it, a lemon. They have a very sweetly delicate flavor and crisp texture. The lemon cucumber is also one of the more rare cucumbers to find fresh.
Persian Cucumbers (Sfran)
Persian cucumbers are very similar to slicing cucumbers but shorter, thicker, and denser. They’re often described as much more crunchy and juicy.
Cucumbers are rich in cucurbitacins, flavonoids, and lignans, all phytonutrients full of antioxidants. They also present many anti-inflammatory properties as well as anti-cancer benefits. Let’s break down the many health benefits of cucumber.
Cucumbers for Your Brain
Fisetin is one of the main flavonoids in cucumbers, and it's believed to improve brain health. Fisetin has been found to be beneficial in treating mice with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as improving general memory health and preventing nerve damage from age-related degeneration.
Cucumbers May Prevent Cancer
Cucumbers contain several phytonutrients called cucurbitacins that have the potential to block the growth of specific cancer cells. The polyphenols called lignans (pinoresinol, lariciresinol, and secoisolariciresinol) may also impact cancer cells.
More specifically, the lignans are thought to bind to bacteria in our digestive tracts, which then link and convert into enterolignans. Enterolignans can bind to estrogen receptors and have been shown to reduce the risk of breast, ovary, uterine, and other estrogen-related cancers.
While human studies regarding the direct correlation between cucumbers and cancer are still pending, there have been many animal studies that show a somewhat conclusive relation.
As a curious twist, pharmaceutical companies seem very interested in cucurbitacins within cucumbers and have been conducting some studies on these compounds. These studies are focused on developing a drug that may be able to combat cancer, based on the chemical compounds of cucurbitacins.
While human studies are inevitable, scientists seem somewhat confident that they will confirm the anti-cancer benefits of cucumbers soon.
Cucumbers as an Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory
Cucumbers are rich in vitamin C, manganese, and beta-carotene, which are traditional antioxidant nutrients. Cucumbers also contain flavonoid antioxidants that include quercetin, luteolin, apigenin, and kaempferol which, in several animal studies, have been shown to flush free radicals from the body.
Cucumbers have a natural anti-inflammatory ability. In animal studies, cucumbers have been shown to limit the inflammatory response by restricting pro-inflammatory enzymes such as cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) and the production of nitric oxide which could contribute to inflammation.
Cucumbers and Digestive Health
Cucumbers are high in dietary fiber and are 95% water, making them a natural digestive aid. Cucumber skins are rich in insoluble fiber that creates a bulking effect to your stool so that food moves through your digestive tract more efficiently for healthy elimination.
Cucumbers also help alleviate the symptoms of acid reflux, and may impart preventive effects. They promote the same acid-diffusing properties as drinking a lot of water can by reducing the amount of acid in the system and flushing out the acidic toxins.
Cucumbers and Heart Health
The potassium contained in cucumber (about 150 milligrams per cup) has been linked to lower blood pressure levels. According to a review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, potassium at a higher intake is associated with reduced rates of stroke and overall cardiovascular disease.
In a study from the Journal of Scientific Research, cucumber extract was observed to reduce blood glucose levels as well as cholesterol levels in diabetic animals.
Cucumbers for Weight Loss and Maintenance
Cucumbers are extremely low in calories, high in fiber, and high in water, three factors that make them an excellent choice for weight maintenance or to incorporate into a weight-loss plan. The soluble fiber and digestion benefits can keep you feeling fuller longer and increase overall satiety.
According to an article in Eating Well Magazine, “A cup of cucumbers is nearly as thirst-quenching as a glass of water.” They’re an excellent way to stay hydrated in the summer, or as a complement to an intense cardiovascular workout. You can also throw a few slices in your post-workout smoothie to boost your hydration.
Beyond being rich in fiber, phytonutrients, anti-inflammatory properties, and antioxidants, cucumbers are high in magnesium and potassium, as well as vitamin K for healthy blood coagulation.
According to Self Nutrition Data, one raw peeled cucumber offers up:
|Vitamin K: 11% of the RDA||Zinc: 1% of the RDA|
|Folate: 1% of the RDA||Calcium: 1% of the RDA|
|Iron: 1% of the RDA||Magnesium: 2% of the RDA|
|Phosphorus: 1% of the RDA||Potassium: 2% of the RDA|
|Vitamin A : 1% of the RDA (recommended daily value)|
Cucumber for Skin Care
The anti-inflammatory compounds in cucumbers aren’t just great for your physical well-being; they are also able to reduce skin irritation and promote anti-aging activity. There are many ways the cucumber can be as equally refreshing to your skin as it is to your body’s constitution. Cucumbers can be sliced and placed directly on the skin, added to a soak in a bath, or made into a toner and applied directly to the skin.
Cucumber Bath Recipe
On a hot summer day, a cucumber bath may be just the right medicine for cooling the body, reducing inflammation, and promoting skin health.
Add 2 cups Epsom salt to a bath of tepid water. Sprinkle one sliced cucumber throughout. Add a cup or two of peppermint leaves or a couple drops of peppermint essential oil.
Soak and be happy.
Cucumber for Puffy Eyes
It may seem cliché to throw some cold cucumber slices on your tired, puffy eyes, but there’s a reason that this old trick works so well. The water content hydrates the tender skin around the eyes and the refrigerated cucumber aids in contracting blood vessels to decrease swelling.
Remove any eye makeup or residue. Slice a cold cucumber into two thick slices. Relax and set the cucumbers on top of your closed eyes for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, you could grate the cucumber and pack it around your eyes and in the eye sockets.
If you discover that your face feels a little puffy, this toner can calm and tighten your skin naturally. You will need:
- 1/2 cucumber with peel, chopped
- 3 tablespoons witch hazel
- 2 tablespoons filtered water
Combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth. Drain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the solids. Pour the remaining liquid into a clean bottle with a lid. Apply by dabbing a bit on a cotton ball and rubbing all over the face.
Store refrigerated for longer shelf life (2 to 3 weeks).
The Conclusion on Cucumbers
Cucumbers are both healthy and delicious to eat, and refreshing for your skin and body in so many ways. By eating cucumbers regularly and adding a few to your grocery cart for your skin treatments, you’ll be on your way to incorporating all of cucumber’s health benefits!