Are Pickles Healthy? Here's What a Nutritionist Says

Pickles contain a few essential vitamins and minerals, and can even provide probiotics. They can also be high in sodium.

If you're a pickle lover and find the sourness, salt, and crunch to be uniquely satisfying—either solo or in a variety of dishes, you may be wondering: Are pickles healthy? They can be, but there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for pickles with potential health benefits. Here's the lowdown on this classic condiment.

Pickle Nutrition Facts

Pickles start as cucumbers, so much of their nutritional value is tied to this non-starchy veggie. One dill pickle spear has a negligible amount of vitamins and minerals—the exception being vitamin K. A single spear provides about 7% of the daily need for this nutrient. Vitamin K helps with bone health and proper blood clotting.

One whole dill pickle—about the equivalent of four spears—provides a bit more nutrition, including immune-supporting vitamin A, and a small percent of the daily target for calcium, potassium, and vitamin C.


Pickles and Sodium

Keep in mind that pickles are generally high in sodium, or salt. In fact, just one spear has over 300 milligrams (mg), or about 13% of the daily recommended limit for healthy adults. If you have high blood pressure or are sensitive to sodium, be sure to check the sodium content on your pickle's nutrition facts label so that you can moderate your sodium intake.

That means you'll want to double check the suggested serving size to assess the sodium content in the overall portion you eat. For example, if the label says that a 1-ounce serving—or half of a whole pickle—provides 270 mg of sodium and you eat the whole pickle, your sodium intake jumps to 540 mg, about a quarter of the daily advised cap.

Potential Probiotic Benefits

There are two ways to transform cucumbers into pickles. Standard pickling involves preserving cucumbers in salt, with or without tangy acid, like vinegar, and other possible ingredients, such as sugar and seasonings.

Pickles can also be made by fermentation. In the latter process, naturally occurring bacteria grow over a few weeks' time to produce lactic acid, per a review published in 2020 in the Journal of Functional Foods, which gives pickles their characteristic sourness.

These bacteria include Lactobacillus, a probiotic (beneficial microorganisms that support good bacteria) that research suggests may have the potential to improve immune function and aid in better digestion and nutrient absorption, according to a review published in 2022 in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

Note: Most pickles sold at supermarkets are not fermented, so if you're interested in probiotic perks, look for pickles specifically labeled as fermented or probiotic.

Even if you aren't looking for probiotic benefits from your pickles, take a moment to scan the ingredient list before adding a jar to your cart. Some brands are made with all-natural ingredients, such as a simple combination of cucumbers, water, vinegar, and spices. But others include additives you personally might not want, such as artificial colors and preservatives.

Pickle Juice and Muscle Cramps

As a board-certified sports dietitian, I'm often asked about pickles and pickle juice as a source of electrolytes or as a tool to prevent muscle cramps. Electrolytes are substances that help your body maintain a balance of fluids and affect muscle function and many body processes.

A few small studies have explored the use of pickle juice for athletes, yielding mixed results. One study involved just nine men concluded that small quantities of pickle juice did not substantially increase blood electrolyte concentrations.

The researchers reported that it's doubtful that pickle juice would relieve exercise-associated muscle cramps because the juice would be unlikely to replace the amount of sodium lost in sweat and because acetic acid, a component of vinegar, delays stomach emptying, which would slow nutrient absorption.

How To Add More Pickles to Your Diet

Pickles are much more versatile than you might think. Apart from serving them as a condiment on burgers and sandwiches, minced pickles can be added to chilled protein salads made from egg, tuna, chicken, or chickpea.

Pickles can also be enjoyed in hummus, potato salad, atop pizza, or even in grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches. If you're an adventurous eater, check out pickle dessert options. Out-of-the-box treats include pickles drizzled with whipped maple cream, chocolate-covered pickles, pickle ice cream, and even pickle cupcakes.

If you're interested in learning how to make your own pickles, seek out info from a university agricultural extension or look for a class at a local culinary school.

A Quick Review

Bottom line: If the high sodium content isn't an issue for your personal health, fermented pickles that provide probiotics may offer benefits tied to these friendly microbes. Conventional pickles without "good" bacteria aren't nutrient powerhouses, but they do provide a decent amount of vitamin K. Enjoy them in moderation to satisfy a salt and crunch craving.

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  1. US Department of Agriculture. Pickles, cucumber, dill or kosher dill.

  2. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin K.

  3. Behera, Sudhanshu; Sheikha, Aly; Hammami, Riadh, et al. Traditionally fermented pickles: How the microbial diversity associated with their nutritional and health benefits? Journal of Functional Foods. 2020;70:103971. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2020.103971

  4. Dempsey E, Corr SC. Lactobacillus spp. For gastrointestinal health: current and future perspectives. Front Immunol. 2022;13:840245. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2022.840245

  5. Peikert J, Miller KC, Albrecht J, Tucker J, Deal J. Pre-exercise ingestion of pickle juice, hypertonic saline, or water and aerobic performance and thermoregulation. J Athl Train. 2014;49(2):204-209. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-49.2.11

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