Are Pickles Good for You?

Yes, pickles are a vegetable—but does that mean they're good for us? It's the food question that people can't stop Googling! Find out what healthy benefits are in every bite.

250 million Americans eat pickles each year, an average of nine pounds per person. It’s safe to assume that most people know pickles are delicious! But deciding whether or not these dill-icious sandwich toppers pack a nutritional punch is a tougher question to answer.

Are pickles good for you? It depends. Learn more about the health benefits of all types of pickles and then decide if eating more of ’em makes sense for you.

Pickle Nutrition Facts

You can never eat one pickle! The USDA says that four dill pickle spears contain the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 23
  • Fat: <1 gram
  • Protein: <1 gram
  • Total Carbohydrates: 3 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 2 grams
  • Sodium: 1304 mg
  • Potassium: 181 mg
  • Folate: 13 µg
  • Phosphorus: 26 mg
  • Magnesium: 11 mg
  • Vitamin K: 27 µg

The nutrition facts above are good general guidelines, but if you’re eating store-bought pickles, consult the label.

Health Benefits of Pickles

Tame Tummy Trouble

Thanks to the fact that some pickles are fermented, they can be a source of probiotics. A host of factors—including age, diet, stress, illness and antibiotic use—can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut. When our body’s balance of bacteria gets out of whack, it puts us at risk for all sorts of problems, from gastrointestinal woes such as constipation and diarrhea to brain-related mood issues such as anxiety and depression. Eating foods that contain probiotics like sour pickles can help restore balance and keep tummy woes at bay. Learn more about the health benefits of fermentation.

Strengthens Bones

Pickles are an excellent source of vitamin K, a nutrient needed to make a protein called osteocalcin, a building block of bones. Women might be extra interested in eating these sour spears since they are especially prone to osteoporosis, or weakened bones. Just four spears (or one whole pickle) contain 30% of their daily vitamin K intake. Again, look for fermented varieties, since probiotics are responsible for the unique type of K found in some pickles.

Balances Blood Sugar

Pickles may be a good snack for people with diabetes since many varieties (such as sour, kosher and dill as opposed to sweet or bread and butter styles) contain little to no carbohydrates. That means pickles won’t make blood glucose rise the way other quick eats (such as cookies or potato chips) do.

To up the blood sugar balancing benefit even more, choose quick pickles, which are made with vinegar as opposed to a salt-based brine that’s used for fermenting. A large review of multiple studies found that people who included vinegar in a meal or immediately after had lower glucose after eating compared to those who didn’t.

Don’t miss the health benefits of drinking pickle juice, too!

Drawbacks of Eating Pickles

While pickles may have some pluses, many varieties do have a major downfall. Just a few slices of these cukes contain a whopping 1304 mg of sodium, which is 57% of the 2300 mg upper limit recommended by the CDC and 87% (or nearly all!) of the 1500 mg ideal limit the American Heart Association recommends. Sodium is a mineral that we need to limit to protect heart health, since higher amounts are linked to increases in blood pressure and stroke.

To offset this wallop of sodium, swap out other salty foods (such as chips or fries) that usually come alongside a sandwich or burger for some lower in sodium options such as a salad, carrot sticks or fruit.

How to Buy the Right Pickles

Look for pickles that are fermented! How do you know if the pickles you pick up are going to be loaded with good microbes? First, choose those that are in the refrigerated section of your supermarket since cooler temperatures help keep the good bacteria intact. Second, check the ingredients for vinegar. If vinegar is on the label, it’s a tip-off that they are quick pickles, not fermented ones.

DIYers will love to know that pickling is a prime project to be done at home. Try one of these delicious pickle recipes. Another reason to make ’em yourself? You can extend pickling beyond cucumbers to foods that are even higher in vitamins, such as asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, radishes, onions and even strawberries. Learn how to make every type of pickled vegetable.

Tried-and-True Pickle Recipes
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Amelia Sherry, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES
Amelia Sherry, MPH, RD, CDCES, provides nutrition therapy via a New York-based private practice and has special training in family feeding dynamics and disordered eating. She is also the founder of NourishHer, which supports mothers who want to protect their daughters who have happy, healthy relationships with food and body. She has written for publications including Reader's Digest, Family Circle, Fitness, SELF, Redbook, Latina, Today's Dietitian and Woman's World.