Cucumber finger-sandwiches, pickles, and the oft-repeated complaint that they don’t taste like much. Yes, we’re all well-aware of a few basic points about cucumbers. But can we go any deeper than that?
Though thought of as a vegetable, cucumbers are actually a fruit, originating more than 10,000 years ago in India and parts of the Mediterranean. Greenhouses developed a way to grow them in the 1800s, and today we consider it to be the world’s fourth most-common “vegetable”—after tomatoes, cabbages, and onions.
Cucumbers belong to the same plant family (the Cucurbitaceae family) as pumpkin, squash, and watermelon. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has eaten a cucumber before. Both cucumbers and watermelons are made up of mostly water, making them two of the most refreshing options for a hot day.
You can certainly rely on cucumbers to keep you hydrated, but that’s not all. Here’s a list of just some of the additional ways cucumbers can benefit your health:
Cucumbers can reduce inflammation by inhibiting the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes (such as cyclo-oxygenase 2). While they’re best known for cooling you down on a hot day, animal studies suggest that cucumbers can also cool your body’s inflammatory response.
Protecting Your Brain
Fisetin, an anti-inflammatory flavonol found in cucumbers, has been shown to improve memory and protect nerve cells from age-related decline. In a study carried out on mice with Alzheimer’s disease, fisetin prevented memory and learning impairments.
Strengthening Connective Tissues
Cucumbers are rich in vitamins A, B1, B6, C, and D plus folate, as well as the essential minerals potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Silica, also found in cucumbers, promotes joint health by strengthening connective tissues. For those who already have arthritis, though, cucumbers can still offer some help. Cucumber juice, when mixed with carrot juice, has been used to lower uric acid levels and relieve arthritis pain.
Supporting Healthy Weight Management
As we all know, there is no such thing as a single miracle food or pill that can make losing weight an easy battle. Rather, getting to and maintaining a healthy weight is about making a million good decisions, no matter how small. Cucumbers are one of them. Cucumbers are very filling, but they are extremely low in sugar and calories. Also, the fiber in cucumbers dissolves into a gel when it’s in your gut. This slows down digestion, allowing you to feel fuller longer.
Preventing and managing stress has a lot to do with the way you choose to live your life, and what you snack on can only make so much of a difference. That said, you can’t eliminate every stressor from your life. There is definitely something to be said for a wise diet. Cucumbers have multiple B vitamins, which can ease anxiety. Stress is a natural part of life, but a diet rich in cucumbers can help to manage some of its effects.
Improve Heart Health
Potassium, magnesium, and calcium can help to balance blood pressure, and in order to function properly your body must have a proper balance of these essential minerals—commonly known as electrolytes—inside and outside of cells. You can look to cucumbers as a reliable source, which will support your body’s healthy muscle contraction and heart function.
Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Cancer researchers still have a long way to go, but some of what they’ve found so far supports the role of cucumber in maintaining your body’s long-term health. Cucumbers have polyphenols called lignans, which—according to studies carried out by the George Mateljan Foundation—can lower the risk of uterine, ovarian, prostate, and breast cancer.
Support Digestive Health
In order for the body to carry out healthy digestion, it relies on water and fiber. Those with acid-reflux may already know that drinking water (or eating foods with a high water content, such as cucumbers) can raise the stomach’s pH and thus offer relief. As for fiber, which is found in the skin of a cucumber, it can add bulk to stool. This allows waste to move more easily through the digestive tract. Just be sure to soak or scrub the skin well before eating it, to reduce your intake of any harmful pesticides or bacteria.
Look Outside the Box
There are plenty of reasons to look to cucumber for its health benefits, most of which simply allow the body to do what it does well: to digest well, to manage stress well, and so on. Yet, that’s not all cucumbers have to offer. You may want to look to some of cucumbers’ lesser-known qualities, and see what they can do for you.
First rule: This does not replace brushing. Second rule: This does not replace flossing. Third rule: Once you’re brushing and flossing, a cucumber may be a healthy, natural step to pushing your dental hygiene a step further. Simply place a cucumber slice on the roof of your mouth, and allow it to rid your mouth of the very bacteria that cause odor.
Take Care of Skin and Hair
Despite the benefits found in its fiber, not everyone is a fan of eating the skin. If you’re one of those people, don’t be so quick to throw it out! Cucumber skin functions much like aloe does, soothing irritations and burns on the skin. To reduce puffiness, you can place slices of cucumber over your eyes. Finally, you may want to look online for homemade cucumber hair treatments—the silicon and sulfur in cucumbers can stimulate hair growth.
Prevent a Hangover
Hangovers are often treated on sitcoms and in popular culture with crazy homemade drinks, full of mismatched vegetables and liquids that are unlikely to make a real difference. As it turns out, the cure shouldn’t be what we talk about. Hangovers are preventable, even if you drink. Hangovers are caused by dehydration, and most people don’t order waters alongside their alcoholic beverages. To counteract this effect, eat some cucumber slices before bed and let the B-vitamins and electrolytes replenish your nutrients.
Enliven your Eyes
Placing slices of cucumber over closed eyes is a traditional remedy for reducing the all-too-common dark circles and puffiness that dull your appearance. In fact, it’s nearly universal in spa treatments.
Hack your Home care
This tip may sound a little odd, but it works. Before you take a hot shower, rub a cucumber slice all over your bathroom mirror. This will keep it from getting fogged up by the steam. If your door is squeaking, rub a cucumber slice along its hinges.
Cucumbers can be enjoyed in many different dishes. If you’re concerned you’ll get bored of the taste, you can easily find some new ways to enjoy them.
One good place to start is as a base for a vegetable juice. Because of their mild flavor and high water content, cucumber juice is actually ideal for those who are just getting used to the idea of juicing. Once you’re comfortable with cucumber juice, feel free to mix in other fruits and vegetables and see what you get. More exotic options for juicing might include other melons, plus berries or citrus, as well as spinach, parsley, cilantro, and red leaf lettuce.
One very common place to find cucumbers is on a vegetable tray, as cucumbers are most often eaten either raw or very slightly cooked. This is in part because of their crisp texture, which works well with a vegetable dip.
Another common way to enjoy cucumbers is pickling. This allows cucumbers to be preserved over a long period of time, while enhancing the flavor with a sharper, sourer taste. While pickling diminishes the nutrient content of cucumbers, it increases the probiotic value, which is no less important.
Whether you go for dill pickles or cucumber juice, cucumber skin care or cucumber hair care, there are dozens of ways that a cucumber can make your body healthier both inside and out. You’ll experience long-term benefits in heart health, digestion, and even in the way you manage mental health and snack cravings. Sometimes the best things come in the plainest of packages. With their mild flavor and refreshingly high water content, cucumbers may just be what you need.
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