Cucumber Nutrition

Cucumbers (cucumis sativus) are a gourd member of the Cucurbitacae family (Onimisi & Ovansa, 2015). Cucumbers originated in India, but are now grown all over the world due to the fact that they can grow in a wide range of temperatures and climates (Kauser, Saeed, Ahmad, & Salam, 2012). While they are usually used as a salad vegetable, cucumbers are actually a fruit that is related to melons (Murad & Nyc, 2016). Cucumbers contain several important nutrients and bioactive non-nutrients that can provide many health benefits.

Vitamins

Cucumbers contain vitamins K and A (Murad & Nyc, 2016; Kauser et al., 2012). The former is important for bone health and bone formation and can be protective against osteoporosis. Vitamin K is also important for blood clotting, helping to delay CAC (coronary artery calcium), and in improving insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients (DiNicolantonio, Bhutani, & O’Keefe, 2015). Vitamin A is important for vision (especially night vision), for growth, and in improving immune responses (Olsen, 2001).

Vitamin C is found in high levels in cucumbers (Murad & Nyc, 2016). This vitamin is used by every cell in the body and is important for the growth, development, and repair of tissue (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-c/). It has been known since the 18th century that being deficient in vitamin C can lead to scurvy (Carpenter, 1988), but in recent years, it has been discovered that vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant (and cucumbers also contain other antioxidants such as flavonoids) (Murad & Nyc, 2016).

Free radicals can be released when the body is put under any sort of stress, including exercising, breaking down food into energy, or when being exposed to toxic chemicals (Chun & Chung, 2010). These free radicals can cause damage to cells and can cause cells to mutate. They have been linked to diseases such as some cancers, such as prostate cancer (Gaziano, Glynn, Christen, et al., 2009), cardiovascular disease (Sesso, Buring, Christen, et al., 2008), and eye diseases such as cataracts (Christen, Glynn, Chu, et al., 2008) and age-related macular degeneration (Chisten, Glynn, Chu, et a;., 2010). Antioxidants can stop the damage caused by free radicals by “scavenging them”. Vitamin C is an electron-donating molecule, so when it encounters a free radical, it can donate an electron which eliminates reactivity of the free radical (Padayatty, Katz, Wang, Eck, Kwon, Lee, et al., 2003).

They also contain large amounts of the B vitamins thiamine, niacin and riboflavin (Kauser et al., 2012). The B vitamin complex enables the release of energy from carbohydrates, nervous system functioning, the creation of haemoglobin (which enables oxygen to be transported by the blood), maintains eye, skin, and hair health, and supports the functioning of the immune system (Kennedy, 2016). Being deficient in B vitamins can lead to beriberi, which affects the heart and/or the nervous system, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is a form of dementia, and pellagra, which is a skin and nervous system disorder, and birth defects such as spina bifida. It also increases the risk of cataracts, anaemia, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease (Kennedy, 2016).

Minerals

Cucumbers are a good source of minerals. The seeds contain calcium (Onimisi & Ovansa, 2015), which is important for bone formation (Power, Heaney, Kalkwarf, Pitkin, Repke, Tsang, & Schulkin, 1999). Inadequate intake of calcium throughout life can result in osteoporosis when older, and calcium deficiency is also associated with hypertension, colon cancer, and premenstrual syndrome (Power et al., 1999). The peel of the cucumber is also nutrient-dense, and high levels of potassium and magnesium, which are important for maintaining blood pressure and bone health (Onimisi & Ovansa, 2015; Weaver, 2013).

Cucumber juice contains insulin (Onimisi & Ovansa, 2015). Insulin is needed by the pancreatic cells in order to process glucose (Wilcox, 2005). People with type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes/), so cucumber juice could help them to maintain their blood sugar more easily. Cucumbers are also high in iron, a deficiency in which can cause anaemia (Zimmerman & Hurrell, 2007). Anaemia can lead to tiredness and weakness, shortness of breath, palpitations, and pale skin.

Cucumber as a water supplement

Cucumbers have a remarkably high water content of 95% (Murad & Nyc, 2016). This, coupled with their nutrient-dense peel and seeds (Onimasi & Ovansa, 2015) means that they could be suitable as a water-supplement, for example, as a healthy low-calorie alternative to sports drinks (Murad & Nyc, 2016). There has been growing research into the avenue of these “functional beverages” because they are able to deliver vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds such as antioxidants quickly and efficiently, while also effectively preventing dehydration (Kauser et al., 2012).

Cucumber and the skin

The image of someone lying in a spa with cucumbers over their eyes is part of the public consciousness but what many people do not know is that the cucumber slices do not just feel nice, they are actually effective at improving the appearance of skin. Specifically, the vitamin K found in cucumbers reduce dark circles and puffiness around the eyes (Murad & Nyc, 2016). When added to face cream, it is also effective at reducing wrinkles (Murad & Nyc, 2016), reducing oiliness of the skin, skin brightening effects (due to inhibiting tyrosinase), and moisturising effects (Akhtar, Mehmood, Khan, Mahmood, Muhammed, Khan, & Saeed, 2011).

Cucumber also has photoprotective activities, imparting a sun protective factor (SPF )value of 0.2 (Murad & Nyc, 2016), due to the high levels of carotenoids it contains (Young, 1991). SPF protects the skin from radiation in the sun’s rays, that could lead to skin damage, cause premature ageing, and the increased risk of skin cancer caused by sun damage (Han, 1993).

Conclusion

Cucumbers contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, K, and the B vitamins thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin. They also contain iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium and insulin. As well as these nutrients, it also contains antioxidants which can protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals, leading to a decreased risk of cancer, heart disease, and some eye disorders. Because of its high water content, cucumber has been proposed as a functional beverage that could be used as a water supplement in order to deliver nutrients as well as hydration. Applying cucumber to the skin can reduce the appearance of ageing, and can give some protection to the skin from sun damage.

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