Yes, Cucumber is Paleo!
Cucumber is a Fruit!
We are accustomed to the thought that cucumbers are vegetables. Well, I am sorry to burst your bubble, but cucumber is actually a fruit! Cucumber belongs to the same family as squash, pumpkin, melon, watermelon and cantaloupe, the Cucurbitaceae family. They contain seeds and grow from the ovaries of flowering plants.
Cucumber is a vine that bears green, long cylindrical fruit often used as culinary vegetable. It has large leaves that form canopy over the fruit. Though commonly dark green in color, other varieties of cucumber may vary in color, shape, size and texture. Some cucumbers are white, yellow or sometimes orange. There are also cucumbers that are short, round and slightly oval in shape. Some varieties may have smooth and thin or rough and thick skin.
There are several cultivars of cucumber and they are all classified into three main varieties: slicing, pickling and burpless. Slicing cucumbers are grown to be eaten fresh in their unripe green form. They are longer, smoother and have tougher skin and are grown commercially in the North America. Pickling cucumbers are smaller and have thinner skin and are not cultivated to be consumed in fresh, raw form but for pickle processing. They are involved in slicing and soaking in highly salted water or brine and vinegar to ferment the fruit. Pickled cucumbers are called pickles in the United States. Burpless on the other hand are sweeter varieties with thinner skin compared to pickling and slicing cucumbers. They are usually near seedless and have a delicate skin.
Like other plant-based food, cucumber is native to the South Asia region. It is almost 95% water which makes it a good food for hydration especially during summer. Cucumbers, with its mild, refreshing taste, can be a good addition to salads, sandwiches, soups or dips and are most flavorful when paired with chives, dill, mint and salt and vinegar.
Nutritional Profile of Cucumber
Although cucumber is comprised primarily of water it is also a good source of vitamin B, C, K, copper, potassium, manganese and silica. The skin of the cucumber is a great source of fiber and beta carotene. Cucumbers contain unique polyphenols and phytonutrients such as flavanoids, lignans and triterpenes and other compounds that may help reduce your risk of chronic diseases. Cucumber seeds are good source of minerals like calcium. The water in cucumber can help keep the body hydrated especially during warm seasons.
Cucumber is naturally low in calories, carbohydrates, sodium, fat and cholesterol which makes it a healthy choice.
The Health Benefits of Cucumbers
Cucumber can provide many valuable health benefits albeit containing 90% water. Traditionally cucumber is used for headaches and its seeds as diuretic.
Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory and Anti-cancer Properties
The phytonutrients in cucumbers have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. Flavanoids, tannins, triterpenes and lignans together with vitamin C and beta-carotene are known to be anti-inflammatory and wards off free radicals that can cause a variety of diseases. Cucumbers may help reduce unwanted inflammation.
Lignans and cucurbitacins can help block the signalling pathways that are essential in cancer cell proliferation and survival. Cucurbitacins inhibits growth of pancreatic cancer cells according to a study published in Journal of Cancer Research in 2009. Lignans work with bacteria in the digestive tract and bind with estrogen receptors which can lower the risk of ovarian, breast, endometrial and prostate cancers.
Eating fruits and vegetables can be associated with reduced risks of certain diseases such as cardiovascular illnesses. This is very true for cucumbers. The potassium content of cucumber is linked with lower blood pressure and widening of the blood vessels. Potassium is essential in blood-clotting process and heart function which can help in lowering the risk of heart diseases.
Aside from the heart health benefits of potassium, it is also important in maintaining good bone health. Adequate intake of potassium with vitamin D can reduce fracture rates and increase bone density.
Cucumber contains fisetin, a flavanoid that plays an important role n brain function. This can help in improving memory and protecting the nerve cells from age-related decline and learning impairments.
Digestive Health and Weight Control
Water and fiber are the two essential elements of cucumber for a healthy digestion. This can aid in suppressing acid reflux and promote regular bowel movement. The soluble fiber in cucumbers dissolves into a gel-like texture in the gut, helping to slow down digestion. This is beneficial to people who are maintaining or trying to lose weight.
Cucumbers have cooling and soothing effect that can reduce swelling, irritation and inflammation. Cucumber is used as a remedy for puffy eyes and sunburns. Regular consumption of cucumber can also help achieve a healthy, glowing skin.
Risks of Eating Cucumbers
Cucumbers are one of the fruits that are high in pesticide residue; this is why it is suggested to ensure that the cucumbers bought from stores are grown organically prior to consumption. Organic cucumbers have lower risk of pesticide exposure.
Additionally, cucumbers may be waxed to protect them from bruising during transport be it grown conventionally or organically. The wax used can contain unwanted chemical contaminants and compounds including ethyl alcohol, soap and milk casein for conventionally grown cucumbers. Organically grown cucumbers on the other hand use non-synthetic waxes that are free from chemicals.
With the concerns stated above, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid eating cucumbers. Just keep in mind to select the most organic cucumber available and you’ll be able to get all the benefits it can offer.
What Experts Say About Cucumber
Although comprised primarily of water, cucumber is also a good source of vitamin C and silica, which is important for connective tissue health and also does wonders for the skin (both when ingested or applied topically to reduce swelling or redness). In addition, the skin of the cucumber is a great source of fiber, potassium and magnesium. – Mark Sisson
It’s best to get silica from natural sources, and food sources of silica include leeks, green beans, garbanzo beans, strawberries, cucumber, mango, celery, asparagus and rhubarb. – Chris Kresser
All you ever wanted to know about Cucumber and Paleo
Mark’s Daily Apple. Top 10 Summer Vegetables
Chris Kresser. Nutrition for Healthy Skin: Silica, Niacin, Vitamin K2, and Probiotics
Paleo Porn. Are Cucumbers Paleo?
World’s Healthiest Foods. Cucumbers
Live Science. Cucumbers: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts
Mercola.com. 9 Health Benefits of Cucumbers
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photo credit: gurkis