Power to the pickle and glory to the gherkin

Pickle power: why gherkins are good for your health

I really enjoy pickles and the mere anticipation of a gherkin genuinely gets my mouth watering. Happily for me and everyone else who enjoys a good pickle, there are a bunch of pickled food health benefits that you might not even know about.

We’ve been eating pickled food for ages, probably as far back as 2400 BC in ancient Mesopotamia. It was the main way to preserve food before we got fancy with refrigeration and sailors ate them on long sea journeys to avoid getting scurvy. Now, if you prefer the taste of fermented foods like kimchi, never fear, you’re not being left out! Fermented foods are also jam-packed with wonderful healthy perks.

Pickles can be made from many vegetables, fruits and other foods and people have pickled and fermented all manner of things around the world. The Koreans have kimchi, the Japanese have daikon and Germans and Eastern Europeans share sauerkraut. Middle Eastern meals are often served with pickles and an Italian antipasti wouldn’t be the same without pickled peppers and artichokes. Even here in SA, we have our own pickled fish and mango achar.

While they’re similar and overlap a bit, pickled and fermented foods are not necessarily the same thing. Pickling involves soaking food in an acidic liquid – normally vinegar – to get that tart bite. Fermented foods are instead soaked in brine (a water and salt mixture) to trigger a chemical reaction that in turn pickles the food. So, fermented foods are also pickled, but not all pickled foods are fermented. Either way the result is tangy, flavourful foods that are nutritious and oh so healthy.

pickled food health benefits

Pickles are antioxidant heroes

Whatever type of food you are eating pickled, whether it is cucumber, onion or fish, one advantage is that their natural vitamins and minerals are preserved and their antioxidant content is kept intact. Since pickled food is stored raw, all the fresh nutritious goodness is kept inside. We all know the body needs vitamins and minerals, but you might be wondering just why are antioxidants so important?

Every day your body’s cells face some formidable threats, from lack of food to infection with a virus. One of those threats is the presence of free radicals which are unstable molecules that can cause disease. Luckily our bodies are able to neutralise these with antioxidants, which I see as the superheroes fighting our battles internally.

Although we produce them ourselves, reinforcing these tiny troops by eating foods high in antioxidants helps prevent free radicals from slipping through. And, as sailors of old worked out, pickles are a top contender.

Pickles are a diet defender

Pickled foods are great for your diet. Legendary Egyptian queen Cleopatra thought so too and she attributed both her health and famed beauty to the power of pickles. This was probably because pickles are a low-calorie food and their high water content makes us feel fuller for longer.

Pickles also contain vinegar, which helps to reduce appetite and slows the rate at which we absorb carbohydrates. This can also help to reduce insulin spikes, keeping your energy levels stable and reducing the insulin drop that triggers hunger.

All in all these nifty tangy treats are a great addition to any healthy eating plan. Vinegar has another trick up its sleeve too as it helps to boost your calorie burn throughout the day. So nibbling on some delicious pickles during the day will help you stay on track with a healthy, happy diet.

pickled food health benefits

Pickles are great for the gut

Even Aristotle thought so. The beauty of pickling is that it produces a low pH which is a great benefit to the gut, especially if you have high acid levels. So what other pickled food health benefits can you enjoy?

As I mentioned above many pickles are also fermented, meaning they’re high in probiotics and good for your stomach. During the fermentation process, the food’s sugars are broken down and turned into lactic acid, which holds the probiotic benefits. By now, you should know that a happy gut equals happy everything and eating fermented pickles can save you from digestive issues.

Probiotics help digest food, reduce intestinal problems, protect against colon cancer and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. These “good gut guys” can also boost our immune and nervous systems, helping relieve headaches, fatigue, inflammation and other problems.

So the next time you’re asked if you want a pickle with your sandwich, reply with a healthy “yes!”, not just because they’re yummy but for their awesome health benefits too. If you need an easy peasy pickle recipe, look no further, make them here: Homemade pickle cucumber ribbons

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