Are pickles healthy?

Know in one minute about pickle

  • Rich source of nutrients and antioxidants that protect from various diseases.
  • Lactic acid bacteria in pickles improve intestinal health.
  • Produce phenyllactic acid which inhibits the growth of bad bacteria.
  • Treat kidney damage and reduce the high uric acid level.
  • Decrease cholesterol level and help to lose weight.
  • A moderate amount of pickle is helping to lose weight and reduce blood pressure.

Introduction

Pickle is processed fruits and vegetables that have an extended shelf life. It is preserved by natural salt or vinegar or oil by microorganisms (lactobacilli) which convert the sugars into acid. It enhances human nutrition by producing lactic acid, folic acid, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. These lactobacilli are important for the digestion of grains and vegetables and maintain intestinal health. Apart from this, they are considered as safe additives and Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) which boost the human immune system. Due to its unique flavor, texture, and color as well as medicinal properties, one question comes to mind: Are pickles healthy? Here is briefly about the pickle, its health benefits, and side effects. 

Pickle is available both in industrialized and homemade forms, containing less moisture and a high amount of protein, fat, and ash. There are different kinds of pickling vegetables; raw vegetables including carrot, onion, pepper, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, tomato, and cucumber. Fish, eggs, and meat are also used for storage in the form of pickle. Most pickles are eaten raw and are very often crisp in texture. It is often consumed as a side dish with the main meal or acts as a good appetizer and digestive agent. It not only improves flavor but also enhances the value of the meal and shows beneficial health effects (1).

Are pickles healthy? or Health benefits of pickles

Let’s take a look at some of the health benefits of pickles and analyze are pickles healthy or not.

1. Presence of nutrients

Pickle contains a high amount of dietary fibers, proteins, vitamins, ascorbic acid, minerals (Cu and Fe), and benzoic acid. It contains a variety of ingredients such as salt, vinegar, spices viz. chili powder, turmeric powder, fenugreek seed, asafoetida, sugar, jaggery, and oil.

2. Antioxidant properties

Pickles are made up of various colored fruits and vegetables that contain pigments such as anthocyanins, flavonoids, carotenoids, etc. These compounds are effective to remove harmful free radicals in the body produced by stresses and diseases thus show antioxidant activity (2).

3. Boost immune system

Lactic acid bacteria obtained from the pickle can produce a high amount of folate and vitamin B12. These compounds boost the human immune system and protect from various diseases (3).

4. Presence of probiotics

Vegetable pickle produces some bacteria such as Lactobacillus (L.) plantarum, L. brevisL. pentosusL. caseiL. paracasei, and Leuconostoc mesenteroides. These bacteria neutralize harmful bacteria in the intestine and improve digestion (4).

5. Produce phenyllactic acid

Phenyllactic acid is a phenolic or organic acid widely existing in honey and lactic acid bacteria fermented food. This acid naturally occurred in Chinese pickles that show high antimicrobial activity and accumulate in the pickle for long storage life (5).

6. Treat hyperuricemia

High uric acid levels can lead to several diseases including arthritis, thick and hard arteries wall, heart, and brain disease. However, lactobacillus (Lactobacillus paracasei ) found in pickle regulates the intestinal function and inhibit tumor formation. Also, reduce the uric acid level in blood and reduce kidney injury thus keep kidney healthy (6).

7. Treat obesity

Sichuan pickle is produced by fermentation of Chinese cabbage and contains Lactobacillus fermentum. This bacteria increase energy consumption to prevent visceral and liver fat deposition. Thus maintain body weight and keeping the body healthy (7).

8. Lower cholesterol levels

Lactic acid bacteria obtained from the pickle help to decrease cholesterol, triglyceride, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Also, increase the level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in blood and liver (8).

9. Antimicrobial properties

Pickle contains lactic acid bacteria such as Enterococcus faecalisLactobacillus plantarumPediococcus pentosaceusLeuconostoc mesenteroidesLactococcus lactis, and Enterococcus sp. These bacteria fight against pathogenic bacteria like Bacillus cereusEscherichia coliStaphylococcus aureus, and Shigella dysenteriae thus show antimicrobial activity (9).

10. Treat muscle cramp

Intake of pickle juice help to treat skeletal muscle cramps however further study is needed to confirm the exact mechanism. (10, 11)

Some athletic trainers claim 1-2 oz of pickle juice can alleviate exercise-associated muscle cramps however scientific research is lacking to prove this (12).

11. Reduce blood pressure

Japanese pickles (nukazuke) that contain GABA and angiotensin-converting enzyme-inhibitory peptides. This newly developed pickle is effective to reduce blood pressure thus beneficial for pickles business (13).

Side effect of pickles

Pickles are salty food, it should be noted that 6 g of salt equals about 2400 mg of sodium. Thus a high amount of salt may increase the risk of hypertension (14). Pickle also contains benzene however the level of benzene is below to the World Health Organization regulatory limits (15).

1. The high amount increases the risk of weight gain and blood pressure

Daily intake of pickles increases the body mass index, systolic, and diastolic blood pressure. Pickle is considered low calorie, salty and appetizing foods. However, higher pickle consumption has the highest intake of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and afterward total energy intake. Thus a high amount of pickle consumption increases the risk of obesity and high blood pressure problem (16).

2. Pickle contains mutagen

Mutagen is a physical and chemical agent that changes the DNA and even causes cancer. Japanese pickles contain a high amount of flavonols, quercetin, and rhamnetin which cause mutations (17). Nitrite which produced as a result of fermentation increases the formation of N-nitroso compounds, heterocyclic amines, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (18). These compounds can cause a high incidence of cancers  (19).

3. Increase the risk of colorectal cancer

Excessive intake of pickled vegetables (more than 3 times per week) at a higher amount increases the risk of cancer. It may cause the development of cancer from the bowel or rectum (parts of the large intestine) (20).

4. Increase the esophageal cancer risk

The esophagus is the hollow tube that leads from the throat to the stomach. High concentrations of salt and another cancer-causing compound directly damage this tube and increasing the risk of esophageal cancer (21).

5. Increase the risk of oesophageal cancer

During fermentation of pickle by fungi and yeast; it generates some carcinogenic compounds such as mycotoxins etc. These compounds two-fold increase the risk of oesophageal cancer (abnormal cell growth on food pipe) (22). Therefore high intake of pickled vegetables is associated with an increase of 50 % higher risk gastric (stomach) cancer (23).

6. May increase prostate cancer risk

Daily intakes of pickled vegetables even 1.6 g significant increase in prostate cancer risk thus precaution should be needed before consumption (24).

7. Increase the risk of breast cancer

A research study suggested that a high consumption of vegetables protects against breast cancer. On the other hand, high consumption of pickled vegetables is associated with the risk of breast cancer (25).

8. Presence of harmful bacteria

Most bacteria cannot grow well in acid fluids like pickle juice. However, home-fermented refrigerator pickle (dill pickles) produces Listeria monocytogenes that can cause the infection listeriosis. Because these items are not heated before consumption thus precaution should be needed before ingestion  (26).

Q&A

Are pickles healthy or are they good for your health?

Yes, pickle is good for health because it is low calorie, appetizing and salty foods. It increases energy intake by increasing appetite and increases food intake. Moreover, pickle is full of nutrients and antioxidants with various health benefits.

Is it bad to eat pickles every day?

It is good to add pickle to your diet in a moderate amount but its consumption for long term at high dosage may cause some health problems.

Are pickles good for weight loss?

Yes, a research study proved that the intake of pickles at a moderate level helps to treat obesity-related inflammation.

Which pickles are the healthiest?

Nowadays, the most popular fermented vegetables in Western countries are cucumber pickles. Soy sauce pickles, soybean paste pickles, and moromi pickles produce nonvolatile amines. This amine may be produced by microorganisms during the fermentation process and can cause toxicological effects. 

However, raw materials or vegetables of rice bran pickles, sake lees pickles, and malt pickles did not contain these amines. Thus the use of these pickles is good for health (27).

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