Are Pickles Healthy?
Snack on low-calorie but high-sodium pickles in moderation, and look for healthy varieties
When you're looking for a super-quick and convenient snack, it's tough to beat pickles – just take 'em out of the jar, and enjoy. And pickles – dill pickles, in particular – have some benefits that make them healthy enough to include in a balanced diet if you eat them in moderation. However, they can be high in sugar and salt, so you should shop wisely to make the healthiest choice for your family.
Basic Pickle Nutritional Information
Because they're made from cucumbers and don't have a lot of added sugar, dill pickles are low in calories. Each large pickle has just 16 calories, which come from 3 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein and less than half a gram of fat, while a cup of sliced pickles has 19 calories. The low calorie count means pickles won't supply much energy to fuel your busy day, but it also means they don't really contribute to weight gain.
Sweet pickles, like bread and butter pickles, are a slightly different story. Like the name suggests, these are pickled in a sugary brine, and that sugar adds extra calories. A cup of sliced sweet pickles has 139 calories – more than 7 times the calories in dill pickles – along with 32 grams of carbohydrates, which mostly come from sugar. While sugar provides energy, sweet pickles are mostly "empty" calories and should be avoided.
A Salty Snack
Healthy Snacks vs. Unhealthy Snacks
Pickles don't provide a significant amount of any essential vitamins or minerals – in fact, the most striking aspect of their nutritional profile is their salt content. A large dill pickle has a whopping 1,092 milligrams of sodium. That's about two-thirds of your sodium intake recommendation for the day, and it could cover up to 100 percent of your children's sodium intake recommendation, depending on their ages. Sodium is of particular concern in older adults, since it can cause high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. But excessive sodium intake is also harmful for children, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you're watching your kids' sodium intakes, it's essential to limit their serving size to a slice or two at the most, not the entire pickle.
The Bottom Line
Since they're low in calories, dill pickles can be a healthy-ish snack – but if you eat larger portions, the amount of sodium you'll get becomes unhealthy. If your family loves pickles, keep them healthy by opting for a low-sodium variety. Reduced-sodium dill pickles have 158 milligrams of sodium per large pickle, which is much more reasonable and easy to fit into your diet than the full-sodium kind. Avoid sweetened pickles to limit your kids' intake of added sugar. If your family loves bread and butter pickles, look into lower-sugar DIY recipes to make your own pickles, and control the amount of sugar you add.
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- USDA NND: Pickles, cucumber, dill or kosher dill
- USDA NND: Pickles, cucumber, dill, reduced sodium
- USDA NND: Pickles, cucumber, sweet (includes bread and butter pickles)
- Linus Pauling Institute: Sodium
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: High Sodium Intake in Children and Adolescents: Cause for Concern
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Based in Ontario, Canada, Tremblay is an experienced journalist and blogger specializing in nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, health and biotechnology, as well as real estate, agriculture and clean tech.