250 million Americans eat pickles each year, an average of nine pounds per person. It’s safe to assume that most people know pickles are delicious! But deciding whether or not these dill-icious sandwich toppers pack a nutritional punch is a tougher question to answer.
Are pickles good for you? It depends. Learn more about the health benefits of all types of pickles and then decide if eating more of ’em makes sense for you.
Pickle Nutrition Facts
You can never eat one pickle! The USDA says that four dill pickle spears contain the following nutrients:
- Calories: 23
- Fat: <1 gram
- Protein: <1 gram
- Total Carbohydrates: 3 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sugar: 2 grams
- Sodium: 1304 mg
- Potassium: 181 mg
- Folate: 13 µg
- Phosphorus: 26 mg
- Magnesium: 11 mg
- Vitamin K: 27 µg
The nutrition facts above are good general guidelines, but if you’re eating store-bought pickles, consult the label.
Health Benefits of Pickles
Tame Tummy Trouble
Thanks to the fact that some pickles are fermented, they can be a source of probiotics. A host of factors—including age, diet, stress, illness and antibiotic use—can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut. When our body’s balance of bacteria gets out of whack, it puts us at risk for all sorts of problems, from gastrointestinal woes such as constipation and diarrhea to brain-related mood issues such as anxiety and depression. Eating foods that contain probiotics like sour pickles can help restore balance and keep tummy woes at bay. Learn more about the health benefits of fermentation.
Pickles are an excellent source of vitamin K, a nutrient needed to make a protein called osteocalcin, a building block of bones. Women might be extra interested in eating these sour spears since they are especially prone to osteoporosis, or weakened bones. Just four spears (or one whole pickle) contain 30% of their daily vitamin K intake. Again, look for fermented varieties, since probiotics are responsible for the unique type of K found in some pickles.
Balances Blood Sugar
Pickles may be a good snack for people with diabetes since many varieties (such as sour, kosher and dill as opposed to sweet or bread and butter styles) contain little to no carbohydrates. That means pickles won’t make blood glucose rise the way other quick eats (such as cookies or potato chips) do.
To up the blood sugar balancing benefit even more, choose quick pickles, which are made with vinegar as opposed to a salt-based brine that’s used for fermenting. A large review of multiple studies found that people who included vinegar in a meal or immediately after had lower glucose after eating compared to those who didn’t.
Don’t miss the health benefits of drinking pickle juice, too!
Drawbacks of Eating Pickles
While pickles may have some pluses, many varieties do have a major downfall. Just a few slices of these cukes contain a whopping 1304 mg of sodium, which is 57% of the 2300 mg upper limit recommended by the CDC and 87% (or nearly all!) of the 1500 mg ideal limit the American Heart Association recommends. Sodium is a mineral that we need to limit to protect heart health, since higher amounts are linked to increases in blood pressure and stroke.
To offset this wallop of sodium, swap out other salty foods (such as chips or fries) that usually come alongside a sandwich or burger for some lower in sodium options such as a salad, carrot sticks or fruit.
How to Buy the Right Pickles
Look for pickles that are fermented! How do you know if the pickles you pick up are going to be loaded with good microbes? First, choose those that are in the refrigerated section of your supermarket since cooler temperatures help keep the good bacteria intact. Second, check the ingredients for vinegar. If vinegar is on the label, it’s a tip-off that they are quick pickles, not fermented ones.
DIYers will love to know that pickling is a prime project to be done at home. Try one of these delicious pickle recipes. Another reason to make ’em yourself? You can extend pickling beyond cucumbers to foods that are even higher in vitamins, such as asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, radishes, onions and even strawberries. Learn how to make every type of pickled vegetable.
Tried-and-True Pickle Recipes
I made these pickles while growing up and love them because you can eat them with just about anything. Now, both of my children love these pickles, too. I think you'll enjoy them as much as we do! —Linda Weger, Robinson, Illinois
Canning isn't necessary for these crisp-tender, tangy pickles. Keep them in the fridge and eat them up within a month. —Linda Chapman, Meriden, Iowa
Now you can have all the goodness of crunchy sweet-sour pickles without going to the trouble of canning them. Even though these puckery slices can be stored in the freezer, they don't last long at my house. —Jean Vance, Charlotte, North Carolina
A dear family friend made these pickles for decades. I've adapted the recipe a bit over the years, but in my heart they are still “Dr. Rhodes’ pickles.” These morsels are delicious any time of year, but the green, red and white hues of the pickles, cherries and onions make them ideal for Christmas gift-giving—and it's a tasty twist on the classic Christmas pickle tradition
. —Patricia Martin, Shelby
Fresh peach quarters soaked in vinegar, sugar and warm spices are a classic southern treat. Serve with ice cream, pound cake, roasted meat and veggies, or mix into your favorite salad greens.—Nick Iverson, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
I love to can my homegrown produce. I call this recipe Summer in a Jar. The peppers have a nice combination of tart and spicy flavors. —Edna Clemens, West Branch, Michigan
With sweet, tangy and spiced flavors, these pickled beets are so good that they'll win over just about everyone in your house. Jars of colorful beets make great gifts, too! —Edna Hoffman, Hebron, Indiana
This recipe produces zippy little pickled green beans, preserving my veggies for months to come ... if they last that long. I crank up the heat a bit with cayenne pepper. —Marisa McClellan, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Serve tangy pickled mushrooms alongside a steak, as an appetizer with toothpicks, in a salad or as part of an antipasto platter. However you present them, you can’t go wrong! —John Levezow, Eagan, Minnesota
These slightly crunchy pickled onions are not only a great gift for Christmas, but also a terrific contribution to a backyard barbecue as a relish for burgers and hot dogs. —Laura Winemiller, Delta, Pennsylvania
These sweet and spicy pickles are great on a sandwich or all by themselves as a snack. The recipe is an easy way to dress up store-brought pickles and make them a special treat! —Myra Innes, Auburn, Kansas
This pickled peppers recipe from Ball brand home canning products is so easy, and you'll never have to buy store-bought peppers ever again. They are so delicious.—Taste of Home
Test Kitchen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
"Waste not, want not" has always been smart advice—especially when it produces picked watermelon rind that's so refreshing. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen
Easy and economical, refrigerator dill pickles are tangy, zesty and crispy. No one will believe you made them yourself! —Jake Haen, Ocala, Florida
I've been living in Chicago for the last 12 years and have grown to love the spicy giardiniera served at restaurants. So I developed my own to use at home. We love it on everything from eggs to sandwiches and even pizza! —Andrea Quiroz, Chicago, Illinois
Most people don't think about grapes when creating a canned pickle recipe. The pickling liquid for these grapes includes red wine, vinegar and common pickling spices like coriander, mustard seeds and hot pepper; it also contains warm spices like cinnamon and star anise along with brown sugar. These flavor-packed grapes are unique and delicious on a fab antipasto, pickle or cheese tray. —Cheryl Perry, Hertford, North Carolina
This pickled asparagus recipe is really popular with my family. My granddaughter always says, "Oh, Grammy, these are soooo good!" They're easy to prepare and turn out perfect every time. My husband loves it when I add a dried hot pepper to each jar. —Annie Merrell, Fenelon Falls, Ontario
This easy refrigerator pickles recipe is a great way to use cucumbers and onions from the garden. Here in upstate New York, we have an abundance of cucumbers. —Catherine Seibold, Elma, New York
Ever since I can remember, my mother served this pickled egg recipe at Easter. It was a tradition that my family expected. I made them for my granddaughter the last time she visited and they were all gone before she left. —Mary Banker, Fort Worth, Texas
This year, when I asked my brother what he wanted for his 31st birthday, he answered, "pickled Brussels sprouts." I had never even tasted a pickled Brussels sprout before. It's hard for me to say "no" to my younger brother, so he got his wish and thought the Brussels sprouts were delicious! —Heather King, Frostburg, Maryland
This treasured dill pickle recipe is like an old friend. These crispy spears have a slightly salty, tart flavor with a good balance of dill, garlic and peppers. —Betty Sitzman, Wray, Colorado
I developed a unique healthy recipe to feature my most-loved spring and summer fruit. My favorite way to serve these pickled strawberries is as an appetizer with cheese. —Roxanne Chan, Albany, California
Pickled zucchini is a great way to use up all those green beauties in your garden. Preserve them now to share as a holiday gift from your kitchen. —Tina Butler, Royse City, Texas
I’m passionate about making pickles. My husband is passionate about eating them. He's too impatient to let them cure on the shelf, so I found this quick recipe to make him happy. Add hotter peppers if you like. —Annie Jensen, Roseau, Minnesota
My mom’s holiday buffet always included these pickled carrots. I kept the tradition going, then passed the recipe to my daughter. In our family, it isn't a party without this dish. —Lily Julow, Lawrenceville, GA
When I'm left with green tomatoes at the end of summer, I reach for this recipe. Friends and family are so happy to receive the sweet-sour relish that they often return the empty jar and ask for a refill! —Mary Gill, Florence, Oregon
When I was raising my big family, I'd make this garlic dill pickle recipe toward the end of the growing season for winter's keeping. Crushed red pepper flakes gives the pickles a bit of bite.— Lily Julow, Lawrenceville, Georgia
These easy pickled apples are perfect alongside a pork entree or salad, or with a charcuterie cheese board. —Rashanda Cobbins, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Pickled garlic is a delicious condiment for the garlic lover on your list. You'll be pleasantly surprised how pickling mellows out the garlic, making it a tasty sandwich topper. —Taste of Home
Test Kitchen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin