Pickles are a popular snack that many people enjoy. They provide a salty, sour, and crunchy treat that can liven up sandwiches, burgers, salads, and more. While pickles can be a tasty addition to your diet in moderation, eating too many may cause some side effects.
One of the main concerns with eating too many pickles is their high sodium content. Pickles go through a curing process that involves submerging vegetables, usually cucumbers, in a brine solution. This brine is very high in sodium, which is absorbed by the vegetables during the curing process.
A single medium-sized dill pickle can contain over 500 mg of sodium. To put that into perspective, the American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day. Some pickles may provide a quarter or more of your daily recommended sodium intake in just one serving!
Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure in salt-sensitive individuals. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Effects of Increased Blood Pressure
Eating too many salty pickles frequently may cause blood pressure to rise to unhealthy levels over time. Here are some effects of increased blood pressure:
- Damage to blood vessel walls – Increased pressure can stretch and injure blood vessel lining.
- Atherosclerosis – High blood pressure damages vessels, leading to plaque buildup.
- Heart attack and stroke risk – Narrowed or blocked vessels reduce blood supply to the heart and brain.
- Kidney problems – Increased pressure impairs kidneys’ ability to function properly.
- Fluid retention – Excess sodium causes body to retain water, increasing blood volume.
- Vision loss – High pressure can damage tiny blood vessels in the eyes.
Luckily, simply reducing your sodium intake can lower blood pressure in many individuals. Those with high blood pressure should be especially mindful of pickle consumption.
For healthy people, eating a large amount of pickles could result in some temporary gastrointestinal distress.
Some common symptoms may include:
- Bloating or gas
- Abdominal cramps
These effects are caused by the pickle’s acids and oils stimulating the digestive tract. Those who are prone to diarrhea or other digestive issues may want to take it easy on the pickles.
Pickles have a diuretic effect, meaning they can cause you to urinate more frequently. This is due to their high sodium content.
Increased urination leads to fluid loss, which can potentially cause dehydration if you don’t drink enough fluids to replace what is lost. Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dark urine
Dehydration is easily preventable by consuming plenty of water and electrolyte-rich beverages when eating salty foods like pickles.
Nutrition Content of Pickles
Pickles are low in calories but do provide some nutrients, despite going through a pickling process. Here is the nutrition content in 1 medium dill pickle (3.5 oz):
As you can see, pickles provide some vitamin K and potassium. However, the sodium content is very high. Overall, pickles are low in nutrients compared to fresh vegetables.
Increased Cancer Risk
There is some evidence that a diet very high in processed meats and pickled foods may increase risk for stomach and esophageal cancers. However, most major health organizations consider this evidence inconclusive.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, frequently eating large amounts of pickled foods likely only modestly impacts cancer risk. They recommend limiting intake of processed meats and salt-preserved foods without completely avoiding them.
For those with family history of stomach or esophageal cancer, limiting frequent pickled food intake may be more prudent. Speak to your doctor about specific diet recommendations that are right for you.
Most people can handle pickled foods like pickles in moderation as part of a healthy diet. However, about 25% of the population is considered salt-sensitive. These individuals should be especially careful about high-salt foods.
According to the American Heart Association, groups at higher risk for salt sensitivity include:
- African Americans
- Middle-aged and older adults
- People with high blood pressure
- People with diabetes
- People with chronic kidney disease
Those at risk should have their blood pressure monitored closely and limit sodium intake under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Benefits of Pickle Juice
While eating too many actual pickles can cause downsides, consuming small amounts of pickle juice may offer some benefits. Pickle juice is the brine left over from pickling vegetables.
Potential benefits of pickle juice include:
- Muscle cramps – The juice provides electrolytes to prevent dehydration and treat cramps.
- Hangover cure – The salt, vitamins, and hydration can help relieve hangover symptoms.
- Heartburn relief – The vinegar can neutralize stomach acid and provide quick heartburn relief.
However, pickle juice is still very high in sodium so it’s best consumed in small 1-2 oz servings. Don’t drink excessive amounts.
Pickling is the process of preserving foods, usually vegetables or fruits, in a brine solution. Here are the basic steps for pickle production:
- Wash and slice produce – Cucumbers, carrots, onions and other vegetables or fruits are washed, peeled, and sliced.
- Soak in brine – The sliced produce is soaked in a saltwater brine solution for a period of time.
- Add flavors – Spices, herbs, garlic, etc may be added for extra flavor.
- Pack jars – The pickled produce and brine solution are packed into airtight jars or containers.
- Ferment or can – The jars are left to ferment for 1-6 weeks or canned for shelf stability.
The resulting pickles are crunchy, salty, and sour – perfect for burgers, sandwiches, relishes, and snacking!
Types of Pickles
There are many varieties of pickled vegetables and fruits. Some of the most common types of pickles include:
|Cucumbers pickled with dill seasoning, most popular variety
|Bread and butter
|Sweet, thin slices pickled in sweet vinegar
|Cured in saltwater brine, popular for sandwiches
|Chopped pickles and seasoning, used as condiment
|Spicy, seasoned fermented cabbage
|Fermented, salted cabbage
There are so many varieties to enjoy! Mix it up and sample different pickled veggies.
There are many ways to enjoy pickles in moderation:
- On sandwiches and burgers
- As a side to salads or meals
- Chopped up in tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad
- As a snack or appetizer
- As an addition to a cheese board
- Mixed into coleslaw and other sides
- In a Bloody Mary cocktail
Add some crunch to your sandwiches with a couple pickle slices, or toss chopped pickles into your favorite salad or casserole. Get creative with how you incorporate pickles into dishes!
To get flavor without excess sodium, try these healthy alternatives to pickles:
- Fresh cucumbers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Celery sticks
- Sauerkraut (look for low sodium varieties)
- Kimchi (look for low sodium varieties)
You can also make easy homemade unsalted refrigerator pickles with vinegar and spices. This allows you to control the sodium content.
Pickles can be enjoyed safely as part of a healthy diet for most people. However, excess pickle consumption may cause some adverse effects due to the high sodium content. Eating too many pickles could potentially contribute to high blood pressure, digestive issues, and an increased risk of stomach cancer.
Those who are salt-sensitive, have high blood pressure, or are at risk for stomach cancer should be especially mindful of limiting pickle intake. For most people, enjoying pickles in moderation along with a vegetable-rich diet can safely satisfy a craving for something salty and sour.