Not many vegetables are described as “refreshing,” but that’s the property cucumbers bring to the table. Compared to other vegetables, cucumbers aren’t a powerhouse of nutrition, but they’re not a total loss either. They’re especially good sources of vitamin K, and they also deliver some fiber and a wide range of nutrients that work together to maintain good health.
The recommended daily intake for water -- 13 cups for men and 9 cups for women -- is higher than the usual advice to drink eight glasses because the recommended amount includes fluids from all sources: drinking water, water in beverages and water from food. About 20 percent of water intake comes from the foods you eat. The amount of water you need increases during exercise and when you're sick. Women who are pregnant should drink 10 cups daily, and if you’re breast-feeding, you’ll need 13 cups. One cup of sliced, peeled cucumber contains about 1/2 cup of water.
Free radicals are produced during normal biochemical processes and in response to stressors, such as lack of sleep, anxiety, sunlight and cigarette smoke. If they’re not neutralized by antioxidants, free radicals damage cells, cause inflammation and lead to chronic illnesses. Vitamin C is important because it works throughout your body and can stop a lot of different free radicals before they cause damage. Vitamin A provides antioxidants in the form of carotenoids, including two that protect your eyes. Manganese specifically protects the mitochondria, which are cellular structures that produce energy. One cup of sliced, peeled cucumber has 3 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 4 percent of vitamin C and manganese.
One cup of peeled cucumber provides 2 percent of the recommended daily intake of calcium and 3 percent of potassium and magnesium. All three minerals are electrolytes, which means they can carry an electrical charge. In this role, they stimulate and maintain normal functioning of muscles and nerves. Potassium is especially important for regulating your heartbeat, while magnesium may help lower blood pressure because it relaxes muscles in blood vessel walls, making it easier for blood to flow through.
In addition to immune support from antioxidants, cucumbers contain zinc, which is essential for the development of cells in the immune system that fight bacteria and other pathogens. When zinc lozenges are taken within 24 hours of the first symptoms, they reduce the severity and duration of the common cold, according to research published online in February 2011 by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. You’ll gain 2 percent of the recommended daily intake of zinc from 1 cup of peeled cucumber.
The classic warm-weather soup -- gazpacho -- is based on cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions and celery. Cucumbers can star in their own salad with fresh dill, toasted sesame seeds and light vinaigrette. Add sliced cucumbers to sandwiches or use them to replace some of the zucchini in baked goods. Try making a casserole of cucumbers, carrots and scallions in a tomato sauce, topped with sunflower seeds and low-fat mozzarella cheese.
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Cucumber, Peeled, Raw
- MayoClinic.com: Water -- How Much Should You Drink Every Day?
- National Academies Press: Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Manganese Content of Selected Foods
- PubMed.gov: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews -- Zinc for the Common Cold
- The National Academies Press: Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium and Carotenoids
- The Cook’s Thesaurus: Cucumbers
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images