A few pickle slices can wake up a sandwich or burger, and a crunchy spear or two makes for a satisfying snack when you're craving something salty. But is it possible to overdo it?
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Pickles are low in calories and fat, and they're technically a vegetable. Still, having too many might leave you feeling less than your best, especially if you're prone to indigestion when you eat cucumbers.
What Happens When You Eat Too Many Pickles
Popping pickle after pickle can set the stage for stomach issues. In particular:
1. You Might Get Gassy
Yep, add pickles to the list of foods that can cause gas. Cucumbers contain cucurbitacin, a naturally occurring compound that, in large quantities, could potentially trigger indigestion symptoms like gassiness, according to a January 2015 study in the Middle East Journal of Digestive Diseases.
Cucurbitacin-induced gassiness can occur from eating any kind of pickle made from cucumbers. But if you're eating fermented pickles (as opposed to ones pickled in vinegar), the problem might be even more noticeable.
2. You Could Feel Bloated
Bloating often stems from trapped gas that hasn't yet been released from your GI tract, so it may come as no surprise that pickles can give you that puffed-out feeling. But that's not the only thing going on.
Pickles tend to be high in sodium, which can also exacerbate bloating.
"Sodium helps the body retain water, so consuming too much salt can lead to extra fluid buildup. The result is swelling, typically in the face, hands, feet and ankles," explains food, fitness and nutrition consultant Heather Mangieri, RDN, LDN.
And you may not have to eat much to notice the effects: "Eat two pickles, and you've consumed over 50 percent of the maximum recommended daily sodium intake," Mangieri explains.
3. You Could Burp a Lot
Those same factors that result in pickles causing gas to come out one end can potentially send gas out the other end, too. Are you surprised?
4. You Might Feel Thirsty
Notice your mouth feels kind of like cotton after chowing down on those pickles? That's to be expected.
Sodium-heavy foods — everything from pickles, to chips, to pizza — have a tendency to leave you parched.
When high levels of sodium flood your bloodstream, the body tries to compensate by increasing thirst, because drinking water can help bring your electrolyte levels back into balance, per March 2020 findings in Hypertension.
5. You May Notice Some Heartburn
Heartburn is often triggered by sharp, acidic foods, including ones made with vinegar, per Harvard Health Publishing. That puts pickles made with vinegar (but not necessarily fermented ones) high on the list.
If you have acid reflux or GERD, you may want to limit your consumption or steer clear altogether.
6. It's Possible You Could Become Nauseous, Vomit or Have Diarrhea
If you're sensitive to cucurbitacin or decide to polish off a whole jar of pickles, you might experience some intense GI discomfort. Though rare, there are documented incidents of the compound triggering nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, per 2012 findings in the Indian Journal of Medical Research.
What About Constipation?
Although pickles can lead to many other digestive issues, constipation isn't on the list.
How Many Pickles Are Too Many?
Wondering whether there's a magic number before side effects kick in?
"It's hard to say how many pickles you would have to eat to see visible symptoms," Mangieri says. "It really depends on the total diet and whether or not the type of pickles being consumed are fermented or pickled in vinegar."
That said, one average-sized jarred dill pickle contains around 650 milligrams of sodium, notes Mangieri. Considering that's about a quarter of the way to your total daily sodium limit, it could be a good stopping point for one meal.
Another idea? "If you love pickles, cut them in slices rather than eating them whole," Mangieri says.
That way, you can enjoy smaller amounts throughout the day while keeping your sodium intake in check — and reducing your risk for other unpleasant side effects.
What About Pickle Juice?
Contrary to what some believe, pickle juice isn't good for your kidneys or liver. But drinking pickle juice may help with nausea if the symptom is caused by dehydration (that's why pickle juice is touted as a hangover cure), aid in recovery after exercise and it even holds some promise for weight loss because of its blood sugar-stabilizing effects, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
But just like it's possible to eat too many pickles, you can go overboard with pickle juice and end up with symptoms like bloating, gas, heartburn or worse. It's hard to say just how much is too much for each person, so the best approach may be to start with a small amount and gradually increase it to see how it affects you.
How to Feel Better
If sitting down to a pickle feast gives you indigestion, experiment with cutting back on the amount you eat until you can find a serving size that doesn't cause symptoms.
In the meantime, you can soothe your stomach by sticking to bland, easy-to-digest foods (like crackers or bananas) and drinking plenty of water, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Home remedies for an upset stomach, like sipping on ginger or peppermint tea, can help you feel more comfortable, too.
- Middle East Journal of Digestive Diseases: "The Role of Diet in the Management of Non-Ulcer Dyspepsia"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Probiotics"
- Hypertension: "Effects of Sodium Reduction on Energy, Metabolism, Weight, Thirst, and Urine Volume"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "What to eat when you have chronic heartburn"
- Indian Journal of Medical Research: "Assessment of effects on health due to consumption of bitter bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) juice"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Abdominal Pain"
- Cleveland Clinic: "6 Health Benefits of Drinking Pickle Juice"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.