Diabetes can be a challenging condition to manage, and many natural remedies — including cucumbers — have been touted as easy ways to regulate blood sugar. However, the claims for cucumber aren't exactly rooted in science.
Limited animal studies have linked cucumber extracts to lower blood sugar levels, but more research is needed in order to determine whether this vegetable can benefit people with diabetes. And it should be noted that, to date, there have been no human studies on cucumbers for diabetes and blood sugar control.
Cucumber for Diabetes
Animal and laboratory research has linked cucumber extracts to improved blood sugars. In fact, a study published in the October 2014 Journal of Medicinal Plant Research demonstrated that cucumber pulp extract lowered blood sugar levels in rodents.
Another study done in rats examined the chemical composition of cucumbers and the results suggested that cucumber's phytonutrients (plant chemicals and nutrients associated with reduced disease risk and improved health) may help lower blood sugar, per research published in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of Scientific Research.
However, since there is a dearth of human studies on cucumber's blood-sugar effects, further research is needed in order to determine whether whole cucumbers have the same benefits as the cucumber extracts used in previous rat studies.
Cucumber Glycemic Index
Although it is currently unclear whether cucumbers can lower blood sugar levels in people, the low-carb veggie has a number of other benefits. For one thing, cucumbers have a very low glycemic index (GI), which means they don't contribute to high blood sugar.
By way of explanation, the GI measures the effect the carbs in any given food will have on blood sugar levels. Glucose (sugar) itself has a GI of 100. According to the Glycemic Index Foundation, a GI under 55 indicates that a food will have less of an effect on blood sugar, while a GI over 70 means a food will have a greater (and potentially unhealthy) effect on blood sugar.
Cucumbers have a GI of 15, which is considered very low. This is because cucumbers are a nonstarchy vegetable, meaning they contain little to no carbohydrates. This is important for people with diabetes because eating carbs raises blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association strongly encourages eating lots of nonstarchy foods — in fact, this is the one food group that people with diabetes don't need to eat in moderation, they say.
The Fiber and Sugar in Cucumber
Another reason nonstarchy, low-carb veggies are so good for people with diabetes is their high fiber content. Fiber slows the body's ability to absorb glucose, which leads to lower blood sugar levels. Heidi Karner, RDN at Harvard's Joslin Diabetes Center, highly recommends nonstarchy vegetables like cucumbers for people working to control their blood sugar.
"It's all about the fiber content," she says. "That's where cucumbers provide the greatest benefit for people with diabetes." One cucumber (with the skin) packs in 1.5 grams of fiber, which is about six percent of your daily value. But, Karner notes that she hasn't seen any evidence that cucumbers actually lower blood sugar on their own.
The fiber in cucumbers and other nonstarchy vegetables also contributes to a feeling of fullness. This can help prevent people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes from eating too many calories and gaining weight, which may exacerbate the condition, per the Mayo Clinic.
Additionally, cucumbers are pretty in low in sugar — one whole cucumber clocks in at 5 grams of sugar. Plus, the low-carb veggie is a solid source of potassium and vitamin C and is very low in calories. One whole cucumber has only 45 calories.
The Bottom Line
Although small, early studies suggest that cucumber extracts may help lower blood sugar levels in rodents, there is still no proven benefit for humans. And there's no evidence suggesting that whole cucumbers or cucumber juice can help manage blood sugar, either.
In short, cucumbers are not yet a scientifically proven means of controlling blood sugar, nor are they a substitute for diabetes medications. For more guidance on natural remedies, consult your diabetes care team. Diagoodbetes medications should never be discontinued or changed without your doctor's approval.
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- Journal of Medicinal Plant Research: "Phytochemical Screening and Hypoglycemic Effect of Methanolic Fruit Pulp Extract of Cucumis Sativus in Alloxan Induced Diabetic Rats"
- Journal of Scientific Research: "Hypoglycemic and Hypolipidemic Effects of Cucumber, White Pumpkin and Ridge Gourd in Alloxan Induced Diabetic Rats"
- Nutrition Facts: "Phytonutrients"
- Food Struct: "Cucumber Nutrition Chart, Glycemic Index and Rich Nutrients"
- American Diabetes Association: "Non-Starchy Vegetables"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Facts for Cucumber"
- Glycemic Index Foundation: "What Is GI?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Insulin and Weight Gain: Keep the Pounds Off"
- American Heart Association: Understand Your Risk for Diabetes
- American Diabetes Association: Nutrition Recommendations and Interventions for Diabetes