Pickles and fermented foods, in general, are well known for their beneficial effects on gut health. Some dieters even drink pickle juice for weight loss, saying that it's a powerful metabolism booster due to its high vinegar content. Gym-goers, on the other hand, claim that pickle juice can speed up recovery after exercise and relieve muscle cramps. The question is: What's true and what's hype?
Contrary to popular belief, pickle juice won't boost your metabolism. If you drink too much of it, you might even see the numbers on the scale go up. This beverage is high in sodium and may cause fluid retention. It does contain small amounts of probiotics, but pickles and other fermented foods are much healthier.
Are Pickles Good for You?
These fermented veggies are a healthy addition to sandwiches, salads, appetizers and meat dishes. Low in calories, they're a perfect diet snack. One small spear has 4 calories and less than 1 gram of carbs, so it fits into any diet. Just make sure you stick with unsweetened pickled cucumbers, which contain no sugar.
Like sauerkraut, pickles are naturally high in probiotics, such as L. plantarum and L. brevis. These microorganisms balance the gut flora by increasing the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Mustard pickles and other fermented foods have a positive impact on the structure, function and diversity of your gut flora. Commercial pickles, though, are not fermented at all and contain lower levels of probiotics.
According to a September 2017 review featured in the journal Nutrients, probiotics benefit people with diabetes, obesity and insulin resistance. These microbes ensure a proper balance between "good" gut bacteria and pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. Coli.
Some bacteria species produce B-complex vitamins, aid in nutrient absorption and boost immune function. The Nutrients review reported that, in clinical trials, probiotics were shown to reduce total fat mass, visceral fat mass, body mass index and waist circumference while improving blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Considering these facts, it's not surprising that a growing number of dieters are using pickle juice for weight loss. This liquid is low in calories and contains small amounts of probiotics. You can even purchase pickle juice fortified with zinc, potassium, vitamin C and other micronutrients that support athletic performance.
Pickle Juice and Weight Loss
Pickle juice is touted as a natural fat burner and metabolism booster, but few studies confirm these potential health benefits. The idea behind these claims is that acetic acid, a natural compound in vinegar (one of the main ingredients in pickle juice), supports weight loss and improves the body's ability to burn fat.
Furthermore, vinegar may lower blood sugar levels and increase glucose uptake, leading to improved metabolic health. But what does the science say?
A clinical trial, one of the few studies linking vinegar to weight loss, published in the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry in August 2009, suggests that vinegar may aid in weight loss.
As the researchers point out, acetic acid may reduce body fat mass and prevent metabolic syndrome. Obese subjects who drank a beverage containing varying doses of acetic acid experienced a decrease in body weight, body mass index, abdominal fat, waist circumference and serum triglyceride levels.
The scientists state that acetic acid inhibits lipogenesis, a metabolic process that promotes fat storage. It appears to be particularly effective against visceral fat — a major contributing factor to cardiac events, insulin resistance, inflammation and metabolic problems. Furthermore, vinegar intake didn't cause any adverse effects.
To date, this is the only human study that confirms the relationship between vinegar and weight loss. Other studies and clinical trials have been conducted on mice, so their findings may not apply to humans.
However, vinegar may improve glycemic control, according to a May 2018 review in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine. After assessing several clinical trials, the researchers concluded that vinegar intake may slightly lower blood sugar levels and improve pancreatic insulin secretion. However, more research is needed to confirm these results.
If you're on the heavy side, take the steps needed to keep your blood sugar levels within a normal range. As the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health points out, nine in 10 causes of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes can be prevented through lifestyle changes.
Adequate blood glucose control is paramount. Pickle juice is high in vinegar and hence may help reduce your blood sugar levels, leading to a lower risk of diabetes and its complications.
Potential Benefits of Pickle Juice
As you see, there is little evidence about the relationship between pickle juice and weight loss. Furthermore, no studies confirm that pickle juice increases metabolism. However, this briny beverage has its perks. High in sodium, it can balance your fluid levels and prevent dehydration during or after long bouts of strenuous exercise.
During heavy bouts of exercise, you may lose excessive water and sodium in your sweat. According to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, low-sodium diets are not the best choice for athletes and individuals who engage in long-term aerobic exercise. When consumed during or after training, sodium increases thirst and helps your kidneys retain water, keeping you hydrated.
Pickle juice and pickles are high in sodium and can elevate your blood pressure.
If you're an athlete or gym enthusiast, you may benefit from drinking pickle juice during or after exercise. However, there are better options available.
Coconut water, for example, is significantly lower in sodium and higher in calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and other trace minerals. In fact, it's often used as a substitute for electrolyte beverages and other sports drinks.
Fermented foods, including pickles, have their place in a balanced diet. Rich in probiotics, they may improve digestion and help restore the gut flora. They also contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support your health and well-being.
Pickle juice, on the other hand, is high in sodium and has little nutritional value. When consumed in excess, sodium can elevate blood pressure and cause your body to hold water. If you love this beverage, enjoy it in moderation. Taking a few sips every now and then is unlikely to affect your health.
- USDA: "Pickles, Cucumber, Dill or Kosher Dill"
- Frontiers in Microbiology: "Fermented Foods as a Dietary Source of Live Organisms"
- MDPI: "Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health"
- USDA: "Pickle Juice, Sport Drink"
- Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry: "Vinegar Intake Reduces Body Weight, Body Fat Mass and Serum Triglyceride Levels in Obese Japanese Subjects"
- Diapedia: "Lipolysis and Lipogenesis"
- ScienceDirect: "Visceral Adiposity and the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome Across Body Mass Index: The MESA Study"
- NCBI: "Diabetes Control: Is Vinegar a Promising Candidate to Help Achieve Targets?"
- NCBI: "Mechanism Linking Diabetes Mellitus and Obesity"
- WHO: "Obesity and Overweight"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes"
- USDA: "Pickle Juice"
- CDC.gov: "Sodium and the Dietary Guidelines"
- Sanford Health: "Sodium 101 for Athletes"
- Gatorade Sports Science Institute: "Sodium Ingestion, Thirst and Drinking During Endurance Exercise"
- Medical West Hospital: "The Dangers of Dehydration"
- World Action on Salt & Health: "Water Retention"
- USDA: "Coconut Water"
- American Heart Association: "How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day?"