For thousands of years, people in cultures around the world have recognized the health benefits cucumbers provide, and today science is beginning to explain the qualities that people have been working with over the millennia.
Cucumbers are rich in polyphenols, such as flavonoids, some of which act as antioxidants and others which help reduce inflammation in the body. Antioxidant flavonoids in cucumbers include quercetin, luteolin, kaempferol and apigenin, and a key anti-inflammatory flavonoid is fisetin. Other polyphenols in cucumbers include lignans. In addition to their antioxidant benefits, lignans can help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and oxidized cholesterol, to keep our blood and blood vessels healthy.
Cucumbers also contain phytonutrients called Cucurbitacins (a class of terpenes), which have been shown to reduce inflammation, inhibit the growth of abnormal cells and contribute to the mildly bitter taste of cucumbers.
Other nutrients in cucumbers include:
• B complex – the B vitamins boost energy, metabolism and brain function, help reduce stress and support healthy skin
• Beta-carotene – an antioxidant and a precursor to vitamin A
• Vitamin C – an antioxidant and immune system booster
• Vitamin K – required for blood clotting and healthy calcium metabolism
• Copper – needed to form the important protein collagen, as well as haemoglobin, which delivers oxygen to our body cells
• Manganese – an antioxidant required for a healthy nervous system, bones and joints and for breaking down fats and cholesterol
• Molybdenum – needed for carbohydrate metabolism and as a coenzyme for many reactions in the body
• Potassium – required for cells to be responsive and helps maintain healthy blood pressure, skin and nervous system function
Finally, cucumbers are a good source of soluble and insoluble fibre, which work together to keep our digestive system functioning smoothly. Insoluble fibre also provides food for the beneficial gut bacteria in the colon, which synthesize certain vitamins for us and play a key role in immunity.
Of all its non-culinary uses, perhaps cucumber’s greatest value is in its benefits for skin health. Cucumbers have a hydrating and cooling effect on the skin, due to their combination of antioxidants and high water content. When applied to the skin either directly or in creams or facial masks, cucumbers help shrink enlarged blood vessels, thus reducing heat and inflammation, as well as reduce irritation and ageing. One of the key antioxidants involved in this process is caffeic acid, which works with vitamin C to exert its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Finally, the mineral silica, contained in cucumber skin, helps keep our skin firm.
So, as you can see, cucumbers can boost our health in a variety of ways. So, whether your goal is healthier skin, staying hydrated during the warm season or giving yourself a healthy dose of polyphenol antioxidants, cucumber is a versatile, time-tested choice.