Indian Summer is incomplete without a tangy, spicy taste of”aam-ka-achaar” (mango pickle). From mangoes, lemons and gooseberry to jackfruit and lotus stem, pickling is no less than a culinary art in India, one that requires years of practice and experience.
Traditionally, the older women of the house (grandmothers) are responsible for carrying out the pickle making process – slicing, sun drying and preparing the magical masala mix for pickles. Every pickle is a reminiscence of childhood and rich Indian food tradition. It is a lesson in brilliant indigenous ways to savour the seasonal produce all year round.
The benefits of pickles are not limited to the ingredients pickled but comes from its actual process. This process of pickling vegetables and meat dates back to 2030 BC. Earlier, pickling was necessary to ensure food availability for the months of shortage like winters or sailors and warriors for easy access to food.
Every country had its own version of pickles. The most common method of pickling is salt-water brine or vinegar-brine. The health benefits of pickles come from pickled water. During the process, lactic microbial organisms develop which turn the naturally occurring sugar in the vegetables and fruits to lactic acid. When the environment becomes acidic, it automatically prevents bacteria from multiple, resulting in preservation. The lactic acid in pickle juice helps in improving gut health and digestion and also to treat dehydration.
Indians have been pickling vegetables and meats by adding spices and oil, in addition to salt and vinegar. The Koreans have kimchi while the EasternEuropeans have sauerkraut both of which are predominantly cabbage-based pickles. The Middle-Eastern and Italian folks pickle olives and peppers among other vegetables.
Eating pickles daily in moderate amounts helps in improving overall gut health and digestion.
Athletes claim that pickle juice helps with muscle cramps and works as a low-cost post-workout drink with electrolytes.
What are the health benefits of pickles?
The health benefits of pickles might intrigue you, if not already part of your diet. Fermentation is also a part of predigestion process that converts complex nutrients to simpler ones. With natural pickling and fermentation, though the fresh aspects of an ingredient decline, it transforms into a more enhanced version with different qualities than the fresh version, although one is not a replacement for the other. Below are the positive effects of eating pickle daily:
- Fermented and pickled foods are a good source of probiotics. We need both prebiotics, which are fibres and probiotics for gut microbes to flourish. Studies suggest that emotional, digestive and mental health are interrelated. The probiotics in pickled foods that improve good bacteria in our bodies also make the environment challenging for harmful bacteria to flourish. This process enhances immunity and suppresses inflammatory issues.
- Pickling process restores and preserves the antioxidative capacity of ingredients. The acidic content of pickle juice helps the body to absorb nutrients better. Some studies have shown that pickles contain antioxidants that can counteract the effect of free radicals.
- Pickles are also considered as a good hangover remedy. Pickle juice balances electrolytes and helps restore sodium levels and mask bad odour.
- Athletes claim that pickle juice helps with muscle cramps and a low-cost post-workout drink with electrolytes that help the body restore all the sodium lost as sweat through a workout. However, being acidic with vinegar, it’s recommended to consume with restraint to avoid stomach issues and get benefits of pickles the right way.
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is an issue most women suffer from every month, and pickles help ease it and in some cases, help regulate hormones and alleviate cramps.
- One of the many benefits of eating pickles is that it helps control the symptoms of diabetes. Pickles are rich in fibre. Including fibre and probiotic-rich pickle in your diet lowers the risk of diabetes. Additionally, vinegar, which is also a part of pickling, is also found to control blood glucose levels.
- Pickles are a good source of vitamin A, K, potassium, phosphorus and folate. Dill pickle or the popular cucumber pickles are packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of many chronic diseases.
- Studies suggest that pickles could possibly aid weight loss. Vinegar in pickles helps lower the rate at which the digestive system absorbs carbohydrates. This controls the insulin drop that triggers hunger while keeping energy levels stable. Another reason could be that pickles like cucumber have a high water content that helps you feel full for longer.
Pickles usually have high sodium level since salt is used to preserve the pickles. So it should be avoided by those on low-sodium diet.
Some adverse effects of eating pickles daily
Just as every component, excess of any ingredient, no matter how good, can cause side effects. Below are a few points needed to be considered when eating pickles daily:
- High sodium content: Pickles contain high sodium levels since most of them have salt to preserve the food. No matter the active ingredient in the pickle, high amounts of oil, vinegar, and salt can adversely affect someone who has a pre-existing medical condition or is on a low sodium diet.
- Too oily and spicy: Indian method of pickling mostly includes oil and spice, both of which don’t work in favour of the actual benefits of pickles. Excessive fat in food clogs arteries, and too much spice could damage our stomach’s delicate membrane and even cause heartburn.
- Bloating and water retention: They are common side effects for excess pickle juice consumption. So drinking pickle juice daily as a post-workout drink in large quantities to the extent of substituting water in itself could be a terrible idea—restraint it to 2 to 3 fluid ounces occasionally to get the right benefits of pickles minus adverse effects.
- Commercial pickles are borderline unhealthy: Those pickles which are homemade doesn’t have any added chemical preservatives and have the quantity of salt and vinegar at the level its meant to be, and helps to yield the right benefits of pickles. Additionally, not all pickles available commercially are fermented and aged the way it should be. Most of them are made by pouring hot vinegar over vegetables, which doesn’t provide much time to create the good bacteria which imparts the needed benefits of pickles for your gut.
Pickles are rich in probiotics, vitamin A, K, C and minerals, so it is considered safe to eat pickles in moderation during pregnancy.
Benefits of pickles during pregnancy
Sweet, salty, spicy, sour- pregnancy craving falls under all of these categories and is subjective. However, it’s common to crave something tart and salty, which could also reduce morning sickness.
The reason for this might be the body’s naturally increased blood volume during pregnancy, increasing the desire to have more sodium-rich foods. Though it’s never forbidden to taste any particular food in entirety, pickle is no exception and have a bit or two to curb the craving does no harm. Nonetheless, there would be harmful effects of eating pickles daily in large quantities without controlling the other sodium intake throughout the day.
Benefits of pickles during pregnancy, in moderation, can be enjoyed in the following ways:
Improved antioxidants: Antioxidants are essential for foetal growth and also aids in fighting free radicals. Studies suggest that consuming antioxidant rich-foods are more effective than having equivalent antioxidant supplements. This enhances the benefits of pickles, making it an ideal source of antioxidants like beta-carotene if had at permissible limits.
Maintain ideal Electrolyte Levels: Sodium and potassium are two main minerals that help conduct electrical transmissions between cells in our bodies. During pregnancy, the need for electrolytes increases as the body starts retaining more fluid to meet the developing foetus’s demands. Pickles are rich in both these compounds and eating in small quantities must reap needed benefits of pickles.
Improve gut health: In India, it’s an age-old grandma’s tip to eat curd rice with pickle to ease indigestion, making gut health the primary benefits of pickles. The probiotics loaded in curd and pickle helps soothe the stomach and build the gut flora or gut microbiota. Feeling bloated during pregnancy is a familiar uneasiness which also is sorted by pickles.
Vital vitamins and minerals: Pickles have vitamin K, A and C and minerals like iron, calcium and potassium. Each pickle has approx. 25.4 micrograms of these essential vitamins. All of this help improve the immune system and lower the risk of falling prey to diseases during pregnancy.
Though it has the advantages mentioned above, a pregnant mother should be mindful of the quantity of what she eats, which is more important than the food item itself. Pickles if not stored right, have the risk to have listeria bacteria, which could cause food poisoning. Too spicy pickles should also cause heartburn and trigger dysentery and acidity, making it imperative to consume pickles at moderate levels only.