Is the Pickle Diet a Hoax? Or Do Pickles Really Promote Weight Loss?

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 24 January 2022

The pickle diet originated in the early 1900’s and consists of eating only pickles for days at a time to lose weight. Bizarrely, in 1901, the Honolulu Republican newspaper encouraged women to eat pickles to remain stylish and graceful [1]. Another newspaper from the 1880s describes the symptoms of eating too many pickles and apparently there was one reported death as well!

From 1901 to the early 1910s, media archives paint a conflicted picture: some reporters make fun of the hoax-like diet through cartoons and opinion pieces, while others tell women how important it is to remain attractive and can do so by eating pickles.

So with all the controversy, is it just a hoax with tons of risks or do pickles help you lose weight?

Potential Health & Weight Loss Benefits of Pickles

Pickles are low in calories so they can be used in a weight loss regimen if they’re eaten in moderation (too many pickles poses health risks which we’ll touch on below).

Pickles are a great source of vitamin K, have a decent amount of calcium and potassium, and, to a lesser extent, provide you with vitamins C and A. The probiotics and antioxidants in pickles can also do wonders for your health (just watch out for the sodium). 

Not to mention, one cup of dill pickles has around 20 calories, so it barely moves the scale and making them a salty snack or home remedy for weight loss. Avid pickle dieters advise against eating sweet pickles for weight loss because they’re closer to 150 calories per cup. One plain glazed donut has over 300 calories, though, so sweet pickles are still a better option! 

You might prefer to eat whole pickles at a time or slice them up to graze on like chips. You can also add them to pasta salads, egg salad, and potato salad, but you’re better off eating pickles on their own as all of these foods are calorie-dense.

Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Beta-carotene is a dietary compound responsible for giving vegetables their orange or red color, but it’s also present in cucumbers, and therefore pickles [2]. 

Scientists believe this antioxidant might lower your risk of heart disease [3]. Still, they aren’t sure if this health benefit is solely because of beta-carotene or the result of eating more fruits and vegetables. Eating pickles might help you even if beta-carotene supplements don’t!

Reduce Cell Damage and Improve Health

Antioxidants reduce cell damage and can help maintain or improve general health. Beta-carotene is still the star of the show, reducing cognitive decline in the elderly [4]. You also benefit from reducing free radicals, which are unstable atoms linked to cancer and other health issues. 

Antioxidants don’t directly promote weight loss but might indirectly help you lose weight by reducing inflammation. Many foods containing antioxidants make a great addition to a healthy, low-calorie diet, so it isn’t easy to separate the benefits of eating antioxidants following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens.

Potential Health Benefits of Vinegar

Vinegar, a vital ingredient in the pickling process, may boost your health by itself. Some research suggests it can help keep blood sugar levels within a normal range, but these studies are small, sometimes containing less than a dozen participants. 

For example, a 2019 meta-analysis on type 2 diabetes concluded that drinking vinegar improves blood sugar, but all the studies examined were performed on fewer people than ideal [5]. If you love pickles, though, pickle juice is a more pleasant way to get the benefits of vinegar without drinking apple cider vinegar, which is another popular go-to [6]. 

Pickles Contains Probiotics

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can improve digestion and might positively affect depression and anxiety. Yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha commonly contain live probiotics. Only some pickle juice contains live probiotics. 

The traditional method of fermenting pickles using salt and water doesn’t harm the probiotics naturally found in cucumbers. However, this method takes longer than vinegar brine, and vinegar kills the probiotics. Vinegar brine pickles, or quick pickles, are more prevalent in grocery stores.

Pickle Juice for Recovery

Exercise = health, but it also means a lot of sweat! Sweating depletes electrolytes, essential minerals the body needs to regulate various processes. Both salt and potassium are electrolytes, so drinking pickle juice after an intense workout can aid recovery.

Try not to drink too much, though – just three ounces of pickle juice can have up to 900mg of sodium, so pickle juice isn’t always the healthiest option and too much can be bad for you. A sports drink or a glass of electrolyte water works just as well but without the added sodium. Pickle juice can’t replace water, but the electrolytes can potentially stop post-workout cravings.

Suicidal Pickle Diet Plan

While pickles and pickle juices can have quite a few benefits, including helping you recover after a night of heavy drinking, they shouldn’t be all you eat. At the peak of the pickle craze, at least one woman may have died due to primarily eating pickles, leading some people to call it a suicidal diet. But thanks to modern food science, today’s dieters have a better understanding of nutrition. 

Like bacon, smoked fish, and lunch meat, pickles are high in salt, and they’re certainly not a food anyone should rely on for all of their nutritional needs. 

Potential Risks of Pickles

Pickles get their salty taste from brine, a salty solution that encourages fermentation. While pickled vegetables are safe to eat in moderation, excessive sodium consumption puts stress on your vital organs and potentially increases the risk of certain cancers.

Occasionally exceeding the daily recommended amount probably won’t hurt you, but avoid making it a habit. The average adult in the United States already consumes 3,400mg, 900mg more than ideal [7] so one does try a pickle diet, is should be done with much caution.  

Liver & Kidney Stress from a New Diet

Your kidneys purify 200 quarts of blood every day, meaning they cycle through all your blood about 40 times in 24 hours! This filtration system is highly efficient, but it can only do so much. High sodium intake stresses your kidneys out and forces them to work harder.

Although it has other duties, the liver also filters the blood. High sodium intake taxes the liver and damages it over time. Sometimes, your liver might already have damage due to medication or alcohol consumption, making it even more important to limit sodium intake.

Blood Pressure Concerns

A high-salt diet might be delicious, but it can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension) when the kidneys fail to remove enough sodium from the blood [8]. High blood pressure rarely shows symptoms until it’s severe. 

Hypertension comes with headaches, nosebleeds, and strokes if it reaches life-threatening levels. Make sure to get your health checked out by a doctor before you accidentally harm yourself by eating a ton of pickles.

People who have a history of stroke need a special diet that’s lower in sodium, among other conditions. In this case, significantly increasing sodium intake can also increase the likelihood of having another stroke.

Increased Risk of Gastric Cancer

Salt usually doesn’t hurt your stomach, but large amounts can encourage the growth of helicobacter pylori – a bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. If you get stomach ulcers, you can be sure your stomach lining is damaged. Repeated or prolonged damage to the stomach increases the likelihood of gastric cancer.

Eating pickles or drinking pickle juice while having a stomach ulcer is uncomfortable at best. It’s better to steer clear of acidic foods that can worsen the condition, including pickle juice. People with a history of stomach ulcers should consult their doctor about this diet before starting it.

Increased Risk of Osteoporosis

Consuming too much sodium drains calcium from your body, an essential mineral for bone health. People who are chronically low in calcium have lower bone density and a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. It’s a problem that comes with old age and a contributing factor in why older people commonly break their hips since weakened bones break more often than normal bones. The calcium in pickles is highly unlikely to negate the effects of its high sodium content.  

Since bones naturally weaken with age, this pickle-based diet might not be appropriate for anyone older than 65 [9]. 

FAQ

Will pickle juice help you lose weight?

Drinking pickle juice in moderation can be beneficial in losing weight because of it contains probiotics, electrolytes, potassium, and vinegar. However, be sure you’re not consuming too much pickle juice since it’s rich in salt.

How much pickle juice should I drink to lose weight?

If you’re set on drinking pickle juice, we’d suggest anywhere from 1.5 oz of pickle juice or a shot a day, all the up to 1/3 of a cup. No matter the amount you choose to drink, always be mindful of the salt.

What happens if you eat too many pickles?

Eating too many pickles can increase your sodium levels which can increase your risks of osteoporosis, gastric cancer, high blood pressure, ulcers, as well as liver and kidney issues. In the short term, too many pickles can cause stomach pain, gas and diarrhea.

Do pickles make you gain weight?

Pickles are very, very low in calories so it’s unlikely they’ll cause any long-term weight gain. However, if you eat a fair amount of them in a day you may see some “water weight” the next day since sodium increases water retention.

Related Reading:

Things to Consider Before Starting the Diet

Using pickles for weight loss isn’t a hoax and can help you lose weight, but it’s undoubtedly an old fad diet that has risks and is still talked about on occasion. 

Many people who lose weight on a quick-fix or fad diet gain it back because its requirements aren’t sustainable, so they return to their old eating habits and never see long-term success. Therefore, we encourage readers to consider the following before going gung ho on pickles:

  • Pickles should be used as a snack, not as a meal replacement or substitution.
  • Sodium or salt consumption should stay under 2,300 mg per day.
  • Diets should vary. Be sure you get enough vitamins and nutrients from a variety of sources.

So should you eat pickles all day, every day to get skinny? No. But even though it isn’t healthy in the long run, the pickle diet or substitution of snacks for pickles still has potential in moderation. Keep this in mind,  because you’ll likely see it jump in popularity and fade into obscurity once again in your lifetime. 

References

[1] The Honolulu Republica. 21 April 1901. Fashions and Society. Chronicling America. 30 November 2021. Web. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85047165/1901-04-21/ed-1/seq-12/

[2] The University of Rochester Medical Center. Beta-Carotene. 30 November 2021. Web. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=19&contentid=betacarotene 

[3] Tavani A, La Vecchia C. October 1999. Beta-carotene and risk of coronary heart disease. 30 November 2021. Web.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10554676/

[4] Grodstein, F et al. 12 November 2012. A randomized trial of beta carotene supplementation and cognitive function in men: the Physicians’ Health Study II. 30 November 2021. Web. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17998490/

[5] The University of Rochester Medical Center. Beta-Carotene. 30 November 2021. Web. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=19&contentid=betacarotene

[6] Hoover, A. Why is Apple Cider Vinegar so Popular? 30 November 2021. Web. https://extension.wvu.edu/food-health/cooking/apple-cider-vinegar-myths-facts

[7] The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 18 May 2021. High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. 30 November 2021. Web. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm

[8] U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 08 June 2021. Sodium in Your Diet. 30 November 2021. Web. https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.