Are pickles actually 0 cal?

Pickles are a popular low-calorie food option. Many pickle brands advertise their products as having 0 calories. But is this claim really true? Do pickles contain no calories whatsoever? Let’s take a closer look at the nutrition facts behind pickles.

What are pickles?

Pickles are cucumbers that have been preserved in a solution of vinegar, salt, and spices. This process, known as brining or pickling, extends the shelf life of cucumbers by preventing bacterial growth. The pickling solution penetrates the cucumber’s skin and flesh, altering its texture and flavor.

There are many varieties of pickles:

  • Dill pickles – Cured with dill weed and spices
  • Bread and butter pickles – Sweetened with sugar and spiced with turmeric, mustard seeds, and celery seeds
  • Kosher dill pickles – Cured with garlic and dill according to kosher dietary laws
  • Sweet pickles – Cured with sugar, vinegar, and spices
  • Sour pickles – Cured with vinegar and spices, without added sweeteners
  • Pickle relish – Finely chopped pickled cucumbers
  • Pickled vegetables – Other vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, onions, etc. preserved through pickling

The pickling process can last from several days to several weeks depending on the type of pickle. This allows time for the brining solution to fully penetrate and change the vegetable’s texture and taste.

Do pickles have calories?

Despite many brands advertising 0 calories, most pickles do contain at least some calories:

  • Dill pickles – ~8 calories per ounce
  • Bread and butter pickles – ~13 calories per ounce
  • Sweet pickles – ~20 calories per ounce
  • Pickle relish – ~5 calories per tablespoon

So why do some pickle brands claim 0 calories?

In the United States, food labels can list 0 calories if the product contains less than 5 calories per serving. Since many popular pickle brands have right around 5 calories or fewer per serving, they round down to 0.

But while a few tiny pickle slices might be negligible in calories, a whole jar can add up.

Pickles nutrition facts

Let’s look at the nutrition facts panel for a typical dill pickle to understand where the calories come from:

Serving size 1 medium dill pickle (3 oz)
Calories 8
Total fat 0 g
Sodium 776 mg
Total carbohydrates 2 g
Protein 0 g

As you can see, one medium dill pickle has:

  • 8 calories
  • 0 g fat
  • 2 g carbohydrates
  • 776 mg sodium (33% DV)
  • 0 g protein

The calories in pickles come from carbohydrates. During the pickling process, natural sugars in the cucumbers are drawn out into the brining liquid. Most of this sugar is glucose and fructose.

A 3 ounce dill pickle contains about 2 grams of carb-based calories. Other pickle varieties have slightly more carbs and calories depending on added sweeteners like sugar or corn syrup.

So while pickles are very low in calories, they are not completely 0 calories unless serving sizes are small enough to round down.

Benefits of pickles

Despite not being completely calorie-free, pickles do offer several nutritional benefits:

Low calorie density

Pickles are about 96% water. This makes them a great food option if you’re watching your calorie intake. Pickles provide flavor and crunch without weighing down your daily calorie budget.

Provide electrolytes

Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are essential for nerve transmission, muscle contractions, and maintaining fluid balance. The salty brine of pickles makes them a significant source of dietary electrolytes. One whole dill pickle can contain over 10% of the recommended daily sodium intake.

May improve digestive health

Fermented pickles contain healthy probiotics created during the pickling process. These live microorganisms can improve digestion and gut health. However, this benefit does not apply to pickles preserved using vinegar without fermentation.


Cucumbers contain antioxidant compounds called lignans. Some research indicates that antioxidant capacity of cucumbers actually increases through the pickling process. These antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.

Bone health

Pickles, especially the brine, are a good source of vitamin K1. This essential nutrient supports bone mineralization and reduces fracture risk. One dill pickle can provide over 15% of the recommended daily vitamin K intake.

Downsides of pickles

However, regularly eating pickles does come with some potential downsides:

High sodium

To preserve cucumbers and prevent foodborne illnesses, pickling brine must be very high in salt. Most pickles contain elevated sodium levels. Individuals with high blood pressure or other sodium-sensitive conditions should limit pickle intake and portion sizes.

Added sugar

Some pickle varieties rely on added sugars like high fructose corn syrup for sweetness. The carbohydrates in these sweetened pickles will increase calorie counts. Individuals with diabetes or weight loss goals should be mindful of pickle ingredients.

Acidic and hard on teeth

The vinegar used for pickling creates an acidic environment. Frequent pickle consumption can erode tooth enamel over time and lead to dental cavities. Rinsing with water after eating pickles may help neutralize this acid.

Not a vegetable replacement

While cucumbers are a healthy vegetable, the heavy salt and acidity of pickles make them more of a condiment. Pickles should not replace vegetable intake due to their altered nutritional profile.

Healthiest ways to enjoy pickles

You can incorporate pickles into your diet in healthy and delicious ways by following these tips:

Stick to portion sizes

While the calories in pickles are low, they can add up if you overindulge. Stick within a serving size of 1-3 pickle slices per day.

Choose raw unpackaged pickles when possible

Raw fermented pickles found in refrigerated sections are less processed and retain more nutrients than heavily preserved jarred pickles. They have live probiotic cultures as well.

Make your own pickles

Homemade pickles allow you to control the ingredients list. Skip sweeteners entirely or use modest amounts of sugar. Use healthier oils and spices to flavor.

Enjoy pickle juice in moderation

The brine of pickles contains the highest concentration of sodium, so drink pickle juice sparingly. However, small amounts can be used to add flavor or replenish electrolytes.

Pair with proteins and healthy fats

Eating pickles with foods like lean meats, eggs, avocado, nuts, or seeds can balance out their high sodium content.

Drink water after eating

Follow pickle snacks and meals with water to help neutralize acidity and prevent demineralization of tooth enamel.

Rinse your mouth

Swishing your mouth with plain water after eating pickles can help rinse away acidic residues left on teeth.

Pickling methods

There are a few main methods of pickling cucumbers:

Refrigerator pickles

Quick pickles are made by submerging cucumbers in vinegar-based brine for 1-3 days. These are stored in the refrigerator and retained crunchiness.

Canned pickles

Cucumbers are heat processed in canning jars with hot brine. The sealed jars can be shelf stable for 1-2 years.

Fermented pickles

Cucumbers are submerged in salty brine for 4-6 weeks to ferment. These pickles are tangy and contain probiotics.

Freezer pickles

A vinegar brine is used to quickly pickle cucumbers before freezing them. Thawing softens texture slightly.

The ingredients, acidity levels, and fermentation processes vary across recipes, but the basic premise is preserving cucumbers in a salty, acidic solution.


While many pickle brands advertise 0 calories, most varieties provide at least small amounts of calories, carbohydrates, and sodium. The quantity depends on the size of the pickle. Full sour dill pickles contain around 8 calories each. Sweet pickles are higher at 20 calories apiece.

In moderation, pickles can be part of a healthy diet thanks to their low calorie density, electrolytes, antioxidants, and probiotics. But frequent pickle eaters should be mindful of the risks of excess sodium, sugar, and acidity. Following portion size recommendations and practicing good dental hygiene can help mitigate these risks.

Overall, pickles are a tasty low-calorie snack to enjoy. Just don’t mistake them for a magic zero-calorie food. Pay attention to nutrition labels, ingredients, and serving sizes to get the full picture. With a little mindfulness, pickles can add flavor and variety to your diet without derailing your health goals.

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