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Zero Calorie Foods

Are Pickles Zero Calorie or Negative Calorie Foods? (Explained)

There is a seemingly endless debate among nutritionists and pickle lovers on whether eating pickled foods gives you zero calories or negative calories.

This is understandable because the pickle diet has been hyped for decades as the best for weight loss and healthy living.

But do pickles really have zero calories or even negative calories when eaten, as some nutrition quarters claim?

The simple answer is NO. This is because the methods used to calculate calories you get from consuming a meal is dependent on the portion taken, the ingredients used in pickling, and other intrinsic factors such as chewing.

The chewing factor is what brings about the contentious nutritional issue of negative calories that I will explain later here.

For definition purposes, I will refer you to my previous article here in which I defined pickles with some examples.

Since most people know pickles as cucumbers preserved in salt solution, I will use cucumber pickles as a reference throughout this article.

How are Calories Measured?

A calorie is measured as the amount of energy (in form of heat) required to raise a unit of water (say 1 gram) to a unit temperature reading (say 1 oF).

You will see this in food nutritional profiles denoted as {20 kcal per 100g}.

In nutritional terms, it is a measure of all the energy stored in a portion of food or in our body tissues.

Typically, most plants store starch and fats in their cells which they metabolize or break down into food for growth and development.

The same happens to animals and humans.

This starch is usually the source of energy after it is broken down through a series of complex metabolic processes.

In food nutrition, calories are measured by the amounts consumed from food (carbs) and the amounts stored in our bodies.

All these provide the body with the energy to perform the numerous physical and metabolic functions such as digestion, excretion, and movement.

What are Zero Calorie Foods?

These are foods that theoretically add no calories into your body when consumed in a measure of one serving.

The foods in this category contain no simple carbs, fats, proteins, or alcohol in their structure.

The one serving measure is important here because that is where all the confusion about zero-calorie foods come in.

There is a common practice in the global food manufacturing industry where the regulators allow manufacturers to declare food as zero-calorie if the amount of calories in one serving is less than 5 and the food is fat-free.

For instance, one serving of a dill pickle with 0.84 kcal could still be declared as zero-calorie in 10 servings even though, in reality, the calories add up to 8.4g.

This rounding down of nutrients gives manufacturers the leeway to either label the negligible nutrients as “trace” or “zero” with respect to the serving size they package their product.

In the US, the serving portions and declaration of nutrients are regulated by the FDA, and this can be found in their food data resource.

What are Negative Calorie Foods?

Negative calorie foods are foods that theoretically take more calories from your body than they bring in.

In essence, you burn more calories chewing and digesting these foods than you actually gain from them.

Pickles are always associated with the negative calorie phenomenon due to their fibrous nature.

Nutritionists believe that your body burns more calories when chewing the fibrous cellulose in pickled cucumbers than it actually gains from the low calories in them.

This theory is still debatable, and no sufficient scientific evidence has been put forward to support it strongly.

Why do Pickles have Zero Calories?

Pickles are considered zero-calorie foods because the amount of calories in one serving portion is usually below the regulatory threshold of calories that can be rounded down to zero.

Their fat content is also 0g per serving, and they are known to have negligible amounts of proteins.

If you look at the USDA pickle’s nutritional profile, you will see that they contain 12 kcal per 100g serving.

This is, however, never listed in pickle labels.

It is the industry regulations that allow manufacturers to label them as zero-calorie even though there are traces of calories present.

With that said, it is thus not true that they have absolutely zero calories, as many people are made to believe.

Why Cucumbers have Calories and Pickles Don’t

If you may recall the procedure of making pickles in my previous article, you will see where this concern is coming from.

The simple reason why cucumbers are said to have more calories than pickles, yet they are almost the same products lies in the chemical changes that occur as a result of the pickling process.

As noted earlier, pickles are simply fermented cucumbers.

Cucumbers, just like any other plants, store food in form of carbohydrates in their cells.

These carbs are used as food for their seeds as described earlier in one of my articles here.

When cucumbers are preserved in salt solution, they undergo a process known as Lacto-fermentation where lactic acid bacteria in the solution break down the carbs in cucumbers into lactic acid.

This means that the end product (which is a pickle) will have very little carbs left.

Since calories are directly associated with the amount of carbs in a food product, the pickles will have way lower calories than whole unpickled cucumbers.

Also, cucumbers do not fall under the same level of calories as pickles, where they can be rounded down.

They are usually given larger serving sizes than pickles, which means their calorie levels are higher than the levels allowed to be rounded down.

Therefore, the regulations guiding the labeling of cucumbers are not usually similar to those used in pickles.

Why Eating Pickles Doesn’t Amount to Zero or Negative Calories

As controversial as it may sound, scientific facts have shown that your pickles are not actually zero-rated when it comes to calories.

This is due to the serving reasons described earlier, and other reasons such as the ingredients used to make the pickle.

For instance, one serving of a pickle diet can have the said 0.84 kcal, which is technically considered a zero-calorie diet.

But theoretically, if you consume, say 20 such portions, you should still be at zero calories; right?

This, in reality, is not the case since the trace calories in the 20 portions add up to a bigger and more significant number.

Another reason why you don’t get zero or negative calories when eating pickles is due to some additional ingredients commonly used.

Some pickles are made with other ingredients such as sugar, vinegar, oils, and some food coloring.

These additional ingredients add some levels of carbs to pickles giving them some significant amounts of calories.

So if you want lower-calorie pickles, you should stick to the traditional ones that are prepared with just brine and cucumbers.

Final Word

This article is not a way of raising an alarm and keeping you away from your favorite diet of pickles.

In fact, pickles are known to be the best foods for healthy dieting and weight loss.

It is just a way to clear some pickle myths that may be misleading while on your dieting journey.

As much as we have debunked the pickles’ zero-calorie myth, I must add that the calories in pickles are usually very insignificant to an active person.

The serving sizes are also arrived at through extensive research on what an average person consumes in a meal.

This is done by regulatory agencies through scientifically proven methods that are all-inclusive.

It is thus acceptable to assume that the calories in pickles are technically non-existent but be aware of the metrics used to arrive at those conclusions.

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