The cucumber diet has been trending recently and shares its premise with the more popular celery juice diet. That is, it takes a low-calorie vegetable and turns it into a short-term weight loss hero, which might be why it is also known as the 7kg in 7 days diet.
While there doesn’t appear to be one website or entity who own the diet, it appears to work the same way as most other fad diets – by severely restricting calorie intake.
The diet doesn’t specifically outline a list of foods to avoid but places no limit on cucumber intake, and states that all meals and snacks should be created around cucumbers. It allows some protein-rich foods such as chicken, fish, eggs and nuts as complements to cucumbers, and other low-calorie fruits and vegetables like tomato, spinach and celery are allowed. Small amounts of good fats are encouraged, and good quality carbs can be included if needed (and believe me, you’ll need it!).
Here’s an example of a day on the diet plan
Breakfast – 2 eggs + sliced cucumber and spinach
Snack – cucumber sticks + 1/3 cup Greek yoghurt
Lunch – tomato and cucumber salad with tuna and 1 cup brown rice
Snack – cucumber sticks + 15 almonds
Dinner – roast chicken with cucumber and fresh herb salad + squeeze of lemon juice
By focusing on only one vegetable however, the diet lacks variety and nutrients and encourages restrictive eating, which may be detrimental to physical and mental health and is ultimately unsustainable.
The health properties of cucumbers
Cucumbers are made up mostly of water ~96g per 100g, so they are very hydrating and very low in calories (~12kcal / 100g or a small cucumber).
However, they provide only a small amount of nutrients including potassium, vitamin K and vitamin C, and are very low in other nutrients essential for good health (and good gut health) including fibre, fat, protein, iron and zinc.
Are there health benefits to following the cucumber diet?
As the diet is very low in calories, it will likely lead to quick weight loss in the short-term, although there are no studies that have proven this effect. Most weight loss on the scale would be due to a reduction in glycogen (stored carbohydrate in the muscles and liver) and water in the body. This will be quickly regained when reverting to a regular diet.
All veggies are bulky, and cucumbers are no exception. They require chewing which signals our satiety (fullness) hormones and fills up the space in our stomach, which is why they help us to feel full. Ultimately, there are no problems with eating cucumbers as part of a balanced diet; it is only when they become your primary source of nutrition that problems may arise.
What are the dangers of following the cucumber diet?
Restrictive diets that encourage filling up on low calorie foods are synonymous with disordered eating behaviours and may, paradoxically, lead to weight gain in the longer term as well as compensatory behaviours such as excessive exercise and laxative abuse. Cutting out food groups can leave the body under nourished and lead to feelings of irritability, fatigue, deprivation and even depression. These kinds of diets are notoriously difficult to stick to and end up leaving people on a physical and emotional rollercoaster when it comes to their relationship with their weight and food.
The diet recommends around 800 Calories (3350kJ) per day, with some versions even more restrictive, which may lead to the metabolism slowing and ‘holding’ weight as the body adjusts to ‘starvation’.
While cucumbers contain a small amount of nutrients, they are not nutritionally complete and long-term adherence to such a diet could lead to nutrient deficiencies and health problems. Including protein at each meal may help but the lack of variety is the big problem.
Limiting plant intake may have negative impacts on the gut microbiota, especially if the diet is reduced to just one plant. Recent research on the gut microbiome suggests including 30 different plant foods per week helps increase the diversity of the gut microbiota, and the more diverse the microbiota, the better for optimal health.
The impact on self-esteem must also be considered, when all the lost weight is regained once the diet becomes unachievable to maintain.
Not to mention the lack of enjoyment in food and connecting with others over a meal. Humans are social creatures and living off cucumbers is certainly not a very sociable way to live!
For more information about Nicole Dynan and her work on gut health head to tghd.com.au