Jen Miller |
The zucchini is actually a type of summer squash, with a creamy, white flesh and a crisp green skin that’s chock full of nutrients. The summer squash, or zucchini, makes a great addition to summer meals, when the plant is in season. Fortunately, zucchini are available year-round, and can be used in your culinary plans for any season of the year!
What makes zucchini so special?
Each variety of zucchini may come in a different shape, size, or colour, but the general nutritional benefits are pretty much the same. All parts of a summer squash are edible – the skin, the seeds, and the skin. Some types of summer squash even have edible flowers that add extra nutrition to the vegetable. Summer squash, unfortunately, aren’t as durable as winter squash. They’re much softer, and exire a lot faster – so don’t think about storing them on the windowsill for months at a time!
Summer squash are an excellent source of carotenoids – a family of nutrients that make up what we commonly call vitamin A. Some study groups report that zucchini provides the primary source of carotenoids out of any vegetable in the group’s entire diet! Summer squash are also on the top 3 providers of lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin, three other key antioxidants that are revered for their nutritional benefit.
What kind of health benefits does zucchini have?
One of the key important qualities about the zucchini is that it’s incredibly efficient in terms of calories. Zucchinis are composed, calorically, of almost entirely carbohydrates – a type of carbs that we once thought were pretty much useless in terms of health benefits, known as polysaccharides.
Polysaccharides were considered to be stagnant energy forms that we couldn’t get much use from. More recent studies have shown that zucchinis have polysaccharides that are high in pectin, which is shown to protect against diabetes by regulating our body’s ability to produce insulin.
Aside from being able to fight off diabetes with their carbohydrate content, zucchinis are great at a lot of things. They have many antioxidants which can fight off cancer and keep the body looking young, they keep our blood sugar in check, and they have anti-inflammatory properties. There’s a lot of good reasons to eat zucchini.
The most prominent nutrients in a zucchini are:
- Copper, containing 21% of our daily intake. Copper is useful for maintaining the integrity of our bones and tissues, as well as helping our body produce its own antioxidants and make good use of the antioxidants we consume in food.
- Manganese, containing 19% of our daily intake. Manganese is further responsible for maintaining our bones and tissues, as well as helping to regulate blood sugar.
These two nutrients, as well as the others that zucchinis contain (vitamin C, magnesium, fiber, phosphorus, potassium, folate, vitamins B1, B3, and B6, vitamin K, and trace amounts of zinc, calcium, vitamin B2, iron, and choline) make the zucchini particularly great for helping your bones grow strong. Vegetarians who don’t want to consume milk might want to make sure they eat lots of zucchini!
To get into a bit more detail about the specific benefits of zucchinis, we’ll have to look at each health prospect in detail.
Zucchini are great for blood sugar
There are a whole bunch of nutrients in zucchini that benefit human blood sugar regulation.
- The B-complex vitamins are all critically important for the metabolism of sugar. They convert carbohydrates into energy to be used by the body. Without them, we’ll have a difficult time making good use of carbs, which can lead to blood sugar spikes and diabetes.Fortunately, zucchini are high in quite a few B-complex vitamins – B6, B1, B2, B3, and choline.Zinc is also important for the regulation of blood sugar.
- Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in many functions of blood, not the least of which is blood sugar regulation.
- Magnesium is important for helping your body maintain a healthy blood pressure level, as well as helping the body make better use of carbohydrates.
Conclusion: Zucchinis contain a good variety of nutrients that target blood sugar, helping the body metabolize sugar more efficiently and make better use of the carbohydrates it consumes.
2. Zucchini specifically fights diabetes
Another benefit of the zucchini is its specific benefits in fighting diabetes. Any blood sugar improvement is a good way to fight against diabetes, but zucchinis specifically protect and lower the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
One reason zucchinis are great for preventing diabetes is because of their high fiber content. They contain about 2 and a half grams of fiber per cup, but not just regular soluble and insoluble fiber.
Zucchini contains polysaccharide fibers, including pectin, which we mentioned earlier, which especially benefits blood sugar. The components in this particular type of fiber, known as D-galacturonic chains, help your body make better use of insulin.
- Insulin is the hormone the body produces in response to carbohydrate intake. An insensitivity to insulin means the body can’t process carbs effectively and must constantly deal with blood sugar spikes, leading to diabetes.
Conclusion: In addition to the nutrients that zucchini provides to fight high blood sugar, it also contains a good amount of a specific type of fiber – polysaccharide fiber – that’s known to help ward off type 2 diabetes by helping the body use its insulin.
3. Zucchini is a good anti-inflammatory
One of the other well-known aspects of the zucchini is that it’s a good weapon against inflammation.
Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to perceived pathogens. The body sends inflammation responses to the targeted areas in an attempt to flush out any pathogens. Inflammation triggers are sometimes given when they’re not needed,which can lead to unpleasant inflammation and detriments to various organs or tissue systems.
Several of the nutrients in summer squash target unnecessary inflammation.
- Omega-3 fats are good anti-inflammatory agents, and can also prevent hardening of the arteries.
- Some of the carotenoids, like lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene, are all good anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
- The polysaccharides in the fiber that we mentioned earlier also show evidence of being good anti-inflammatory agents.
Studies show zucchini to be effective at treating inflammation of the cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal tract especially well. This makes it particularly useful at fighting gastric ulcers and duodenal ulcers, which can develop into painful sores that make eating difficult or unpleasant.
Furthermore, and to reaffirm the previous health benefit, unwanted inflammation is sometimes a cause for the development of type-2 diabetes. This makes zucchini an even more powerful fighter against diabetes!
Conclusion: Those who worry about their body’s inflammatory reaction should look to zucchini, since it provides a healthy amount of inflammation fighting antioxidants and nutrients.
4. Zucchini is a good antimicrobial agent
Summer squash have been used for quite some time as a botanical antimicrobial. The seeds, in particular, have been used for many years in folk medicine.
- Summer squash seeds are good at fighting parasites.
- Dried summer squash seeds are still used around the world for treating intestinal parasites such as tapeworms, though there are few studies published in reputable journals to confirm how well this works.
The benefits seen from summer squash seeds can be much more effective if extracted oils are used, or if the seeds are consumed in higher amounts than one would typically find in the average diet.
Conclusion: The seeds of zucchini or extracts made from the seeds can be very ogo day fighting off bacteria and other microbial pathogens.
5. Summer squash is good for helping the prostate
The zucchini is good for helping the prostate function as a healthy organ, particularly by bolstering non-cancerous growth. The seeds are most respected for this specific function.
Doing this decreases the frequency of urination that’s commonly found in men who suffer from a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH.) Again, these findings are from traditional folk medicine and are primarily anecdotal.
Like the zucchini’s ability to fight parasites, it’s likely that increasing the amount of seeds consumed beyond what you’d find in the average diet will show a more significant impact on the health of your prostate.
Conclusion: Consuming a healthy amount of zucchini seeds or extracts from the seeds can help men strengthen their prostate as well as eliminate symptoms of certain prostate related illness.
6. Summer squash might fight cancer
Zucchini contains a lot of antioxidants, as well as a lot of inflammation fighting nutrients. Guess what? Oxidation and unwanted inflammation are two of the major causes of cancer.
Summer squash would, then, be a very good choice of nutrients for those hoping to ward off cancer with their diet. Not consuming enough antioxidants leads to excessive oxidation of the body’s cells and organs; an immune system left unchecked without the proper nutrients might continually plague a person’s body with an unneeded inflammation response.
Zucchini’s been shown to be particularly useful in the fight against colon cancer because of its high fiber content. Fiber’s a useful tool for preventing colon cancer for a couple of reasons.
- Fiber absorbs excess moisture and liquid from the colon, which helps the body’s fecal matter maintain enough moisture to be passed easily. Stool not being passed, or other issues relating to the state of the colon’s hydration, can cause colon cancer, and fiber is great at preventing this.
- A daily intake of between 20 and 35 grams of fiber is shown to be very helpful in helping fight colon cancer. FIber helps the intestine maintain a healthy level of mucous which protects the fragile tissue from damage. Both soluble and insoluble fiber can be helpful for this.
- Fiber not only helps prevent colon cancer, but constipation as well.
Conclusion: Through a number of mechanisms, zucchini has shown itself to be a fairly effective cancer fighter, particularly in the intestine. Zucchini has a huge amount of fiber which is very helpful in this regard.
7. Zucchini helps you lose weight
Zucchini’s a pretty good vegetable to have on your plate if you want to lose weight.
The vegetable’s extremely low in calories, but the high fiber content of zucchini means that you’ll feel full faster. Soluble fiber has a way of making you fill up quickly, because it mixes with fluid in your stomach to form a thick, starchy substance. This substance takes a while to digest, and while it’s sitting in your stomach, you’ll feel like you’ve eaten more than you actually have.
Zucchini’s also high in water, another good substance to consume if you want to feel full without actually eating a lot. This makes zucchinis very versatile in a lot of different diet plans, particularly for those who are looking to develop a low-calorie intake.
Conclusion: Dieters, look no further than the zucchini! Its high fiber content and the large amount of water present in the vegetable make it an ideal low-calorie source for vegetarians and people trying to lose weight.
8. Zucchini is great for cardiovascular health
Two nutrients present in zucchini that are great for the cardiovascular system are vitamin C and manganese.
- Vitamin C is just a great all-around nutrient that basically improves the function of every other nutrient you consume. It’s an antioxidant that fights off diseases in the cardiovascular system
- Manganese deficiency is highly linked to diabetes, and supplementing with this nutrient, or getting it through a healthy supply of vegetables, can be crucial for preventing the disease.
- The omega-3s in zucchini are great for helping the body cleanse itself of LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol – a low-density lipoprotein. It can quite easily stick to the walls of the arteries, or slip into the epithelium (arterial wall) through damaged areas and cause problems. Omega-3s help to sweep LDL from the blood stream.
This makes the zucchini great at fighting many cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis and diabetes. The magnesium further helps to reduce risk of strokes or heart attacks; magnesium’s effects are made even stronger when combined with potassium, which is present in the zucchini as well.
Antioxidants in zucchini help prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which can be a very destructive problem leading to cancer of the heart or other cardiovascular problems.
Fiber further helps reduce cholesterol by helping the body excrete excess cholesterol through its bile; fiber passes through the intestine where old bits of bile attach to it. If there’s no fiber present, the bile may end up cycling through the liver over and over, becoming more toxic and gathering more cholesterol each time.
Folate is great for helping prevent heart disease. it is used by the body to help eliminate homocysteine, a hormone which, when produced in excess, can cause issues leading to heart attacks and strokes.
There have been studies linked to a deficiency of riboflavin and a higher incidence of cardiac disease, as well as a higher chance of giving birth to children with defects. Zucchini contains significant amounts of riboflavin which can help to combat this.
Conclusion: Among its other benefits, zucchini has shown itself particularly good at fighting of cardiovascular diseases by eliminating cholesterol, by providing a lot of different antioxidants and by providing lots of fiber for our diet.
9. Zucchini is great for the eyes
Move over, carrots – zucchini has a fantastic combination of eye-healing nutrients as well.
The two particular nutrients of interest are carotenoids – lutein and zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin is the only antioxidant that’s actually present in the tissue of the human eyeball, so making sure you have an ample supply of this antioxidant in your diet will help ensure you have good vision.
Consuming zucchinis on the regular can help reduce the chance of developing cataracts, or age-related disorders such as macular degeneration. Often, these diseases have very few, if any, warning signs, so it’s good to make sure you get enough nutrients in order to prevent their development.
It’s also been suggested that a low fat diet is good for the health of your eyes. Zucchini’s a prime candidate to include in a low-fat, low calorie diet.
Conclusion: Zucchini is another vegetable that can take the stage with the carrot in terms of its ability to fight off eye disease and degeneration.
10. Zucchini helps to fight asthma
Vitamin C is contained in high enough amounts in zucchini to help fight against, and even cure, asthma.
Zucchini, being a potent anti-inflammatory food, is also good at fighting asthma by reducing the instance of inflammation attacks. Asthma is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes which we use for breathing, and having them inflamed can make it tough to bring oxygen in and out of our body.
Vitamin C is also shown to prevent hypersensitivity of the bronchial airways, which can be a precursor or a warning sign of asthma. Vitamin C’s commonly regarded as an efficient cure for the common cold, which is marked by a lot of respiratory symptoms – it makes sense that it would be good for asthma, as well!
Conclusion: Zucchini contains some nutrients that are good bronchodilators, meaning they open up the airways in our lungs and can ease symptoms of asthma.
11. Zucchini improves digestion
Zucchini also makes a great digestive aid.
One study shows that green vegetables like zucchini promote digestion through a number of mechanisms.
Fiber is a huge culprit for the benefit of your digestive system
- Insoluble fiber helps speed up the passage of water through your intestines. If water’s traveling quickly through your digestive tract, any harmful substances in the water receive minimal contact time with the tissues in your system.
- Having enough fiber in your diet helps ensure you pass stool regularly and it’s not uncomfortable.
- It also helps your body get rid of cholesterol and toxic bile.
Make sure you introduce fiber into your diet gradually, if you’re not already consuming it regularly. Doing this too fast can cause cramping and gas.
Conclusion: People who have, or who are at risk of developing digestive issues might want to consider adding zucchini into the vegetables they consume in their diets. Zucchinis have a number of nutrients that are great for improving digestion.
12. Zucchini is a champion at regulating blood pressure
High blood pressure’s an extremely common malady in today’s day and age. It’s a result of tons of different factors – stress, diet, exercise, sleep, you name it.
Zucchini’s great at helping your body regulate blood sugar, the most important reason being that It’s a good source of potassium.
- Potassium is one of the most popular nutrients for lowering blood pressure in chronic conditions. Zucchini even has a higher amount of potassium than bananas, which are renown for their high potassium content.
- Potassium is also shown to counter the harmful cardiovascular effects of consuming too much sodium. This can be a major factor contributing to heart attacks.
- Potassium is one of the main electrolytes required by the human body. Electrolytes are used to help balance other electrolytes; in particular, potassium balances with sodium at a 2:1 ratio. Considering how much sodium the average person consumes, it can be shown easily that we should consume potassium regularly!
Conclusion: As if its great ability to modulate blood sugar wasn’t enough, the zucchini is also great at regulating blood pressure. This can prevent certain cardiovascular diseases and other unpleasant symptoms of high blood pressure.
13. Zucchini can prevent aging
The antioxidants in zucchinis are great for helping slow the signs of aging. Considering that the anti-aging industry is thriving, you might be surprised at how effective a simple zucchini can be.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, those two antioxidants we keep mentioning, are also great at helping keep your body looking young. They prevent the body from creating free radicals – destructive components of cells that are damaged at the atomic level and seek to steal electrons from neighbouring atoms, creating a destructive reaction. Oxidation in the skin can lead to wrinkles, liver spots, and other age-related blemishes. Lutein also has protective properties that fight off the damage done to the skin by UV rays.
These two antioxidants also keep the cells inside the body looking young. They strengthen the cell walls and membranes, and by preventing oxidation, allow the cells to function much longer and more effectively.
Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant that displays similar properties – slowing the aging of cells in various parts of the human body.
Riboflavin is an important nutrient for keeping various parts of the body looking young and healthy – skin, hair, fingernails, and the mucus membranes inside the mouth, nose, eyes, etc. It also helps prevent mental aging by keeping the brain functioning well, fighting off diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Conclusion: Zucchini is a great vegetable for beauty queens – it can slow down the process of aging, physically and mentally, by improving the health of your skin, eliminating blemishes, and by improving the strength of your brain and slowing the onset of degenerative mental problems.
14. Zucchini can strengthen your bones and teeth
Zucchinis are another viable option for providing your bones and teeth with the right nutrients to grow strong.
Again, lutein and zeaxanthin play an important role here. They strengthen the bones as well as improve the flow of oxygen to and from by improving the strength of red blood cells.
Zucchinis contain vitamin K, another nutrient responsible for the development of strong bones.
Magnesium is stored mostly in the bones and teeth of the human body. There, it helps ensure the strength of your chompers and bones.
Conclusion: Zucchini contains great antioxidants and vitamin K, which are all helpful in the formation and maintenance of strong and healthy bones and teeth in humans.
15. Zucchini are great for pregnant women
Maintaining a good intake of B-vitamins is super important for someone who’s pregnant. Zucchinis provide a great source of different B-vitamins, which help maintain energy and balance the mood during these hormonal times.
Folic acid, present in zucchinis, is shown to reduce the instance of birth defects in newborn babies, particularly anencephaly in which a baby is born without a big chunk of its brain. Folate is also useful because it helps pregnant women maintain a stable red blood cell count. Red blood cells help blood circulate, and without proper blood circulation, their baby won’t be able to receive any nutrients.
Magnesium is an important nutrient during pregnancy because it’s shown to reduce the chance of gestosis or premature birth in women who are susceptible to these things.
Pregnant women require extra folate in their first trimester, so it’s good to start supplementing prior to a planned pregnancy, or as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. 400 mcg is a healthy recommended amount for a woman expecting a baby.
Conclusion: Pregnant women should definitely include zucchini in their list of vegetables to eat during their pregnancy – zucchini are shown to slow the chances of birth-related defects and improve the health of babies.
16. Zucchini is good for keeping us smart
Folate’s the main nutrient responsible for zucchinis being a brain-food, but several other nutrients are important as well, including choline and vitamin C.
Folate helps to keep the cells of the body producing DNA at a healthy level, without producing mutations. Mutations at a genetic level can leave lasting imprints on the function of a cell, and can be nearly impossible to heal.
Folate also helps to regulate our mood through a variety of mechanisms.
Another surprising way zucchinis can improve our brain’s health is with the high amount of water they contain. Our brains are made of mostly water, so keeping yourself hydrates is optimal for maintaining your brain health. Hydration ensures you can focus, think fast, and be more creative.
Water is also crucial for allowing your body to transport nutrients to and from your brain, as well as eliminating toxins that could impede the function of your brain.
Zucchini contains three more brain-healthy nutrients that are well studied – vitamin C, zinc, and the omega-3 fatty acids.
Conclusion: Zucchini is a great vegetable for making sure we stay smart! It contains a number of nutrients that all improve the function and efficiency of our brains.
17. Zucchini enhances your immune system
The most obvious reason for this is because of its strong vitamin C content.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, helps the body produce T cells. T cells are a type of white blood cell that help fight against diseases – without them, you will have much weaker bodily defenses.
Being an antioxidant keeps some strain off the immune system because it uses less energy to deal with oxidative damage; being an anti-inflammatory means that it can free up time and energy the immune system uses when it triggers unneeded inflammation.
Scurvy – vitamin C deficiency – is strongly linked to infection to the degree that HIV patients are often recommended vitamin C to enhance their vulnerable immune systems.
Conclusion: As well as all the other benefits on this list – and, partially, because of them- zucchini are great at enhancing your immune system. At the very least, consuming such a variety of nutrients helps your body ward off diseases more effectively.
Selecting and storing zucchini for maximum benefit
While eating zucchini is great pretty much any way you decide to do it, there are a few techniques and tricks you’ll want to know about before you go and buy out the grocery store’s stock. Like any vegetable, summer squash have some specific ways they like to be stored, cooked, and prepared, to maintain the maximum benefit.
First, you’ll want to make sure you get quality zucchini! Good ones will be shiny and unblemished, as well as being fairly dense in terms of weight. You don’t necessarily want the biggest ones – summer squash that are too big might be too fibrous to eat, and tiny ones might not be ripe enough to have maximum flavour.
Zucchini, despite being a physically hardy vegetable, become quite vulnerable if they’re punctured. Any small scrapes can lead to quickly decaying vegetables which lose nutrition and can become dangerous.
Zucchini should be stored unwashed, in a sealed container in the fridge. Try not to store them for more than a week. Refrigerating summer squash is good for a few reasons.
- Several nutrients in the zucchini are sensitive to heat, particularly vitamin C, vitamin B6, and some of the carotenoids that make up vitamin A.
- Freezing zucchini makes the flesh a lot softer, making for a less pleasant texture.
- Freezing is a good method for storing excess squash, though, and the antioxidants in squash are preserved very well when frozen.
First, wash your zucchini in cold water. Cut off the ends – you can save these for soup stock, if you desire.
Steaming is the healthiest method for cooking zucchini, aside from a healthy sautè as recommended by the World’s Healthiest Foods. A healthy saute minimizes the vegetable’s exposure to heat and thus minimizes the nutrient degradation, it uses a slow cooking time, and uses as little surface contact as possible during the cooking process.
- Heat up 3 tablespoons of veggie broth and add your zucchini after it’s been sliced. SautÀ for a minute and a half, flip, and sautè the other half for another minute and a half.
Zucchini can be used in a number of quick recipes for a snack – you don’t always need to prepare a huge recipe or get prepared to use a bunch of ingredients just to eat your summer squash.
- Grated zucchini makes a great topping for salads
- Grated or spiral-cut zucchini is a good addition to salads, providing a subtle crunch and deep flavour
- Raw squash, cut into slices, is great when served with hummus.
The zucchini is a great, versatile vegetable that can be used in many culinary preparations and in a whole lot of medicinal ways. Its health benefits are undeniable, its flavour is impeccable, and it’s earned its place as one of the world’s healthiest vegetables.