Health Benefits of Zucchini

As the culinary chameleon of the produce world, zucchini is known for its versatility. The mild flavor of this summer squash pairs well with a wide variety of recipes. Many enthusiasts prize zucchini for its limited calories and high nutrient content.

While it is often thought of and used as a vegetable, zucchini is technically a fruit. As a variety of summer squash, it is harvested and eaten while immature. This sets it apart from other types of squash, as does its soft rind.

Squash is native to Central America and Mexico, but it has also been integral to a wide variety of international cuisines for centuries. Elongated varieties of squash began to appear in Italian kitchens as early as the 1600s, but the first description of the produce with the name "zucchini" did not appear until the early 1900s.

Health Benefits

Zucchini is packed with many important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It has a high fiber content and a low calorie count. Fiber plays an important role in digestion and may limit the likelihood of suffering from a variety of GI issues.

Cancer Prevention

Zucchini contains zeaxanthin and several other compounds that can play a role in preventing oxidative stress. This, in turn, may limit the likelihood of developing cancer.

Diabetes Prevention and Management

Zucchini is rich in vitamin B6. Research suggests that this vitamin can help with regulating blood glucose. The vitamin may even play a protective role against diabetes.

Improved Eye Health

Compounds such as lutein and zeaxanthin protect the eye's cells by filtering blue light wavelengths. A diet rich in these compounds may reduce the risk of developing cataracts or other eye-related health problems.

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Nutrition

Zucchini is rich in multiple antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin. Despite packing a punch with several important nutrients, Zucchini is low in calories, fat, and sugar.

Zucchinis are also a wonderful source of:

Nutrients per Serving

A one-cup serving of raw zucchini contains:

Things to Look Out For

Zucchini is often used as a substitute for pasta or other carb-dense ingredients. While this can dramatically decrease a meal's calorie count, recipes including zucchini can still feature heavy sauces high in calories and fat.

Another potential cause for concern: zucchini allergies are surprisingly common. Symptoms can include diarrhea and nausea, among others.

How to Prepare Zucchini

Zucchinis are often available at grocery stores and farmer's markets. At the supermarket, zucchini can be found fresh or frozen in many forms, including chopped or as thin strips known as "zoodles."

Many people prefer to grow zucchinis in gardens, as they are a highly resilient squash. Ideally, they should be planted in locations that receive at least six hours of sunlight per day. Little effort is required to produce a high yield, although conditions such as excessive heat or limited moisture can produce a slightly bitter flavor.

When stored in a plastic bag in the fridge, zucchini can usually keep for up to one week. It will also keep for up to three months in the freezer.

Whether you grow or purchase zucchini, feel free to use the following ideas to incorporate it in delicious snacks or meals:

  • Use milk, cheese, and flour to create a sauce to toss zucchini in as a lower-carb substitute for mac and cheese.
  • Enjoy zucchini with hummus or Greek yogurt dip.
  • Toss zucchini noodles in your favorite pasta sauce. Add mozzarella cheese and sausage crumbles for extra flavor.
  • Add zucchini to any vegetable stir fry. Flavor with soy sauce or oyster sauce.
  • Create a cheesy egg bake that includes diced zucchini. 
  • Add grated zucchini to a savory pancake mix, which can also include onions and cheese.
  • Include grated zucchini in soy, chickpea, or bean-based veggie burgers. 
  • Blend zucchini into a healthy smoothie with almond milk, banana, and blueberries.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on September 22, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Annals of Botany: "Italian Horticultural and Culinary Records of Summer Squash (Cucurbita Pepo, Cucurbitaceae) and Emergence of the Zucchini in 19th-Century Milan."

International Journal of Molecular Sciences:
"Vitamin B6 and Diabetes—Relationship and Molecular Mechanisms."

Nutrients: "Role of Zucchini and Its Distinctive Components in the Modulation of Degenerative Processes: Genotoxicity, Anti-Genotoxicity, Cytotoxicity and Apoptotic Effects.", "The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health."

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: Allergy Caused by Ingestion of Zucchini (Cucurbita Pepo): Characterization of Allergens and Cross-Reactivity to Pollen and Other Foods

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