Getting Fit With Zucchini

Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) is a summer squash. It is a variety of the same species as acorn squash, delicata squash, dodi marrow, gem squash, heart of gold squash, Kamo Kamo, pattypan squash, pumpkin, spaghetti squash, sweet dumpling squash, yellow crookneck squash, and yellow summer squash. In turn, they are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with chayotewatermelon, cucumber, horned melon, muskmelon, cantaloupe, Persian melon, Korean melon, canary melon, casaba, Hami melon, honeydew, kolkhoznitsa melon, Santa Claus melon, sugar melon, tiger melon, Japanese melons, galia, sharlyn melons, Crenshaws, and crane melons.

Like all squashes, zucchini are native to the Americas. Squash cultivation dates back to at least 7,000 BC, in what is now Mexico and Guatemala, and they were an important part of the ancient American diet of corn, beans, and squash, the “three sisters” of Native American culture.

European explorers who came to the Americas brought squash back to Europe along with other foods that were new to them. The varieties of squash typically called “zucchini” were developed in Italy, probably in the very late 19th century, near Milan.

The French call it courgette, a name that has been adopted by the English, who also refer to a larger, plumper variety as vegetable marrow. The first records of zucchini in the United States date to the early 1920s. It was almost certainly brought over by Italian immigrants and probably was first cultivated in the United States in California. Today zucchini is grown in Argentina, Turkey, China, Japan, Romania, and Italy, among other places.

Zucchini is very low in calories and contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. Zucchini can:

  1. Help you stay fit. One cup of zucchini has 36 calories and 10% of the Daily Value (DV) of fiber, which aids in digestion, prevents constipation, maintains proper blood sugar, and curbs overeating. Your body also depends on vitamin B6 to process carbohydrates. Vitamin B6 is especially important in helping break down glycogen (a special form of starch) stored in your muscle cells and to a lesser extent in your liver. Carbohydrate processing plays a key role in physical performance, especially in endurance athletic events. It also helps maintain normal blood sugar every day. Vitamin B6 also ensures that you metabolize fats and proteins efficiently.
  2. Lower cholesterol. The fiber in zucchini helps lower cholesterol by attaching itself to bile acids that your liver makes from cholesterol for digesting fat. Because fiber binds so well with bile acid, thus crowding its ability to immediately digest fat, your liver must produce more bile acid, using cholesterol that it pulls out of your blood, lowering the overall cholesterol level in your body. Furthermore, the high levels of vitamin C and vitamin A prevent cholesterol from oxidizing in your blood vessels, preventing the onset of atherosclerosis.
  3. Prevent cancer. Because fiber promotes healthy and regular bowel movements, the high amounts of fiber in zucchini also help prevent carcinogenic toxins from settling in your colon and help prevent colon cancer. The vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as folate, in zucchini are also powerful antioxidants that fight oxidative stress that can lead to many different types of cancer. Lutein and zeaxanthin in zucchini also defend your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, and protect your eyes from developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Manganese in zucchini is essential for superoxide dismutase, an enzyme with antioxidant activity that protects your tissues from the damaging effects of free radicals. This enzyme is found exclusively inside your mitochondria (oxygen-based energy factories inside most of your cells). Riboflavin in zucchini also acts as an antioxidant, potentially helping to prevent cancer and slow cholesterol buildup by controlling the proliferation of harmful free radicals.
  4. Fight chronic inflammation. Vitamins C and A are not only powerful antioxidants, they’re also effective anti-inflammatory agents. Along with the copper in zucchini, these vitamins deter the development of many chronic inflammatory disorders, including asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. Prevent heart attack and stroke. A one-cup serving of zucchini contains over 10% of the DV of magnesium, a mineral proven to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Zucchini also provides folate, a vitamin that helps you break down the dangerous amino acid homocysteine, which – if levels in your body shoot up – can contribute to heart attack and stroke. Vitamin B6 in zucchini can also help keep homocysteine levels low. In addition, diets high in vitamin B6-rich foods are associated with overall lower rates of heart disease, even when homocysteine levels are normal, most likely because of all the other beneficial activities of this vitamin.
  6. Lower blood pressure. Along with magnesium, the potassium in zucchini helps lower blood pressure. If unchecked, hypertension, or high blood pressure, can lead to arteriosclerosis (blood vessel damage), heart attack, stoke, and many other serious medical conditions. Both the potassium and magnesium in zucchini, however, can help alleviate the stress on your circulatory system.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Zucchini

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin C 17.9 mg 30%
vitamin B6 0.163 mg 13%
manganese 0.177 mg 8%
vitamin A 200 IU 7%
riboflavin 0.094 mg 7%
folate 24 µg 6%
potassium 261 mg 5.5%
phosphorus 38 mg 5%
iron 0.37 mg 5%
pantothenic acid 0.204 mg 5%
magnesium 18 mg 4%
vitamin K 4.3 µg 4%
thiamine 0.045 mg 4%
fiber 1 g 3%
niacin 0.451 mg 3%
zinc 0.32 mg 3%
copper 0.1 mg 3%
carbohydrates 3.11 g 2.5%
protein 1.21 g 2%
choline 9.5 mg 2%
calcium 16 mg 1.6%
fat 0.32 g 1%
Calories 17 0.85%
vitamin E 0.12 mg 0.8%
sodium 8 mg 0.5%
selenium 0.2 µg 0.36%
cholesterol 0 mg 0%
lutein-zeaxanthin 2125 µg
carotene-ß 120 µg

Zucchini is available throughout the year, but it’s at its best during late spring and summer. Look for zucchini that’s about 4-8 inches long, less than 2 inches in diameter, and looks firm and shiny with no breaks or cracks. Large, older fruit will be tough and bitter; the best way to use very large zucchini is in zucchini bread. Avoid overly mature, large zucchini with pitted skin or those with a flabby or spongy texture. Also avoid those with soft and wrinkled ends as they indicate age and dehydration. Select organically grown zucchini to ensure rich flavor and nutrient content without added pesticides.

At home, place zucchini in bag and store them inside the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator set with adequate moisture. You can keep zucchini in the refrigerator for up to one week, but they are best if you use them within 2-3 days.

When you’re ready to use them,  wash zucchini thoroughly in cold, running water. Sometimes they may require a light scrub. Slice both ends off. You do not need to peel them. Shred or grate raw zucchini into salads, or cut it into spears for vegetable platters. Grill zucchini by slicing it lengthwise, spritzing it with olive oil, sprinkling both sides with seasonings, and grilling on a barbecue or grill pan for about 5 minutes on each side until crisp-tender. Saute zucchini with onions, garliceggplantyellow and orange pepperstomatoes, and basil for ratatouille, and serve over brown rice. Or saute simply with onions and green peppers for calabacitas, the Central American squash dish that can be served at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Zucchini mixes well with potatoes, carrots, asparagus, green beans, and other vegetables in stews, soups, and curries. Try it in my Lentil Minestrone.

Zucchini blossoms are also an edible delicacy. In general, blossoms are picked up during morning hours when they are fresh and soft. To prepare, open up blossoms and carefully inspect for insects. Pull off any calyces attached firmly at the base.


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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