Zucchini are also known as courgette and is a summer squash in the Cucurbitaceae plant family, along with melons, spaghetti squash, and cucumbers. Zucchini is not always long, cylindrical, and dark green. There are round zucchini, too, and the skin can range from pale green to striped green to yellow.
It can grow to more than 3.2 feet in length but is usually harvested when still immature, usually under 8 inches. Although zucchini is often considered a vegetable, it is botanically classified as a fruit. It occurs in several varieties, which range in color from deep yellow to dark green. Zucchini has been used in folk medicine to treat colds, aches, and various health conditions.
One cup (223 grams) of cooked zucchini provides:
- Calories: 17
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: less than 1 gram
- Carbs: 3 grams
- Sugar: 1 gram
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Vitamin A: 40% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)*** So much!
- Manganese: 16% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 14% of the RDI
- Potassium: 13% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 10% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 9% of the RDI
- Folate: 8% of the RDI
- Copper: 8% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 7% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 7% of the RDI
- Thiamine: 5% of the RDI
Zucchini also contains small amounts of iron, calcium, zinc, and several other B vitamins. The ample amount of vitamin A content may help your vision and immune system. Raw zucchini has a similar nutrition profile as cooked zucchini, but with less vitamin A and more vitamin C.
Zucchini is also rich in antioxidants which are beneficial plant compounds that help protect your body from damage by free radicals. Carotenoids, such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, are particularly plentiful in zucchini. These may benefit your eyes, skin, and heart, as well as offer some protection against certain types of cancer, such as prostate cancer. Research indicates that the skin of the plant harbors the highest levels of antioxidants. Yellow zucchinis may contain slightly higher levels than light green ones.
Zucchini may promote healthy digestion. It is rich in water, which can soften stools. This makes them easier to pass and reduces constipation. Zucchini also contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools and helps food move through your gut more easily. Soluble fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria living in your gut. In turn, these friendly bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that nourish your gut cells. SCFAs may help reduce inflammation and symptoms of certain gut disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Zucchini may help lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. At 3 grams of carbs per cooked cup, zucchini provides a great low-carb alternative to pasta for those looking to reduce carb intake. It can be spiralized or sliced to replace pasta noodles in dishes. Zucchini’s fiber helps stabilize blood sugar, preventing levels from spiking after meals. The fiber found in zucchini may also help increase insulin sensitivity, which can help stabilize blood sugar. Additionally, animal studies note that zucchini peel extract may help reduce blood sugar and insulin levels. This may be due to the skin’s potent antioxidants.
Pectin, one type of soluble fiber found in zucchini, appears particularly effective at reducing total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. In a review of 67 studies, consuming as little as 2-10 grams of soluble fiber per day for around 1-2 months reduced, on average, total cholesterol by 1.7 mg/dl and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 2.2 mg/dl.
Zucchini is also rich in potassium, which may help reduce high blood pressure by dilating your blood vessels. Healthier blood pressure is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Adding zucchini to your diet may aid your vision. That’s partly because zucchini is rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, two nutrients important for eye health. Zucchini also contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Research shows that these antioxidants can accumulate in your retina, improving your vision and reducing your risk of age-related eye diseases. This may include a lower risk of macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in older adults. In addition, diets high in lutein and zeaxanthin may also lower your likelihood of developing cataracts, a clouding of the lens which can lead to poor eyesight.
Regular consumption of zucchini may help you lose weight. This fruit is rich in water and has a low calorie density, which helps you feel full. Its fiber content may also reduce hunger and keep your appetite at bay. Studies consistently link high fruit and vegetable intake to weight loss and a slower rate of weight gain over time. Consumption of non-starchy, dark green or yellow vegetables with similar nutrition profiles to zucchini, appears particularly beneficial to weight loss.
Bone health – Zucchini is rich in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as vitamin K and magnesium, all of which can help strengthen bones.
Anticancer effects – Test-tube and animal studies indicate that zucchini extracts may help kill or limit the growth of certain cancer cells. However, human research is needed.
A healthy prostate – Animal research shows that zucchini seed extracts may help limit prostatic hyperplasia, an enlargement of the prostate that commonly causes urinary and sexual difficulties in older men.
Thyroid function – Testing in rats reveals that zucchini peel extracts may help keep thyroid hormone levels stable. That said, research in humans is needed.
Zucchini is incredibly versatile and can be eaten raw or cooked.
How to Buy
The markets are packed with zucchini and other summer squash this time of year.
Look for zucchini that are no longer than six inches, one to two inches in diameter. Zucchini should have firm, shiny, and slightly prickly skin, be free of cuts and blemishes, and have at least one inch of stem attached.
How to Store
Store zucchini, unwashed, wrapped in a tea towel in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator up to 5 days. If zucchini starts to wilt, use immediately. Cooked zucchini should be covered, refrigerated and used within two days. To freeze zucchini, slice into rounds, boil for two minutes, plunge into cold water, drain, and seal in airtight containers or baggies. Frozen zucchini may be kept up to one year.
How to Cook
Wash zucchini just before preparation. Do not peel. Here are some ways to incorporate zucchini into your meals:
- Add it raw to salads. Use a spiralizer (OXO makes a handheld one and a counter top 3 blade spiralizer. Amazon sells many with great reviews. If you don’t own a spiralizer, now’s the time to incorporate one into you kitchen utensils!)
- Stew it with other summer fruits and vegetables to make ratatouille.
- Stuff with rice, lentils, or other vegetables, then bake it.
- For a mild stir-fry, add olive oil and sauté it.
- Boil it, then blend it into soups
- Serve it as a side, grilled or sautéed with a little garlic and oil
- Spiralize it into spaghetti or linguine-like noodles, or slice it to replace lasagna sheets.
- Bake it into breads, pancakes, muffins, or cakes.
In some cultures, the zucchini flower is considered a delicacy. You can either deep-fry, stuff or sprinkle zucchini raw atop salads, soups, and stews.