By Patrick Quillin, PhD, RD, CNS • Originally published on GettingHealthier.com
Living in Tulsa, OK, for 11 years, I asked the locals if crime was a problem. They replied, “Well, in August you better be sure to lock your car, because otherwise someone might put a bag of zucchini in your car.” People who grow zucchini, like me, harvest more than we can eat.
Zucchini, a summer squash, is a member of the gourd family. It originated from Central America from where it has spread to the rest of the world.
This popular succulent vegetable does well in warm weather, in places with moist, fertile soil. It takes 35 to 60 days from planting to first harvest. The plant grows to a height of two and a half feet. For best flavor, zucchini fruits are harvested when they are 4-8 inches.
Darker fruits are usually higher in nutrients. But what are the nutritional benefits of zucchini?
Editor’s Note: Botanically, zucchini is a fruit, but it’s most often used like a vegetable.
What Are The Nutritional Benefits of Zucchini?
Zucchini contains zero fat, and is high in water and fiber. It also contains significant amounts of vitamins B6, riboflavin, folate, C, and K, and minerals, like potassium and manganese.
The summer squash also contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. This makes zucchini, also known as courgette, a nutrient-dense food that you should include in your diet.
Zucchini Benefits: 9 Reasons to Eat More of This Squash
1. Improves digestion
Incorporating zucchini in your diet can help improve digestion including reducing the incidence of constipation and other digestive issues.
Zucchini is high in water. It also contains significant amounts of fiber, electrolytes, and other nutrients that are necessary for a healthy digestive system.
Regular consumption of zucchini can also help prevent ulcers, IBS, and colon cancer.
2. Slows down aging
Aging results from the activity of toxins, free radicals, and inflammation that the body is exposed to over the years. These poisons and inflammation can be reduced by antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods.
Zucchini is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which help rid the body of free radicals and excess inflammation.
3. Lowers blood sugar levels
High blood sugar levels and diabetes are problems that are worsened by a diet high in (unhealthy) carbohydrates and low in fiber.
By including zucchini in your diet, you increase the intake of fiber. You can also reduce your carbohydrate intake because you will feel full for longer. These diet changes can help reduce your blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
This can mean that your body no longer requires excessive amounts of insulin to process sugar. This can change your risk of developing diabetes. Studies show that including at least 30 grams of fiber in your daily diet lowers your risk of getting diabetes significantly.
4. Supports healthy circulation and a healthy heart
Zucchini is low in fat and sodium, but high in fiber and potassium. These properties help to maintain healthy blood circulation.
Low sodium and high potassium help to maintain healthy blood pressure while fiber, such as the polysaccharide in zucchini, lowers cholesterol levels.
This combination works synergistically to maintain good circulation, which is necessary for healthy blood pressure and a healthy heart.
5. Improves eye health
Zucchini is a good source of health-protecting antioxidants and phytonutrients, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese, zeaxanthin, and lutein.
Zeaxanthin and lutein are especially useful in maintaining and improving eye health by fighting free radicals. This reduces the risk of developing age-related eye conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
You can also use zucchini to treat puffy eyes by placing slices of raw zucchini over the eyes. Leave the slices in place for about 30 minutes and repeat several times in a day.
6. Boosts energy
Because zucchini is a rich source of B-vitamins, especially folate, riboflavin, and B6, it can help to boost energy production in the body. This reduces fatigue and improves moods.
The body requires B-vitamins for protein and carbohydrate metabolism. These vitamins also aid in various brain functions including cognition.
7. Weight loss
Because zucchini is low in calories and high in water and fiber, it is a great food for those wishing to reduce their body weight.
It is worth noting that excess body weight usually results from regular consumption of carbohydrate and sugary foods.
By including zucchini in your diet, you increase the fiber and water content of your food. This means that you will feel full for longer and end up eating less. In the long term, you will lose some of your excess weight.
8. Improves thyroid and adrenal functions
Zucchini contains high amounts of vitamin C and polyphenols, especially in the peels.
Laboratory studies on rats by the Devi University found that the compounds in zucchini peels have positive effects on the thyroid and adrenal glands. Additionally, the compounds helped in the regulating insulin levels.
9. Protects against oxidation and inflammation
Zucchini is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, including vitamins A and C, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase. Large amounts of these compounds are found in zucchini skin. For this reason, you should eat the skin together with the flesh.
Eating zucchini regularly reduces oxidation and inflammation within the body. This boosts your immunity and protects against diseases associated with inflammation.
All these zucchini benefits are impressive, so aim to add more to your meals, and if you can, try growing your own.
How to Grow Zucchini In Your Backyard
Zucchini grows best during the warmer months, which is why it’s also called summer squash. However, you can still grow it at other times provided it is shielded from extreme cold.
If you get your system down, zucchini plants can become extremely productive with fruits.
If you would like to grow zucchini in your backyard, here is what you need to do:
- Prepare the growing area by digging to loosen the soil.
- Add organic fertilizer and mix well into the soil
- Create mounds of about 2-feet diameter, up to 10 inches high and about four feet apart.
- Plant six seeds per mound, spacing them evenly. Cover each seed with soil no deeper than one inch and water them thoroughly.
- Thereafter, water your zucchini seeds once or twice a week depending on the weather.
- Once the seedlings emerge, wait until the healthiest are about three inches tall. Weed out the weaker ones, leaving two or three in each mound.
- Continue watering as needed, aiming to get the water near the roots.
- When your zucchini start flowering, you may need to add fertilizer to support growth of the fruits. Also water more often, especially if the weather is hot.
- Zucchini takes about 60 days from planting to harvesting. Harvest zucchini as you need them when they are about six inches long. Fruits taste best at this stage. If you let them to grow for too long, they start getting woody and won’t taste too good.
- Enjoy your home grown zucchini raw or cooked.
Editor’s Note: You can enjoy zucchini many ways, including the popular zucchini noodles (zoodles) — a pasta alternative. For a different idea, try these Zucchini Bars for a healthy breakfast or snack.
Let us know in the comments: What are your favorite ways to enjoy zucchini?