A favorite way to use zucchini is grated and baked into zucchini bread, but if that’s the only way you’ve eaten it, you’re missing a tasty and nutritious vegetable. When cooked, its flavor changes slightly, so if you don’t like it raw, try it streamed, stir-fried or sauteed. Just one-half cup provides vitamins C and A, along with B vitamins and potassium.
All types of summer squash, including zucchini, have thin skin, which makes all parts of the vegetable except the stem edible. When buying zucchini, choose a vegetable that’s firm, 6 to 8 inches long, and no more than 2 inches in diameter. That may sound fussy, but as the zucchini grows bigger, it toughens and develops more seeds. You can shred the large, overly mature vegetable and use it for baking, but you may find it less desirable for other uses. Store fresh zucchini unwashed and in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and it should be good for about a week.
Whether your goal is to maintain or lose weight, zucchini makes a great nutrient-dense choice. One-half cup of sliced fresh zucchini has just 10 calories and qualifies as fat free because it only has 0.18 grams of total fat. The same portion has 1 percent of a woman’s daily value of protein and 2 percent of fiber. Most of the fiber in zucchini is the insoluble type that adds bulk to food and keeps it moving through the digestive tract. The same portion also has 3 percent of the daily value of magnesium, potassium, folate and vitamin K, as well as 7 percent of vitamin B-6.
Antioxidants are an essential part of your diet because they neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are molecules naturally produced in the body during normal metabolism, in response to pollutants like cigarette smoke and to kill some types of invading bacteria. The problem with free radicals is that they can sometimes harm healthy cells and cause long-term health problems, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C is a highly effective antioxidant that’s able to neutralize free radicals throughout your body and in the skin, where it reduces damage from sunlight. Vitamin C also makes collagen, which strengthens your skin. One-half cup of sliced raw zucchini has 10 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 13 percent of your recommended daily intake.
Zucchini contains three forms of vitamin A: beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that the body can convert into the form of vitamin A that’s essential for healthy skin and night vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin work as antioxidants in the retina, where they protect your eyes from potentially harmful blue light. Research suggests that blue light may damage the eye and cause free radicals, especially during earlier adulthood, and that neutralizing these free radicals now may prevent age-related diseases like macular degeneration. You’ll get 113 international units, or 5 percent of the recommended daily intake, of vitamin A in one-half cup of sliced raw zucchini.
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.