Zucchini — Top 8 Health Benefits of this Summer Squash
May 9, 2013
By OLIVIA AMTER, Contributing Columnist
Thinking about what vegetable you should eat for dinner tonight? Why not join millions of Americans and eat the most common summer squash — zucchini! With 650 million tons of squash varieties being produced in the United States and another 300,000 tons of squash imported per year, the U.S. tops the charts as a squash consumer. Not many people may not know it, but zucchini is packed full of important nutrients and has capabilities beyond just getting in your servings of vegetables for the day. Either as an addition to your stir-fry or as the vegetable snuck into your kid’s dessert, this vegetable is a versatile, healthful and delicious choice for any one of your meals. What are the health benefits of zucchini? Why should you eat zucchinis?
Zucchini is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family and is closely related to winter squash such as pumpkins and other gourds, melons and even cucumbers. Although generally referred to and eaten as a vegetable (the most common exception being sweet zucchini bread), zucchini is actually biologically a fruit.
Zucchini originally hails from Mexico, Central and Southern America and scientists have found seeds from its 10,000 year old ancestors, meaning our ancestors were eating these long before us.
The word “zucchini” in English comes from the Italian word for squash, “zucca”. In other parts of the world, such as France, zucchini is also known as “courgette”. As you can see in the picture that accompanies this article, zucchini can also come in different shapes. This picture was taken in French market, where the zucchinis are either shaped like cucumbers or they are round.
The entire vegetable is edible, including the skin and seeds and can be eaten boiled, steamed, sautéed, fried and baked,
1. Zucchini Can Help Reduce Inflammation
Did you know that magnesium is a great way to reduce your risk of heart disease and manage illnesses linked to inflammation?
One cup of chopped zucchini can provide you with 21.1 mg or 5% of your recommended daily intake of magnesium, making zucchini a great source of this crucial mineral.
In two Harvard University studies, one from 1999 and one from 2004, researchers found that magnesium reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 40% in females and males due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
A 2007 Harvard University Medical School study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed the same finding.
The verdict? Zucchini helps protect your heart. Its anti-inflammatory properties may also lead to relief from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, although few clinical studies have tested this theory.
2. Zucchini Can Help You Keep Your Weight in Check
Looking for a vegetable to help control weight gain? Because of its high water content, the average sized zucchini has only 25 calories.
In addition, this summer squash has no fat and no cholesterol. Zero. Also, zucchini is full of fiber, especially in its skin and seeds, meaning it will keep you full longer.
A cup of sliced zucchini contains about 1.1 grams of fiber and only 19 calories. Also, considering zucchini’s mild taste, it can easily replace higher fat or carbohydrate filled foods or be added to more flavorful dishes (see below for some ideas).
One easy way to add bulk to your meals is to puree zucchini and add it to your usual sauces, soups or even baked desserts. Add it to your spaghetti sauce, for example, or your tomato soup to increase fiber content.
3. Zucchini Can Help Fight Cancer
Cucurbitacin, a compound found in zucchinis have been of interest to the medical community for its cancer- preventing properties and possible use as a cancer-preventing drug.
In a 1996 National Institute of Health (Washington, DC) study published in Biochemical Pharmacology Journal, researchers found that cucurbitacin had the ability to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer samples.
Cucurbitacin has also been found to inhibit specific pathways that lead to malignant tumor growth, as in a 2008 University of California, Los Angeles Medical School (Los Angeles, California) study published in the International Journal of Cancer . Other studies have found the same inhibitory effects on pancreatic and cancer.
Zucchini is rich in carotenoids, a combination of minerals that includes vitamin A, beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, among others.
High levels of carotenoids are frequently identified as a common denominator in studies showing reduced breast cancer risk, as disease that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention categorizes as one of the leading causes of death for women in the United States.
A 2009 study from the Harvard School of Public Health (Cambridge, Massachusetts) has shown a link between eating fruits and vegetables with high levels of carotenoids, and zucchini in particular, and lower risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women.
This means that, across the board, squash have the potential to protect us from breast cancer.
4. Zucchini Can Rival Your Banana for its Potassium
Do you hate bananas? If you are looking for a way to get your daily potassium dose, zucchini could be your vegetable.
Just 100 g of chopped zucchini (with skin and seeds) gives you about 7% of your daily potassium needs — the same amount of banana gives you 10% of the same mineral.
Potassium has numerous important health benefits in itself. In a University of Ohio (Columbus, Ohio) study published in the academic journal Health Psychology in 1999, researchers found that potassium can help regulate high blood pressure, managing heart failure or heart rhythm problems in the same way as eating a low-salt diet. (Read more about hidden sources of salt in your diet.)
Also, in a 1978 study by researchers from the Princess Margaret Hospital and Lincoln College (Christchurch, New Zealand) also found that potassium may be able to help in reducing stress levels. So, eat some zucchini to get the potassium your body needs.
5. Zucchini Is a Great Source of Vitamin C
Forget oranges — try adding some zucchini to your diet for a boost of vitamin C. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists zucchini’s vitamin C levels at about 21.1 mg/ cup of chopped zucchini, or 35% of your recommended daily intake .
In addition to being an essential nutrient to prevent “scurvy”, once known as the pirates disease, Vitamin C is necessary for normal growth and development, according to National Institutes of Health.
Vitamin C deficiencies can result in anemia, a decreased ability to fight infection, dry and splitting hair, easy bruising and more . If you have any of these symptoms, consider adding more natural sources of potassium to your diet, like zucchini and seeing a healthcare professional. (Read more about why your hair may be falling out, and natural remedies that help.)
6. Zucchini Keeps Your Eyes and Body Fortified with vitamin A
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