Many people think of zucchini as a vegetable but it is actually considered a fruit. Zucchini is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family and a close relative to melon and cucumber. This family also includes all squashes and gourds.
Also known as courgette or just referred to as summer squash, it is a type of summer squash that varies in color from yellow to dark green. Zucchini is tender, has a mild flavor, and can easily be incorporated into entrees and side dishes.
Nutrients in a Zucchini
Zucchini is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, especially copper and manganese. It contains 19% of the RDA of manganese, which is essential in metabolizing proteins and carbohydrates. It is also a good source of phosphorus, folate, and vitamins A, B6, C, and K. Additionally, the magnesium and potassium in zucchini are important in blood pressure regulation.
Zucchini has very high water content and contains only 20 calories per cup, making it a perfect combination for weight management. Not to mention, it is a good source of dietary fiber, containing 2.5 grams of fiber per cup. It’s polysaccharide fibers, known as pectin, are helpful in regulating insulin and blood sugar levels.
Additional Health Benefits
Zucchini contains the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which function as antioxidants and play a role in maintaining optimal eye health. Lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases such as age related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Folate, as found in zucchini, is important in lowering homocysteine levels in the body. Homocysteine promotes atherosclerosis by damaging blood vessels and causing blood clots. It is believed that elevated homocysteine levels are related to a higher risk of coronary heart disease.
Phytonutrients in zucchini are thought to reduce the symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy, a condition that is characterized by increased urinary frequency and an enlarged prostate gland.
Picking the best Zucchini
Zucchini is abundant during the late spring and summer months and although it is a summer squash, it’s actually available all year round. When purchasing, look for ones that have a soft and unblemished rind. You can store zucchini unwashed in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
Zucchini can be eaten raw or cooked, but steaming is considered the best way to retain its antioxidants and prevent nutrient loss.
Below is one of my staple zucchini recipes that I use frequently during the warmer months. It’s light yet nutrient-rich and perfectly satisfying. Enjoy!
- 1 C quinoa, rinsed well
- 1 ½ C water
- Course salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium zucchini (2 ½ C), thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced (½ C)
- ¼ C roasted salted pistachios, chopped
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon (3 Tbsp)
- ½ C packed fresh mint leaves, chopped, plus more for garnish
- Place quinoa and water in a small saucepan and season with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover.
- Simmer until tender and water is absorbed, about 16 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add zucchini; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 7 minutes.
- Add garlic; cook until fragrant (do not let brown), about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper and add to quinoa.
- Stir in scallions, pistachios, lemon zest and juice, and mint. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.