Botanical Name: Cucurbita pepo
For many people, summertime is simply incomplete without serving a delicious array of scrumptious green vegetables. But here’s an idea: why not take a break from the usual leafy green salads, and dig into a plateful of succulent zucchini instead?
A member of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae), zucchini is an easy-to-grow summer squash native to Central America and Mexico. It was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants during the 1920s. Some popular zucchini varieties include golden zucchini, tatume, costata romanesco, and yellow crooknecks.
Zucchini grows best in warm, frost-free weather, and thrives in fertile, moisture-rich soil. It grows on bushy plants that are 2 ½ feet tall, with rambling vines. Aside from the actual fruit (zucchini is a fruit, botanically speaking), the large, yellow, trumpet-shaped blossoms are also edible.
Zucchini can grow to massive sizes, but bigger does not necessarily mean better when it comes to this garden favorite. Small and medium-sized zucchinis (six to eight inches long and two inches in diameter) are more flavorful. The bigger the zucchini, the harder, seedier, and less flavorful it becomes. Look for dark-skinned zucchinis, which are richer in nutrients.
You won’t run out of uses for zucchini, as it is a highly versatile food that can suit many recipes. Mix it into soups, salads, or frittatas, serve it as a side dish with your meat dishes, or make “zucchini fries,” served with an onion dip as an appetizer. Want a healthy, no-grain and no-wheat pasta? Make zucchini “noodles” using a vegetable peeler – it will be as al dente as regular spaghetti.
Health Benefits of Zucchini
You’ll surely be impressed with the nutritional bounty that zucchini offers. It’s low-calorie (with only 17 calories per 100 grams) and high in fiber, and has no cholesterol or unhealthy fats. It’s also rich in flavonoid antioxidants such as zeaxanthin, carotenes, and lutein, which play a significant role in slowing down aging and preventing diseases with their free radical-zapping properties.
Most of the antioxidants and fiber are in its skin, though, so it’s best to keep the skin when serving this food.
Zucchini is also a wonderful source of potassium, a heart-friendly nutrient that helps moderate your blood pressure levels and counters the effects of too much sodium. In fact, a zucchini has more potassium than a banana.
Zucchini is rich in B-complex vitamins, folate, B6, B1, B2, B3, and choline, as well as minerals like zinc and magnesium, which are all valuable in ensuring healthy blood sugar regulation – a definite advantage for diabetics. It also contains essential minerals such as iron, manganese, and phosphorus.
However, remember that most zucchini varieties in the United States are genetically modified, so it’s best to purchase this vegetable organic.
ZUCCHINI NUTRITION FACTS
SERVING SIZE: 1 CUP (124 GRAMS) RAW
AMT. PER SERVING
|Vitamin C||21.1 mg|
Studies on Zucchini
A study revealed the wide array of health benefits that summer squashes, including zucchini, provide. According to food expert and food industry analyst Phil Lempert, the starchy carbohydrates in these crops come from polysaccharides in the cell walls, and include pectins. An increasing number of animal studies now show that these starchy components in squash may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and insulin-regulating properties.
Zucchini Healthy Recipes: Creamy Zucchini-Cashew Soup
- 3 Tbsp. coconut oil or raw butter
- 6 cups sliced zucchini
- 1 cup celery, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp. celery seeds, ground (optional)
- ½ green bell pepper, sliced
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1½ cups cashews, toasted (optional)
- ½ tsp. salt
- Melt the coconut oil or butter in a large soup pot. Add the celery seeds, zucchini, celery, bell pepper, and salt. Stir, cover, and cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
- Puree the cashews in the vegetable stock in a blender or food processor.
- Combine the vegetables and the cashew-stock mixture in a blender. Puree thoroughly.
- Place a large sieve (wire mesh strainer) over the soup pot.* Strain the vegetable-cashew mixture through it, stirring, and pressing the mixture down with the back of a spoon. Scrape bottom of sieve frequently. This step allows the soup to become creamy.
- Discard the remaining “material” that pulls from the sieve.
- Reheat the soup to serving temperature.
This recipe makes six servings.
*If using cashew butter, mix in the cashew butter after the third step and reheat in soup pot.
(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type by Dr. Mercola)
Zucchini Fun Facts
Did you know that the largest zucchini ever recorded was 69 ½ inches long and weighed 65 pounds? Thanks to Bernard Lavery of Plymouth Devon, UK, who grew the massive vegetable in his garden.
If you’re a true zucchini fan, head to Obetz, Ohio every August 22nd to 25th, where they hold a zucchini festival, which features a parade, pageant, contests, arts and crafts, and games – a unique celebration of the remarkable and versatile zucchini.
What’s not to love about zucchini? Botanically a fruit but more commonly perceived as a vegetable, this versatile summer squash is a must-have in your garden – and your plate. It’s easy-to-grow and requires minimal care while providing a tasty and versatile bounty that you can incorporate into many recipes – it can even be transformed into veggie noodles!
Zucchini possesses an impressive nutritional content – it boasts high levels of potassium, B-vitamins, dietary fiber, and antioxidants, which all offer immense benefits to your health. It can even potentially help regulate blood sugar levels, which can greatly benefit diabetics.
Here’s one yummy way to enjoy zucchini: simply slice it lengthwise, brush with coconut oil and a light sprinkle of sea salt, then lightly grill it. This will bring out the natural sweetness of this healthy food. Make sure to buy organic, non-GMO zucchini.
- 1 http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2012/11/09/Squash-may-have-anti-diabetic-properties/UPI-31561352502176/ Squash may have anti-diabetic properties, November 9, 2012