The Zucchini or courgette (Cucurbita pepo) is a summer squash, or Mesoamerican origin, which can reach nearly 1 metre (40 inches) in length, but is usually harvested when still immature at about 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in), A zucchini is a thin-skinned cultivar of what in Britain and Ireland is referred to as a marrow. In South Africa, zucchini is known as baby marrow.
A striped and a uniform-color zucchini
Species Cucurbita pepo
Origin 19th-century Northern Italy
Along with certain other squashes and pumpkins, the zucchini belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo. It can be dark or light green. A related hybrid, the Golden zucchini, is a deep yellow or orange color.
In a culinary context, the zucchini is treated as a vegetable; it is usually cooked and presented as a savory dish or accompaniment. Botanically, zucchinis are fruits, a type of botanical berry called a “pepo,” being the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower.
The zucchini, like all squash, originates in the Americas, specifically Mesoamerica. Its original name in Mexican language or Nahuati is ayokonetl, also with the variants ayo or ayocotzin (plural, ayococone). After this, the concept and use of zucchini was developed in Northern Italy in the second half of the 19th century, long after the introduction of Cucurbits from the Americas in the early 16th century.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF ZUCCHINI
■ ZUCCHINI BENEFITS FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Zucchini is a low-starch fruit. Which meant it is low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. Which means it will fill you up and discourage overeating. That’s precisely what most people looking to lose weight want, right.
The fruit also has a high water content that can keep you full for longer periods. It is one of those foods with a low glycemix index. Increased intake of fruits and vegetables and low-fat foods has been linked to healthy weight loss and weight maintenance. Another benefit of high-fiber foods is they require more chewing- because of which the individual takes more time to eat and is unable to gorge on a large number of calories in a short period.
■ IMPROVES HEART HEALTH
Ever heard of DASH diet? Also called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, this diet is aimed at improving heart health by lowering Hypertension. According to a report published by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, zucchini is a prominent part of the DASH diet.
Zucchini is low in cholesterol, sodium, and fat, and helps maintain a balance of Carbohydrates – a requirement for optimum heart health.
Another reason zucchini works great for the heart is the presence of fiber. High intakes of fiber have been associated with significantly lower risk of developing stroke, hypertension, and heart disease.
Zucchini is also rich in folate, and as per a Chinese study, folate intake is inversely associated with heart disease risk. The fact that it is rich in other nutrients like potassium and magnesium makes Zucchini a superfood for the heart. Research has stated that deficiencies in the two nutrients can be directly linked to heart failure.
Another nutrient in zucchini that is worth you attention is riboflavin, which is a B-complex vitamin essential for energy production. In one study, children with cardiac disease were found to be shockingly deficient in riboflavin, emphasizing on the possible link between riboflavin and heart health. Another Chinese study has linked riboflavin with alleviated cardiac failure in diabetics.
Riboflavin deficiency is also linked to certain birth defects in pregnant women, especially issues with the outflow tracts in the infant’s heart.
■ IMPROVES EYE HEALTH
One doesn’t need to be reminded of the importance of vision. That said, zucchini seems to be more than food for your eyes. The fruit is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that were found to prevent age-related macular degeneration.
It is shocking to note that certain serious (and often irreversible) eye diseases like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration have no warning signs. Zucchini is also a good source of vitamin A that has shown to improve eye health. It is important for eye development and maintenance. As per a report published by Flaum Eye Institute of the University of Rochester Medical Center, a low-fat diet could be beneficial for the eyes – and zucchini can very well be a part of this diet.
The squash is also a wonderful source of beta-carotene that can improve eye health and offer protection against infections.
■ HELP CONTROL DIABETES
It is but unfortunate that a household without a diabetic is a rare scene. Well, that’s the sad part. So, is zucchini good for diabetics? Yes, the good part is, zucchini can help.
Non-starchy foods like zucchini can fill you up and aid diabetes treatment. And the dietary fiber, which zucchini is replete with, can delay glucose absorption and help the patients with type 2 diabetes. A German study states that insoluble fiber (which zucchini has a good amount of) can be very much effective in preventing type 2 diabetes. Another study indicates the efficacy of insoluble dietary fiber that has shown to reduce diabetes risk.
Higher fiber intake is also associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, which is one of the factors contributing to diabetes. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, soluble fiber can improve glucose tolerance in diabetics. (Zucchini contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, by the way.)
■ HELPS LOWER CHOLESTEROL
Zucchini is one of the few foods that are free of cholesterol, and hence you can include it in your cholesterol-lowering diet. Soluble fiber has been found to interfere with cholesterol absorption. This helps lower the bad cholesterol or LDL in the blood.
■ HELPS CURE ASTHMA
As per an Iranian study, the high levels of vitamin C in zucchini help cure asthma. The anti-inflammatory properties of zucchini also continue to asthma treatment.
Along with the vitamin C, zucchini also contains copper that is far more effective in treating asthma.
One Finnish study has found the benefits of vitamin C in treating not only asthma attacks, but also bronchial hypersensitivity (which is a characteristic of asthma). As it is well known that vitamin C helps treat common cold symptoms, it is quite logical to use vitamin C for alleviating asthma symptoms.
■ PROTECTS AGAINST COLON CANCER
The fiber in zucchini is the most important reason it can help in the treatment of colon cancer. The fiber does multiple things – it absorb the excess water in the colon, retains enough moisture in the fecal matter, and helps it to pass smoothly out of the body. Because of all this fiber works beautifully well in preventing colon cancer. Though precise knowledge about the subtypes of fiber (soluble or insoluble) in this aspect is important, dietary fiber as a whole has been linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.
As per a Los Angeles study, dietary fiber plays an important role in regulating the normal intestinal functioning and maintaining a healthy mucus membrane of the intestine. Though the exact amount of fiber and the type is still not clearly known, an expert panel from the study had recommended a fiber intake of 20 to 35 grams per day to prevent colon cancer.
The lutein in zucchini may also reduce the risk of colon cancer.
■ ENHANCES DIGESTION
In addition to the many benefits of zucchini you have already seen, the wonder squash also aid digestion. According to a report published by the University of Rhode Island, green fruits and vegetables, like zucchini, promote healthy digestion. You can have zucchini as an after-meal eat -simply shred some carrots and zucchini on a quick bread or muffins and relish the taste (and the benefits too!).
In fact, the late Henry Bieler (a prominent American physician who had batted for the idea of treating disease with foods alone) used to treat digestive issues in his patients with a pureed soup broth made from zucchini. Now, isn’t that a reason good enough to entrust the digestive-healing responsibilities to our humble zucchini.
The dietary fiber in zucchini adds bulk to your diet and aids digestion. However, ensure you introduce fiber in your diet gradually. Increasing dietary fiber in your diet too quickly can lead to bloating, abdominal cramps, and even gas.
It has been found that dietary fiber forms the major component of foods that have low energy value, and hence are of particular importance. Especially when it comes to dealing with abdominal issues.
If you are suffering from digestive issues, simply including zucchini in your meal might do the trick. It has been found that the addition of fiber in bread, cookies, breakfast cereal, and even meat products was found to have desirable results.
As we have already seen, zucchini contains both soluble as well as insoluble fiber. The insoluble fiber, also known as the regulator, accelerates the passage of watee through the digestive tract. This reduces the time available for harmful substances to come in contact with the intestinal walls.
I would recommend you to go for all natural sources of fiber, and not just zucchini alone. If you are purchasing fiber-rich foods from the supermarket, there is but one ground rule – a good source of fiber is one that has at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving are excellent. But, anything lower than 2.5 grams would just be a waste of money.
■ LOWERS BLOOD PRESSURE
Zucchini, being rich in potassium, is one of the most preferred foods to combat hypertension. Surprisingly enough, zucchini has more potassium than a Banana.
Potassium is vasoactive, meaning it can affect the diameter of blood vessels. And hence, the blood pressure as well. In a London study, potassium supplementation was linked to lowered blood pressure levels. Though the study talks about certain conflicting results in pertinent to oral potassium supplementation, potassium was never shown to elevate the blood pressure levels. Hence, it can be used without apprehension.
As per another New Orleans study, potassium intake is mandatory to combat hypertension, especially when the individual is unable to reduce his/her sodium intake. In addition to controlling blood pressure, potassium also lowers the heart rate and counters the harmful effects of sodium.
According to the National Academies Press, the adequate intake of potassium for adults is 4.7 grams per day. As per WHO, this dosage of potassium had the greatest impact on blood pressure levels. However, this dosage might vary as per the health condition of an individual. Hence, consult your doctor for further details.
Potassium so important with respect to lowering blood pressure? Because the nutrient is one of the principal electrolytes in the human body. It is required in proper balance with sodium. In a ratio of 2:1. The junk foods we so very lovingly consume every other day have higher levels of sodium than potassium. With is why they contribute to high blood pressure like no other. Zucchini is a good source of of potassium. A medium-sized fruit offer 512 milligrams of the nutrient, which roughly equals 11% of your daily need.
■ SLOWS DOWN AGING
Anti-aging is a big market today. No less than a billion dollar industry. But you probably wouldn’t have to contribute much to that segment if you have zucchini in your kitchen.
Zucchini is a good source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These two carotenoids exhibit powerful anti-aging properties. They protect the cells of the body and the skin from free radical damage, which may otherwise lead to premature aging. Lutein and zeaxanthin have also been found to lighten the skin and improve its health.
In a study, lutein was found to prevent cell loss and membrane damage. It also has photoprotective properties that protect the skin from UV damage. Zucchini is also rich in beta-carotene, the low levels of which were found to increase mortality risk in older men.
The riboflavin zucchini maintains the health of the skin, hair, nails, and mucus membranes. It slows down aging by boosting athletic performance and and preventing age-related memory loss and other related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
In one study, riboflavin was found to prolong the lifespans of fruit flies – indicating a similar possibility in human beings.
Zucchini, as we have seen, is rich in vitamin C. According to a South Korean Stuy, the vitamin was found to decelerate aging in human heart cells. Also vitamin C is found in high levels in the skin layers, the content of which sees a decline due to aging. Hence, intake of vitamin C appears to be a logical solution to slow down the signs of aging.
■ STRENGTHENS BONES AND TEETH
Green vegetables and fruits, like zucchini promote stronger bones and teeth. The lutein and zeaxanthin in zucchini keep the bones and teeth strong. In addition, they also strengthen the blood cells. Zucchini also contains vitamin K, which contributes to stronger bones.
Magnesium is another nutrient zucchini is rich in. Most of the body’s Magnesium resides in the bones, which helps build strong bones and teeth. Magnesium also works along with calcium to improve muscle contraction.
The folate in zucchini also protects the bones. And so does beta-carotene. Studies show that the body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which contributes to bone growth.
Zucchini contains phytochemicals such as indoles, which, according to Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, maintain strong bones and teeth. Similar findings have been published by the California Department of Public Health.
■ HELPS BALANCE THYROID AND ADRENALINE FUNCTION
Zucchini is rich in manganese, a mineral that promotes the optimal functioning of the thyroid gland.
■ HELPS DURING PREGNANCY
Dark green vegetables are a much during pregnancy, and zucchini is one of them. In the nine months of pregnancy, consuming zucchini offers adequate B-complex vitamins that help maintain the energy levels and mood.
Zucchini is rich in folic acid that has shown to reduce the risk of certain birth defects like spina bifida (the baby’s spinal cord doesn’t develop properly) and anencephaly (absence of a major portion of the brain). As per a Canadian study, over 50 countries that have fortified their food staples with folic acid saw a dramatic decrease in neural tube defects in pregnant women.
One more reason folate is beneficial to pregnant women is its ability to produce red blood cells in the body. This is how it reduces the risk of developmental problems in the baby during pregnancy.
It is important to keep in mind that folic acid (or folate) works best when taken before getting pregnant and during the first trimester. As women need additional folic acid during pregnancy, it is advisable to take a folic acid supplement as well. Around 400 mcg of folic acid per day is recommended for women in this aspect.
Another reason zucchini is good for pregnancy is its magnesium content. As per an Italian study, magnesium is very important for women with a high risk of gestosis or premature labor.
■ GOOD FOR BABIES (AND KIDS)
Diarrhea is one common problem amongst most kids over one year of age. Oh yes, there will be medications. But changes in the diet can also help. Bland foods work well in this case. And peeled zucchini can do wonders.
Mashed zucchini can also be a good addition to your baby’s diet. Since it is soft and bland in taste (and since it comes replete with nutrients), your baby will be able to consume it easily. And here’s a tip – Never leave a baby alone when he/she is eating. Keep the portions small. And avoid those foods that he/she can easily choke on – these include everything that is hard to chew.