Zucchini 101: Nutrition, Health Benefits, Recipes and More
Zucchini is a low-calorie food that can help you lose weight as part of an overall healthy diet. However, the benefits of this pumpkin go beyond calorie control.
“Due to its rich antioxidant content, zucchini may also protect against a variety of chronic diseases, including heart disease, certain types of cancer, and age-related cognitive decline,” explains Gillespie.
The Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health agrees that eating a diet rich in vegetables like zucchini can help reduce your risk of chronic disease while also keeping your weight in check.
Below is a more in-depth look at what current research says about the potential health benefits of eating zucchini.
Can help with weight management
Like other nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, beans, legumes, and lean meats, fruits and vegetables can fit well into a weight-loss or weight-maintenance diet. Vegetables like zucchini are low in calories and fat, but their water and fiber content help keep you feeling full, reducing the chances of overeating.
(Zucchini’s high water content also makes it a convenient way to add extra water to your diet, notes Rizzo.)
Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that eating more vegetables (such as zucchini) will not necessarily help with weight loss or weight management, unless they are to replace other high-calorie foods, such as refined carbohydrates or empty-calorie snacks.
For example, substitute a cup of pasta or rice for a cup of zucchini noodles (or “zoodles”), and you’ll cut your calorie intake significantly while still getting the same amount of food.
Can promote a healthy gut
Zucchini can also contribute to a gut-friendly diet, thanks to its fiber content. High-fiber foods can help improve your overall gut health, while also essentially cleansing them of buildup and bacteria by keeping bowel movements regular.
High-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables can also help lower intestinal pressure, reducing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and potentially preventing diverticulosis (a condition that occurs when small sacs form in the wall of the colon).
In general, the recommended daily fiber intake for adults ages 19 to 50 is at least 25 g per day for women and 38 g per day for men. If you’re trying to increase your fiber intake with products like zucchini, do so gradually and drink plenty of water to help reduce gas and constipation.
May reduce the risk of cancer
Fruits and vegetables such as zucchini have a strong association with an overall reduced risk of cancer, although more studies need to be done to determine whether they can prevent cancer. Instead, research shows that certain fruits and vegetables may be associated with reducing the development of certain types of cancer.
For example, there is some evidence that high-fiber foods may help reduce the risk of colon cancer.
A recent study found that cucurbitacin types B and I, compounds naturally found in zucchini, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers, can limit the development of colon cancer by blocking the growth of cancer stem cells.
Additional research on the effects of zucchini on the development of other cancers is needed to determine whether this squash can prevent overall cancer risk.
Can improve cardiovascular health
Research overwhelmingly supports the fact that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as lower blood pressure.
High-fiber foods like zucchini can also help you control cholesterol by preventing your body from absorbing some of the cholesterol you take in through other foods. This can help lower your overall cholesterol and triglyceride levels — and, in turn, your risk of heart disease.
While more human studies are needed to support zucchini as a cardiovascular health booster, one study in rats specifically showed zucchini’s potential in preventing cardiovascular disease. Researchers report that, despite an otherwise high-fat diet, the rats that ate zucchini had improvements in cholesterol levels and showed less oxidative stress, which is a marker of cell damage.
May help control blood sugar levels
Noshing on high-fiber foods can also help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels. Eating high-fiber foods like zucchini won’t raise your blood sugar as much as other types of carbohydrates, in part because your body can’t break down the fiber.
Zucchini and other summer squash are non-starchy vegetables that can also be more satiating than starchier vegetable options.
While there isn’t enough research available to support eating zucchini alone to prevent diabetes, it’s clear that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower overall risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Can protect your sight
Specific research on zucchini and eye health is lacking, but research associates eating fruits and vegetables with a reduced risk of age-related eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.