How to enjoy the health benefits of zucchini

Dark green zucchini are sometimes mistaken for cucumbers, and though both are members of the gourd family, zucchini are closer cousins to pumpkins than to cucumbers. Whether green, golden or striped, zucchini are by far the most popular summer squash in North America. Here are some tips on how to enjoy the health benefits of zucchini by adding them to your diet.

How to enjoy the health benefits of zucchini

Nutritional benefits of zucchini

  • Picked and eaten while still immature, zucchini have a soft shell and tender light-coloured flesh that has a delicate, crisp, fresh flavour.
  • Zucchini, like other summer squash, are about 94 percent water, making them one of the lowest-calorie vegetables.
  • A serving of 250 millilitres (one cup) of raw sliced ­zucchini has less than 20 calories and provides 28 micrograms of folate, which is about seven percent of the adult Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), as well as 12 milligrams of vitamin C and 250 milligrams of potassium.
  • Although zucchini is not as high in beta carotene as winter squash, it is still a source of this important antioxidant. The beta carotene is lost, however, if the skin is discarded.

A versatile vegetable

Zucchini's unobtrusive flavour complements other ingredients in a variety of dishes.

  • Zucchini are an especially suitable companion to tomatoes and are a fantastic addition to vegetable lasagna, marinara sauce and ratatouille.
  • Zucchini are also delicious when grated into cakes and other baked goods.

Squash is an adaptation from several Native American words meaning "something eaten raw." In fact, all summer squash are tender enough to eat uncooked.

  • Raw zucchini is a pleasant addition to a vegetable platter or salad, and dieters sometimes keep bags of sliced zucchini in the refrigerator for easy snacking.
  • Orange-coloured squash blossoms are edible and contain some of the same nutrients that are present in squash.
  • Zucchini flowers are the most often consumed, and are considered a delicacy. However, the blossoms are often served battered and deep fried — try sauté­ing or steaming them instead.
  • Zucchini can grow very large, but they taste best when eaten small — ideally, 15 to 23 centimetres (six to nine inches) long.

As they grow bigger, zucchini lose their flavour and become primarily ornamental. When buying zucchini, look for specimens that feel firm and heavy when you pick them up. Although they can be refrigerated for a few days, zucchini tend to spoil quickly.

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