This low-carb green squash has a lot more to offer than you may realize.

Brierley Horton, M.S., R.D.
April 17, 2020
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Zucchini has gained some serious street cred over the last few years. Gone are its days of just being the overabundant green squash in our summer gardens. Today it's a low-carb hero—standing in for pasta in an formerly carb-heavy dish and serving as a delivery device for other favorite foods and ingredients (we're looking at you, zucchini cacio e pepe, zucchini boats and garlic-Parm hasselback).

But zucchini deserves accolades for more than just its low-carb status—like most vegetables, it's actually a nutrient powerhouse. Read on for the health benefits of zucchini.

Nutrition Facts: What's in a serving of zucchini?

In a 1-cup (cooked) serving of zucchini, there are:

  • Calories: 28
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Carbohydrate: 7 g
  • Sugars: 3 g
  • Fiber: 3 g (that's 10% of the daily goal for women!)
  • Sodium: 5 mg

Compare that to a cup of cooked spaghetti, which has 220 calories, 43 grams carbohydrate, and a little less fiber, 2.5 grams (although you'd get more fiber if you chose whole-wheat noodles).

A cup of zucchini is also brimming with vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. You also get a small hit of folate.

The health benefits of zucchini

On top of all those awesome vitamins and minerals, zucchini also delivers über-healthy compounds called carotenoids—specifically lutein and zeaxanthin. It's those compounds that (per the research) seem to give zucchini additional, amazing health boons.

Protects your skin

Just like those carotenoids build up in the skin of the zucchini, they build up in our skin, too, when we eat carotenoid-rich produce regularly. That buildup shields our skin from UV rays and pollution—according to scientific studies—and also may slow skin aging by helping to keep skin hydrated and elastic. (Try these other 12 foods for healthy skin.)

Good for your heart

Research suggests that eating foods rich in carotenoids could slow or lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The key phrase, though, is eating carotenoid-rich foods, not taking supplements. The potassium you get in zucchini is also good for your blood pressure, as is the fiber for general heart health. (Eat more of these top 15 foods for a healthy heart.)

Strengthens bones

In a study of young adults, those who had high levels of carotenoids in their eyes (a way for researchers to measure long-term dietary carotenoid intake in people) also seemed to have denser, stronger bones. This suggests then that regularly eating carotenoid-rich foods—like zucchini—could be good for our bones. And, an animal study found that lutein specifically stimulates bone formation.

Linked with healthy body weight

Some larger, long-term studies (called observational studies) have found that people who have higher carotenoid levels typically have lower BMIs compared to folks with lower carotenoid levels. And there were also these findings from a study of zeaxanthin and mice: when mice were fed a high-fat diet and given zeaxanthin, the carotenoid curbed the negative health effects of eating a high-fat diet. Plus, we know that eating lots of vegetables‚ which are low in calories and high in nutrients and fiber, is good for weight management.

Bottom line

While all of this research is oh-so promising, keep in mind that it all looks at carotenoids, not specifically zucchini. Put another way, zucchini is not a cure-all—at least not yet. Still, it's low-calorie and low-carb and packed with ample good-for-you nutrients, so tuck it into quick breads, pancakes and quesadillas, and also make it a mealtime star à la zucchini boats and hasselback zucchini.