Is Zucchini Good for You?
Gone are the days of zucchini just being an overabundant green squash in our summer gardens. Today it's a low-carb hero—standing in for pasta in dishes that are traditionally more carb-heavy and serving as a delivery device for other favorite foods and ingredients (we're looking at you, Zucchini Cacio e Pepe, Zucchini Pizza Boats and Garlic-Parm Hasselback).
But zucchini deserves accolades for more than just its low-carb status. Like most vegetables, it's a nutrient powerhouse. Read on for the health benefits of zucchini.
According to the USDA, a 1-cup (cooked) serving of zucchini contains:
- Calories: 27
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrate: 5 grams
- Sugars: 3 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sodium: 5 milligrams
Compare that to what the USDA says is in a cup of cooked spaghetti: 220 calories, 43 grams of carbohydrates, and 2.5 grams of fiber (although you'll get more fiber and nutrients if you choose whole-wheat noodles).
A cup of zucchini will also fulfill 26% of your daily vitamin C needs, 10% of your daily potassium needs and 8% of your daily magnesium needs and 13% of your daily folate needs, per the FDA.
Health Benefits of Zucchini
On top of all those awesome vitamins and minerals, zucchini also delivers über-healthy compounds called carotenoids—including lutein and zeaxanthin, according to a 2021 study in Food Chemistry: Molecular Sciences. It's those compounds that seem to give zucchini additional, amazing health boons.
Protects Your Skin
Similar to how 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 and may also slow skin aging by helping to keep skin hydrated and elastic, according to a 2019 review in Antioxidants.
According to a 2020 review in the journal BBA, eating foods rich in carotenoids could slow or lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The potassium you get in zucchini is also good for your blood pressure, as is the fiber for general heart health.
In a 2017 study of young adults in Foods, 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.
Since lutein and zeaxanthin are stored in our eyes, it makes sense that they may also benefit them. In a 2021 review in Advances in Nutrition, researchers included 46 studies in their review on this topic and found that in people with healthy eyes, doses of lutein/zeaxanthin of between 5 and 20 mg/day for 3-12 months helped maintain eye health. They also state that these specific carotenoids help to protect the eyes' retina because they act like blue light filters. So noshing on foods—like zucchini—that are high in these carotenoids might add an extra layer of protection to those blue light glasses.
Healthy Body Weight
In a 2019 review in Nutrients, researchers found that people who have higher carotenoid levels typically have lower BMIs compared to folks with lower carotenoid levels. Plus, we know that eating lots of vegetables' which are low in calories and high in nutrients and fiber, is good for weight management by filling you up and keeping you satiated longer.
The Bottom Line
While zucchini is loaded with nutrition, like any food, it is not a nutritional magic pill. It's important to include a variety of produce and other foods to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need. With that said, zucchini is low-calorie, low-carb and nutrient-dense, so tuck it into quick bread, pancakes and quesadillas, or use it as the star of the mealtime show.