A staple at many farmers markets during the warmer months, zucchini, which is a type of summer squash, and it can range in color from yellow to deep green. It has a tender texture with a slightly sweet flavor and, at just 21 calories per cup, it makes a welcome addition to a calorie-controlled diet. Zucchini boasts a rich nutritional profile, and it offers health benefits thanks to its phytonutrients, mineral and vitamin content.
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Zucchini serves as a good source of vitamin C. A water-soluble antioxidant, vitamin C dissolves in your body fluids and protects your cells from free radicals, which are highly reactive compounds that oxidize your DNA, lipids and proteins, causing cellular damage. Getting enough vitamin C in your diet also aids in nerve cell communication, helps your body metabolize cholesterol and keeps your tissues strong. A cup of chopped zucchini contains 22 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 24 percent of the recommended daily intake for men and 29 percent for women, set by the Institute of Medicine.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Zucchini also provides you with lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytonutrients that belong to the carotenoid family, which is the same nutrient family that includes beta-carotene, a source of vitamin A. Lutein and zeaxanthin promote healthy eyesight. They filter light rays as they enter your eye, helping to ensure that harmful rays can't damage your eye tissues. While, as of September 2013, the Institute of Medicine has not set a recommended daily intake for lutein and zeaxanthin, the American Optometric Association notes that intakes of at least 6 milligrams per day can reduce your risk for age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes blindness. A cup of chopped zucchini provides 2.6 milligrams of lutein and zeaxanthin, or 43 percent of this intake goal.
Consuming zucchini also boosts your intake of manganese, an essential mineral. Like vitamin C, manganese protects your tissues from harmful free radicals. It supports the function of glycosyltransferases, a family of proteins that promote healthy bone tissue development. Manganese also helps your body produce collagen essential for efficient wound healing. Each cup of chopped zucchini boasts 0.22 milligram of manganese. This provides 12 and 10 percent of the Institute of Medicine's recommended daily intake for women and men, respectively.
Consuming More Zucchini
Zucchini is as tasty eaten raw as it is cooked. Try cutting raw zucchini into sticks, and pair it with healthy condiments, like hummus or guacamole. Use a vegetable peeler to cut zucchini into long, thin strips, and mix them with lemon juice, olive oil and pepper for an easy-to-prepare but flavorful salad. Saute zucchini in vegetable broth, then add flavor with freshly chopped basil or mint, or brush zucchini strips with olive oil and then grill until cooked.