Healthy Routes Column: What’s with all the zucchini?

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By Gladys Kublik, owner Neighbors Vitamin Shop

This is the burning question my husband and some of my customers have been asking this year; which they sometimes follow with a rueful shake of the head and an expression that softly says “She’s crazy, but harmless.”

If you have had the pleasure of shopping in Morinville Health Foods this summer you may have had to take one or two or three zucchini home with you just to keep the staff happy. My garden is producing bountiful crops, most of which I am happily freezing, canning or pickling. The zucchini however is out of control. Marvin, who thinks zucchini should only be eaten as part of a chocolate cake, doesn’t understand the need for planting more than one plant. Our children however, (who learned how to cook in their early teens over their summer holidays when the garden was lush and two cooked vegetable dishes and a salad were expected at both lunch and dinner), know the value of a quick zucchini stir fry or a crisp zucchini, dill and onion salad.

This versatile vegetable features a pleasant mild taste on its own and also has the ability to absorb and enhance the flavors of whatever else is in the recipe. We especially enjoy barbequed zucchini shish kabobs, marinated in Italian seasoning with onions, red and green peppers. The longer you marinate the vegetables the stronger the flavor of the seasonings. I could produce a complete cookbook featuring zucchini in dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night snack. I even have a recipe for baked zucchini chips to satisfy that salt craving while avoiding the artery clogging fat found in potato chips.

It is zucchini’s health benefits however, which make it a staple in my garden, our diet and even in our health food store. The nutrient value in one cup of sliced zucchini is substantial, especially considering the fact that the calorie content of said cup is only 17, roughly the equivalent of one taco chip or one cracker. This same cup of sliced zucchini will make a nice side salad, or part of a stir fry, or the base for a single serving gluten free lasagna casserole.

This low calorie count makes zucchini a great diet food. Within that one cup measure we find carbohydrates, protein, a substantial amount of fibre and water. According to the USDA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “One cup of sliced, boiled zucchini has 171 g water and 2 g fiber. The fiber and moisture in zucchini, combined with its low-calorie content, make it a low-energy food. Low-energy foods help you control your appetite and manage your weight by filling you up with water and fiber. Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and other low-energy foods allows you to consume a higher volume of food with fewer calories and less fat.” Regular consumption of the vegetable with its high antioxidant and fibre content, can help also protect the body against colon cancer.

This cupful of zucchini holds the combined nutrient values of various B vitamins equal to 38% of our RDA (recommended daily allowance), along with Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. “This serving of zucchini provides 86 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 2,333 IU of vitamin A for women, and 67 percent of the RDA of 3,000 IU for men. Vitamin A promotes healthy eyesight, skin and lung function. Zucchini also provides vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin that may help prevent the cellular damage caused by environmental toxins and harmful chemical processes within your body. Vitamin C may also support your immune system and promote respiratory health”, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

As a member of the squash family, zucchini is also rich in flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants such as carotenes, lutein and zea-xanthin. These compounds help scavenge harmful oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the body that play a role in aging and various disease processes, thereby playing a preventive role in age related diseases of the eyes.

Regular intake of zucchini is also thought to effectively lower high homocysteine levels in the human body. It is a very good source of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte and helps bring the reduction in blood pressure and heart rates by countering pressure-effects of sodium. Zucchini is believed to be beneficial in preventing heart disease and related symptoms, such as high cholesterol.

Considering all the health benefits derived from eating zucchini, is it really surprising to find it in your local Health Food Store?

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