By Anne Palumbo
Years ago, when gardening friends left baskets of zucchini on my front porch, I used to get so rattled. Blind to its taste, ignorant of its nutrition, I’d fret over what to do with the unwelcome lot.
But now that I’ve become zucchini-savvy, I’m genuinely elated when zucchini season rolls around. I adore this versatile summer squash! It’s as nutritious as it is delicious.
Similar to watermelon, zucchini’s most bountiful nutrient is water: 95%. This all-important nutrient helps to regulate temperature, promote healthy digestion and curb constipation by producing softer stools. And while zucchini doesn’t have the fiber content of, say, peas or broccoli, it’s got enough to help move things along by producing bulkier stools.
Zucchini teems with vitamin C, with one small zucchini providing close to 40% of our daily needs. A powerful antioxidant and immune-booster, vitamin C is certifiably our skin’s best friend: it helps keep skin strong and firm by triggering the production of collagen; it helps prevent sun damage by neutralizing damaging free radicals; and it promotes wound healing. Some say you can even use zucchini to treat puffy eyes by placing raw slices over your eyes for 10 minutes.
Feeling blah? Reach for some zucchini! Because zucchini provides healthy doses of many B vitamins, especially vitamin B6, it can help boost energy production and reduce fatigue. What’s more, vitamin B6, which is involved in the production of mood-elevating serotonin, may also help regulate sleep and lift spirits.
And, like most plant-based foods, zucchini is packed with antioxidants, those magical molecules that minimize cell damage that may lead to heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration, and other age-related diseases. Research indicates the highest levels are found in the zucchini’s skin and that yellow zucchinis may contain slightly higher levels than green ones.
Finally, regular consumption of zucchini may help you lose weight. Rich in water and fiber and yet low in calories (only 40 per small zucchini), zucchini may help you feel full longer and reduce hunger—potentially leading to weight loss over time.
Zucchini “Noodles” with Sesame-Peanut Sauce
Adapted from Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen
3 small zucchini (or, one package of fresh zucchini noodles)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon cider or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
½ – 1 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash zucchini; trim ends. Use a spiralizer to turn zucchini into “noodles.”
Line a large bowl with paper towels; place zucchini noodles in the bowl along with the julienned red bell pepper. Let rest 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk the peanut butter with the water until well combined; then mix in all the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Remove the towels from under the zucchini. Add the sauce and stir well to coat the noodles completely. Serve immediately, garnishing it with fresh basil if desired. (Optional: Add a legume such as edamame or black beans to make it more filling.)
Select small- to medium-sized zucchini with shiny, unblemished skin; it should feel firm and heavy for its size. Smaller zucchini tend to taste better. Don’t cut up or wash zucchini until ready to use. Store it in a loosely closed plastic bag for up to one week. Leave the rind on whenever possible: it’s loaded with nutrients!
Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.