Summer Squash Supreme

While summer squash may not be a “superfood” in terms of any one nutrient, it does contain many valuable nutrients, including some important phytonutrients. Zucchini in particular is taking on a new ribbon-look that changes the texture enough to convert the zucchini haters among us.

In recent studies, summer squash turns out to be the primary food source of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene (the precursors to vitamin A) and also comes out among the top three food sources for three other carotenoid phytonutritents: lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Summer squash can join the ranks alongside carrots for providing us with abundant antioxidant-related eye health benefits.

One serving (½ cup) of summer squash provides only 10 calories. Recent research has shown that the carbohydrate within summer squash, which provides the majority of these calories, includes an unusually high amount of pectin. This extra pectin may help protect against diabetes by keeping insulin metabolism and blood sugar levels in balance, as shown in repeated animal studies. The phytonutrients lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, along with an anti-inflammatory polysaccharide also found in summer squash called homogalacturonan, may help protect against unwanted inflammation and also help fight diabetes.

Summer squash is a great source of vitamin C, molybdenum, vitamin B6, and manganese, and a very good source of vitamin B2, potassium, and folate, as well as a good source of fiber, magnesium, vitamin A, phosphorus, vitamin K, vitamin B1, tryptophan, copper, and vitamin B3.

Researchers have found that steaming zucchini is a better way to preserve its antioxidant activity than boiling or microwaving it. Interestingly, even previously frozen zucchini maintained its antioxidant activity fairly well after steaming. These findings are great news for all those with zucchini “coming out their ears” in the summer months who need to freeze surplus vegetables for later use. Grilling and sautéing summer squash is similar to steaming in nutrient-retention efficacy, and even better in terms of flavor.

Grill zucchini by slicing it into at least 1/4″  lengthwise slices to make zucchini steaks. Simply brush zucchini with olive oil or toss in a bowl with your favorite vinaigrette. Place on a hot grill (or grill pan) and grill for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until nice grill marks appear and the zucchini is softened just a bit. Add a little salt and pepper and you have a great tasting vegetable. Ellie Krieger, my favorite culinary dietitian, takes these grilled zucchini strips and rolls them up in goat cheese with spinach and basil leaves for a delicious side dish or appetizer. Watch her three minute video to see how she makes these Grilled Zucchini Rolls with Herbs and Cheese without an outside grill.

Zucchini has taken on a new ribbon look in many recipes, changing the texture from mushy to smooth. Using a vegetable peeler, cut the zucchini into lengthwise ribbons. Peel off several ribbons from one side until you hit the seeds and then turn the zucchini to make more slices. Sprinkle with salt and add to greens or pasta salads or add vegetables, cheese, and dressing to the ribbons for a beautiful zucchini salad. To cook, sauté these ribbon slices of zucchini in a little olive oil to make Zucchini Ribbon “Noodles”.  Add some freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper, and the kids won’t realize what they are gobbling down.  Sauté diced tomatoes, garlic, and basil with these ribbons for another delicious dish.

Try “grilled cheese” zucchini by slicing zucchini in rounds, baking them at 425 degrees for about 5 minutes (still firm), and then broiling them after topping them with mozzarella and freshly grated Romano (or Parmesan) cheese.  We make Zucchini Sticks at our wellness camps for kids and they go crazy for them.  Also try this Chocolate Zucchini Bread for a treat made with whole wheat flour, applesauce, and low-fat buttermilk.

Take August’s (2012) Healthy Challenge and eat yellow and green zucchini in a variety of new delicious ways. Full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, this 10 calorie per serving vegetable deserves more plate time and a second chance!


Chocolate Zucchini Bread