Summer Squash Benefits and Nutritional Values
Summer squashes are squashes that are harvested when immature; the entire vegetable, including its flesh, seeds, and skin, is edible. Unlike winter squash, summer squash has thin edible skin, soft seeds, and a high water content.
This article explores the nutritional properties of summer squash and their potential benefits.
Summer squash belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family and is related to both the melon and the cucumber. Summer squash comes in several different varieties, including zucchini, yellow squash, crookneck, and pattypan. There are differences in shape, color, size, and flavor. Among the summer squash varieties, zucchini, with its mild flavor and cucumber-like appearance, is the most popular in the United States.
Varieties of summer squash include:
Zucchini: Probably the best-known of the summer squashes, zucchini is a type of narrow squash that resembles a cucumber in size and shape. It has smooth, thin skin that is either green or yellow in color and can be striped or speckled. Its tender flesh is creamy white in color and features numerous seeds. Its edible flowers are often used in French and Italian cooking.
Crookneck and Straightneck Squash: Both of these summer squashes have creamy white flesh and generally have yellow skins, although sometimes you can find them with green skin. Crookneck squash is partially straight with a swan-like neck.
Pattypan Squash: This small saucer-shaped squash features skin that can either be pale green or golden yellow in color. Its cream-colored flesh is more dense and slightly sweeter than zucchini.
Other summer squashes include the chayote, a pale-green, pear-shaped fruit with a large central seed and a fairly thick, ridged skin.
Summer Squash Nutrition Facts
Vitamins (Per 100g serving, DV based on a 2000-calorie diet)
|Vitamin||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Vitamin A, RAE||10 μg||1%|
|Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)||17 mg||19%|
|Tocopherol (Vitamin E)||0.12 mg||1%|
|Vitamin K||3 μg||3%|
|Thiamin (Vitamin B1)||0.048 mg||4%|
|Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)||0.142 mg||11%|
|Niacin (Vitamin B3)||0.487 mg||3%|
|Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)||0.155 mg||3%|
|Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)||0.218 mg||13%|
|Folate (Vitamin B9)||29 μg||7%|
Minerals (Per 100g serving, DV based on a 2000-calorie diet)
|Mineral||Amount||% Daily Value|
Key Nutrients in Summer Squash
Zucchini and the yellow summer squashes are high in dietary fiber: insoluble cellulose and lignin in the seeds and peel, and soluble pectins in the vegetable itself. They are a good source of fiber and, at 93 percent water, low in calories and helpful for staying hydrated in the summer heat.
Green and yellow summer squashes have small to moderate amounts of vitamin C, vitamin B6, riboflavin, niacin, and folate. They also provide a decent amount of vitamin A, beta-carotene, and, best of all, more than 4,000 mcg of lutein and zeaxanthin, two members of the carotenoid family that are getting serious research attention for their ability to protect the eyes against macular degeneration and other vision problems.
Like most vegetables, summer squash is high in the heart-healthy mineral potassium. One cup of cooked summer squash gives you more than three times the amount of potassium in the typical potassium supplement.
Benefits of Summer Squash
Summer squash can lower the risk of some cancers. Although not as potent as root vegetables like burdock, garlic, or onion, squashes have been found to have anti-cancer-type effects. Some lab studies have shown vegetable juices obtained from squash to be parallel to juices made from leeks, pumpkin, and radish in their ability to prevent cell mutations. According to the American Cancer Society, foods rich in beta-carotene may lower the risk of cancers of the larynx, esophagus, and lungs.
Promotes Bone Health
When many people think of foods good for bone health, they think of dairy products and maybe nuts and seeds. Yet, vegetables, including summer squash, can be an important component of a diet aimed at building and maintaining healthy bones. The benefit of summer squash is that it supplies a wide array of nutrients necessary for bone health, not just calcium. It is a very good source of magnesium and phosphorus, two minerals important for strengthening the bone matrix. It is also an excellent source of manganese and a very good source of copper, two trace minerals that are cofactors of enzymes necessary for bone metabolism.
Heart and Cardiovascular Health
Summer squash is an excellent source of magnesium and a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin A (notably through its concentration of carotenoids, including beta-carotene), fiber potassium, vitamin B6, folate, copper, riboflavin, and niacin. Many of these nutrients are helpful for the prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Summer squash's magnesium has been shown to be helpful for reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Together with the potassium in summer squash, magnesium is also helpful for reducing high blood pressure. The vitamin C and beta-carotene found in summer squash can help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. Since oxidized cholesterol is the type that builds up in blood vessel walls, these nutrients may help to reduce the progression of atherosclerosis. The body needs the vitamin B6 and folate in summer squash to break down homocysteine, a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes if levels rise too high. Finally, summer squash's niacin and fiber have both been shown to lower high cholesterol levels, which can help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease.
Help with Weight Loss
Like most vegetables, summer squash is a great food for people interested in losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. They’re both filling and low-calorie; squash gives you a nice amount of fiber overall for a low number of calories.
Extracts from squash have also been found to help reduce symptoms of a condition occurring in men called benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH. In this condition, the prostate gland becomes problematically enlarged, which can cause difficulty with urinary and sexual function. Particularly in combination with other phytonutrient-containing foods, squash may be helpful in reducing BPH symptoms.
Other Health-Promoting Benefits
The nutrients in summer squash are useful for the prevention of other conditions as well. High intakes of fiber-rich foods help to keep cancer-causing toxins away from cells in the colon, while folate, vitamin C, and beta-carotene help to protect these cells from the chemicals that can lead to colon cancer. The antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene also have anti-inflammatory properties that make them helpful for conditions like asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, where inflammation plays a big role. The copper found in summer squash is also helpful for reducing the painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. And the fiber content may be helpful for reducing the uncomfortable diarrhea or constipation of irritable bowel syndrome.
Select and Store Summer Squash
When purchasing summer squash, small, firm, shiny squash that are heavy for their size should be selected. The smaller ones are better; the big ones can be bland and woody-tasting. Pattypans are a delicate pale green with ruffled edges; they are best when no larger than 3 inches in diameter. Their skins should be thin and delicate, and they should feel heavy. Neither type should look withered or dry. Avoid squash with a hardrind; the harder the rind, the older the squash, and the larger and harder the seeds inside.
Keep summer squash in the refrigerator in a plastic bag; it will keep for three or four days. This squash is so full of water, which is perishable and should be used within a few days.