Winter Squash—A Hearty and Healthy Staple

Though the name might fool you, winter squash are actually in season in autumn, and are a hearty source of nutrients as the weather begins to cool. They are versatile vegetables, often used to make thick, creamy soups or simply roasted for an excellent side dish. The seeds of winter squash can even be toasted to provide a healthy snack for the fall and winter months. 

Diets that incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables are associated with health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and prevention of certain types of cancer. Nutrients found in winter squash include carotenoids (e.g., beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin), vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium, and potassium.1 

Below are nutrition information on several types of winter squash and recommendations on how to prepare them. 

Butternut Squash

Nutrition. Butternut squash is one of the most common types of winter squash. It is a nutrient-dense food, and one cup includes 6.56g of fiber, 9.37mg of beta carotene, 84mg of calcium, 59.4mg of magnesium, and 582mg of potassium.2 Potassium helps maintain a healthy blood pressure and is associated with reduced risk of death from stroke and heart disease. Consuming a diet rich in beta carotene has been associated with a lower risk of asthma, colon cancer, and lung cancer.3,4 Additionally, the fiber content of butternut squash can help regulate blood sugar.3 

Suggested preparation. Butternut squash can be prepared any number of ways. Here’s a simple recipe: Peel off the skin and cut into small cubes. Drizzle them with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add spices like turmeric or nutmeg to jazz up the flavor. Bake at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the squash is soft and easily pierced with a fork. 

Pumpkin 

Nutrition. This classic autumn staple isn’t just for carving or pumpkiun pie! One cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains 11.5mg of vitamin C, 5.14mg of beta carotene, 14,100IU of vitamin A, 1.96mg of vitamin E, and 2.47mg of lutein and zeaxanthin.5 Vitamins A, C, and E have been shown to help boost immunity. Beta carotene helps maintain eye health by helping the retina absorb light, and it also might provide the skin with protection against UV rays.6

Suggested preparation. Pumpkin can be roasted like butternut sqaush. Pumpkin also makes an excellent soup. Peel the skin off, cut into chunks, and roast it plain or boil it in water (like you would potatoes before mashing). When the pumpkin chunks are nice and soft, puree them in a blender or food processor with water or vegetable stock and season to taste with cinnamon or nutmeg. Many pumpkin soup recipes call for heavy cream to be blended into the soup. If you want the creamy taste without all the fat, try plain greek yogurt or silken tofu mixed with a little fat-free dairy milk or a plant-based milk. The seeds are loaded with fiber, and can be roasted in the oven for a quick snack as well. 

Acorn Squash 

Nutrition. This green and orange acorn-shaped squash is a delicious and healthy addition to any meal. One cup is packed with 9.02g of fiber, 90.2mg of calcium, 88.2mg of magnesium, 896mg of potassium, and 22.1mg of vitamin C.7 The high amount of potassium can help manage blood pressure1 and the high fiber content aids in maintaining lower blood sugar levels and promotes digestive health, preventing constipation and possibly protecting against colorectal cancer and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).8 

Suggested preparation. The nutty flavor of acorn squash makes it the perfect addition to various meals. A simple yet delicious way to prepare acorn squash is to cut it in half, drizzle the inside with a little olive oil if desired, and bake skin side up at 425 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the inside can be easily pierced with a fork. Since the skin is thinner than other winter squash, there is no need to peel it, unless that is your preference. Season the cooked acorn squash according to your tastes. For a sweeter taste, drizzle a little maple syrup or honey or sprinkle a little brown sugar over your roasted acorn squash and season with cinnamon or nutmeg. Or go savory with a little thyme or rosemary.

Spaghetti Squash 

Nutrition. The bright yellow spaghetti squash is lighter and more delicate than other winter squash, but it’s still full of nutrients. One cup contains 2.17g of fiber, 32.6mg of calcium, 5.2mg of vitamin C,9 as well as antioxidants, which can help the body break down free radicals.10 

Suggested preparation. Spaghetti squash is a healthy alternative to wheat-based pasta, and it’s very easy to prepare. Simply cut it in half length-wise, drizzle the inside with a little olive oil if desired, and roast skin side up at 425 degrees for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until the skin is slightly browned. Once cooled, scrape out the squash lengthways with a fork; it will look like spaghetti, hence the name! Serve with your favorite pasta sauce. Delish!

Bottom Line

Winter squash varieties taste great and will add a big boost of nutrition to your fall meals. Take advantage of these healthy foods while they’re in season!

Sources

1. The Nutrition Source website. Winter squash. 6 Jul 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/winter-squash/. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.

2. FoodData Central website. Squash, winter, butternut, cooked, baked, without salt. 1 Apr 2019. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169296/nutrients. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.

3. Ware M. What’s to know about butternut squash? Medical News Today website. 18 May 2017. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284479#benefits. Accessed 30 Aug 2021. 

4. Kubala J. Is butternut squash good for you? Calories, carbs, and more. Healthline website. 17 Jan 2019. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/butternut-squash#benefits. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.

5. FoodData Central website. Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. 1 Apr 2019. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168449/nutrients. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.

6. Jennings, K-A. Pumpkin: nutrition, benefits, and how to eat. Healthline website. 26 Dec 2016. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/pumpkin-nutrition-review. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.

7. FoodData Central website. Squash, winter, acorn, cooked, baked, without salt. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169293/nutrients. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.

8. Kubala, J. Acorn squash: nutrition, benefits, and how to cook it. Healthline website. 11 Jun 2019. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/acorn-squash#benefits. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.

9. FoodData Central website. Squash, winter, spaghetti, cooked, boiled, drained, or baked, without salt. 1 Apr 2019. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169299/nutrients. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.

10. Cleveland Clinic website. Everything to know about spaghetti squash. 16 Apr 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/everything-to-know-about-spaghetti-squash/. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.    

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