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Winter Squash Recipes and Health Benefits

By October 28, 2013June 6th, 2024Fall, Nutrition Information, Vegetables

Now that Fall is here, I am excited to be creating dishes for the incredible variety of winter squashes many small farmers are growing. Their sweet, nutty flavor and dense, nutrient-packed flesh is full of healthy carbs, phytonutrients and antioxidants. Here are their health benefits and some great recipes.

Fall in the kitchen means we’re beginning to transition from cooking summer dishes with soft juicy tomatoes to the thick-skinned squash of fall.  Acorn, spaghetti, or butternut squash are the most popular but over the last few years many farmers markets sell even more delicious varieties like delicata,  kabocha and red kuri. 

Health Benefits of Winter Squash

One of the best things about winter squash is the type of starch they contain. The latest research shows not all starch is created equal. The starch-related components in winter squash have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, as well as anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties.

Many of the carbs in winter squash come from polysaccharides found in the cell walls. These polysaccharides include pectins which help regulate release of sugar into our digestive tract following a meal helping to keep our blood sugar stable.   

Winter varieties tend to be more nutrient-dense than summer squash. They generally contain much more beta-carotene and more of several B vitamins than summer squash. 

Heart Healthy

The high fiber and low fat make it a heart friendly choice. Butternut squash is high in Vitamin C  which is an immune booster and simultaneously reduces the risk of developing or worsening symptoms of hypertension. 

Winter squash is rich in potassium (about 500 mg in 1 cup of cooked butternut or acorn squash), which aids in cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure when eaten frequently.

The folate (vitamin B9) in winter squash strengthens the walls of blood vessels, which helps improves blood circulation. They also contain B6, which your body needs for energy and red blood cell formation.

Good for Eyes and Skin

Squash’s tangerine color indicates abundance of powerhouse nutrients known as carotenoids.  They  contain high levels of beta-carotene (both  of these nutrients your body automatically converts to vitamin A). Vitamin A is a powerful natural anti-oxidant and is required by the body to maintain the integrity of skin and mucus membranes. It is an essential vitamin for good eye-sight.

Keeps Your Bowels Moving

Even though squash has a creamy texture it has lots of fiber to help clear away cholesterol and keep your pipes clean.  Healthy bowel movements eliminate toxins and inflammation.

Acorn squash has a high fiber content, which has been linked to a decreased risk of diabetes, stroke and obesity.

Helps Balance Blood Sugar

Much of the fiber in winter squash is soluble fiber. This type of fiber helps regulate blood levels of glucose and cholesterol.

Good Source of B Vitamins

Winter squash provides a good amount of five B-complex vitamins! These are B1, B3, B6, pantothenic acid, and folate. The B-complex vitamins have dramatic mood-elevating effects more so than almost any other nutrient! This complex of vitamins is crucial for nerve function and nerve cell metabolism, which produce optimal neurotransmitter levels.

Reduces Inflammation 

The omega-3 fatty acids provided by winter squash, together with its carotenoids and phenols, make it anti-inflammatory.

Tips for Buying Winter Squash 

Choose squash that has a firm exterior and no soft spots, or cracks. It’s interesting to know the skin of  winter squashes becomes even firmer as they mature. The skin should be hard to pierce with your fingernail.  A soft and shinny skin indicates an unripe squash. If it has soft spots or a moldy stem it’s too old.

Knock on the skin with your knuckle: if it sounds hollow, it is ripe; if it sounds dull, the squash may either be unripe or spoiled.

Although some squash may last several months in the right storage conditions, it is recommended to use them within one month for best flavor. Keep them dry and in a cool place. 

Varieties of Winter Squash with Recipes 

Sometimes it takes a bit of effort and determination and a sharp chef’s knife to cut through the tough exterior of a winter squash.  If you’re having a hard time cutting it, put into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes to soften it up a bit. Cutting will be easier

A sharp vegetable peeler is the perfect tool to remove the skin from butternut squash, honey squash or sugar pumpkins. I buy a new peeler every fall.

Butternut Squash – This is the most popular winter squash because it is easy to find.  It has a fine-textured, deep-orange flesh with a sweet, nutty flavor. The more orange the color, the riper, drier, and sweeter the squash. Butternut is a common squash used in making soup because it isn’t stringy. 

Recipe:    Thai Style Butternut Squash Soup

Delicata Squash – I love delicata squash because you don’t have to peel it.  It has a short season and doesn’t hold up very long at home because of its thin skin. It is readily available in most farmers markets.

Recipe: Crispy Roasted Delicata Squash -This mouthwatering recipe is fast, easy and super satisfying. 

Acorn Squash – Easily found in supermarkets. As its name suggests, this winter squash is round shaped like an acorn. It is one of my favorite baking squashes. Any of the winter squash can be prepared simply baked.

How To Bake a Winter Squash:  Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut any type of squash in half using a sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds and pulp. Place squash flesh side down in a baking pan and add about ¼-inch of water. Bake until tender. Small squash take up to 35 minutes and larger ones may take 45-90 minutes. Test by inserting a fork. It should slide in easily and feel soft. Serve with a little organic butter, ghee or coconut oil, and a pinch of salt.

Kabocha – This squash is commonly called Japanese pumpkin. It has the flavor of roasted chestnuts.  It is rare so grab this one if you see it. It’s another one with an edible skin. Eating the peel adds even more fiber.

Recipe: Roasted Kabocha Squash 

Spaghetti Squash – The fun thing about this squash is when its cooked the flesh separates in strands that resemble spaghetti pasta. The yellow colored ones are the ripest and best to eat. The larger ones are also more flavorful than the smaller ones. 

Recipe: Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Sun Dried Tomatoes is a satisfying fall dish that’s plant rich, low carb and gluten free. The robust flavor comes from sautéing the spaghetti squash ‘noodles’ with garlic, sun dried tomatoes, kale and pine nuts to create a super delicious weeknight dinner

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