One of the things I look forward to during the cooler months is the abundant supply of winter squash available. Butternut, acorn, and spaghetti are probably the most recognizable. But there are a bunch of different varieties of squash, some of which you may not be familiar with. These hearty vegetables come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and each supply ample amounts of cancer protecting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Winter squash is packed with vitamins A and C, and contains important minerals such as potassium, manganese, copper, niacin and folate. These nutrients play vital roles in boosting the immune system, bone health, tissue repair, and maintenance of vision and overall eye health. Winter squash is also a good source of fiber, important in maintaining a healthy digestive tract.
Health Benefits of Winter Squash
Winter squash contains some of the highest levels of beta-carotene. Not only responsible for giving fruits and vegetables its vibrant color, beta-carotene also has antioxidant activities that help defend the body from free radical damage. In addition, the vitamin C functions as an antioxidant by protecting the body from cell damage that can lead to skin, breast, lung, or esophageal cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important in reducing pain and inflammation within the body. Winter squash contains omega-3s in the form of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), an essential nutrient that inhibits the oxidative damage that leads to inflammation. Acorn and butternut squash also contain the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound that may help with arthritis relief.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Although winter squash is typically thought of as a starchy vegetable, most of the carbs come from polysaccharides found in the plant cell walls. Unlike simple carbs, these complex carbs along with the dietary fiber in squash helps to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream and prevent spikes in blood sugar levels.
When purchasing, choose ones that have a tough nonglossy rind and stem attached. Squash should be heavy for its size, which suggests the more edible flesh available. Avoid those with punctures, cuts or sunken spots on the rind. Uncut winter squash can be safely stored for up to 3 months when kept in a cool place.
I have to admit, I used to be intimidated by winter squash. They are large and awkwardly shaped. Not to mention, the process to prepare always seemed so daunting. Lucky for me, I couldn’t have been any more wrong. Winter squash can easily be baked, steamed, boiled or pureed into soups.
Spaghetti squash is a great option for those looking for a lower carbohydrate alternative to pasta, with a stellar nutritional profile to boot. Use it in place of pasta and top with your favorite tomato sauce.
Here’s a recipe that shows just how delicious yet simplistic spaghetti squash is to make. Give this one a try, I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!
- 1 medium spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds), halved lengthwise
- Coarse salt and pepper
- 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
- 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Season squash with salt and pepper. Place cut side down in a 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Add 3/4 Cup water and roast until tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. Let cool.
- Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss shrimp with 1 teaspoon oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Scoop out seeds from squash and discard. With a fork, scrape flesh into a large bowl. Add shrimp and any cooking juices, lemon juice, and 1 Tablespoon oil; toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and top with parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.
Other delicious winter squash recipes to try
- Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing
- Chickpea salads are perfect transportable lunch.
- Moroccan-Spiced Spaghetti Squash
- This is a quick and easy meal to make in a microwave.
- Quinoa and Winter Squash Bake
- This is delicious, nutritious, and perfect to make ahead for meals all week.
- Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile-Lime Vinaigrette
- Spicy, sweet, and simple to make.
- Stuffed Winter Squash
- Just don’t go overboard with the cheddar or chorizo.
- Baked Spaghetti Squash Carbonara