Fall has arrived and with it so has a bounty of winter squash at farm stands and grocery stores. Although typically used in cooking as a vegetable, winter squash is technically a fruit and comes in several varieties including, butternut, delicata, spaghetti, hubbard, and acorn. Winter squash is available year round, but is most flavorful when it is in season between October and November. Winter squash is wonderful for adding color, texture, flavor, and nutrition to dishes and meals.
Squash: The Autumnal Superfood
Historically, in some cultures, winter squash was used as a medicinal treatment for diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Although there aren’t any studies that have explicitly addressed the health benefits of winter squash, it has been described as a “superfood” because it contains many nutrients beneficial to chronic disease prevention. Winter squash is rich in vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as minerals such as potassium, folate, magnesium, and manganese. Winter squash is also naturally low in calories, fat, and sodium, and many varieties are high in protein. It is also a good source of fiber which is advantageous to good digestion and blood sugar regulation.
Here is a brief overview of three of the most popular winter squash varieties: butternut, acorn, and spaghetti.
1) Butternut Squash: The Versatile Vitamin-Packed Ingredient
Butternut squash is a versatile ingredient that is readily available, can be prepared in a variety of ways, and is packed with nutrients. Butternut squash is high in vitamin C; a one cup serving provides 87% of the recommended daily amount (RDA) for adults. It is also an excellent source of vitamin A with a single serving providing more than the RDA for adults.
Despite being high in carbohydrates, butternut squash has a low glycemic index which means it will not cause a significant rise in blood sugar when consumed. This makes butternut squash safe for people with diabetes to incorporate into their diet in place of starchy foods like potatoes and rice.
Butternut squash is long and rectangular in shape, light orange in color, with smooth skin. To prepare butternut squash, peel it, cut it in half and clean out the pulp and seeds (save for snacks) and then roast, steam, or boil. Butternut squash can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Consider adding it to stews, casseroles, soups, or slice it up and put it on a pizza. Try our Cream of Butternut Squash Soup to experience silky smooth squash or go traditional with easy Roast Squash.
2) Acorn Squash: Perfect for Stuffing
With its cute dreidel-like shape and green ribbed exterior, acorn squash is easy to recognize and a cinch to prepare. A creative way to prepare acorn squash is to cut it in half, roast it, and use its natural bowl shape as a container. Fill it with a vegetable or meat stuffing or your favorite soup and then eat the flesh along with the filling. Our recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash combines sweet italian sausage, cheese, and farro for flavor and texture in every bite.
From a nutritional perspective, acorn squash is a super source of fiber at 9 grams per cup. A high-fiber diet is important for digestive health as the gut microbiome requires this nutrient to create a healthy home for beneficial bacteria. Fiber also helps to fill you up, which means you may eat fewer calories in one sitting, which can help with weight maintenance.
3) Spaghetti Squash: The Pasta Replacer
Spaghetti squash has an oval shape, yellow skin, and buttery interior. It is quite different from acorn and butternut both in taste and nutritional value. Spaghetti squash has a mild sweet flavor and when cooked its fibrous flesh gets stringy and resembles spaghetti, hence the name.
Unlike other winter squash, spaghetti squash is low in carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. It is a useful source of vitamin A and also provides vitamin C, B vitamins, and manganese.
Spaghetti squash makes a great alternative to pasta and provides fewer calories and carbohydrates, along with additional vitamins and minerals not found in pasta. Simply cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast the squash face down until the skin is soft. When done, take a fork and scrape out the flesh until it resembles angel hair pasta and top it with your favorite sauce. Follow our recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Meatballs to try it for yourself.
Feature Image: Flickr user jim.choate59 ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )