As fall arrives, you know it’s all about pumpkins and squash. Here’s your guide to help you get to know these hardy vegetables, in all their varietal glory.
Ready to embrace an affordable seasonal produce that has many varieties?
Enter, winter squash.
Winter squash includes butternut squash, kabocha squash, red kabocha squash, carnival squash, sugar pumpkin, sweet dumpling squash, spaghetti squash, blue hubbard squash, delicata squash, red kuri squash, buttercup squash, acorn squash…you get the idea.
With so many ways to prepare and incorporate it into your meals, it’s easy to find ways to eat it in these cooler months. When choosing a winter squash, make sure it has a firm rind (softer may indicate a more watery flesh inside), and it is hard, heavy, and dull (not glossy).
The storage life will depend on the variety and how long it had already been stored when you purchased it, but depending on the type of squash, it can be stored anywhere from one week to six months. Just be sure to keep it in a cool, dark environment. Once cut, cover and store in the fridge up to a couple days.
Now that you have a better idea of how to find your perfect winter squash, let’s get to know why you’ll want to!
May Reduce Risk of Eye Disease
Winter squash is an excellent source of carotenoids, like alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. Several studies also show that winter squash as a top three food source of lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin. All of these are powerful antioxidants that help in reducing disease risk, especially eye disease. Lutein and zeaxanthin in particular may be protective in eye disease because they absorb blue light (the light from electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs that is particularly harmful at night), which is damaging to the eyes.
Antioxidant Powerhouses for Heart Health
On top of being the number one source of carotenoids, winter squash possesses other antioxidants including vitamin C and manganese. Recent research has also shown that cell wall polysaccharides may have antioxidant properties that are protective of heart disease risks in mice.
With the soluble fiber from pectins and all of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of winter squash, they can (and should!) be a part of a heart-healthy diet.
Winter squash contains a decent amount (340 mg) of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. There is also a type of molecule in winter squash called cucurbitacins, which have properties that can make them anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Winter squashes are typically pretty starchy, although there will be variation among the different varieties). However, not all starch works the same in our bodies. The type of starch in winter squashes is more complex, with most of the carbs coming from polysaccharides in the squash’s cell walls. This includes the soluble fiber pectin, which can have heart-healthy benefits as it absorbs cholesterol, which recent animal studies show may also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties. For your blood sugar, this means you won’t see dramatic blood sugar fluctuations with the polysaccharides in winter squash.
Research is also showing that nutrients found in winter squash may help with blood sugar regulation. B-complex vitamins actually work closely in our body’s blood sugar regulation, and winter squash is unique in that it contains a fair amount of five B-complex vitamins: B1, B3, B6, pantothenic acid, and folate.
So what’s the best way to use winter squash?
Wash the squash before use. I personally find it easier to steam, bake, or roast the squash with the skin on, as it can be difficult to peel the tough rind. Cutting a squash in half first may help with peeling. If your squash is very large, you can cut the part you’re not currently using into small cubes and freeze, which can be easily be added to soups, stews, casseroles, and oatmeals.
For my mamas, winter squash can make excellent baby food! To puree, just steam first and puree with a little breast milk, formula, or water if the consistency needs to be thinned. If you want small solids, chop squash pieces into smaller sizes and offer it to your child.
To minimize food waste, remember: don’t throw away the seeds! The seeds from any type of winter squash can be rinsed and roasted to make for an excellent, fibrous snack.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: CORINNE KUTZ
Lindsey Janeiro RDN, CLC is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Counselor based in Sarasota, FL focused on helping busy moms live stress-free in the kitchen. She inspires moms with the confidence and encouragement they need to create simple, affordable family meals that nourishes everyone’s health and happiness. Learn more about Lindsey at Nutrition to Fit.