Health Benefits of Squash

A food staple during the fall season, squash is comforting, delicious, and healthy. It's often steamed or roasted, but its name actually derives from a Native American term for raw or uncooked vegetables.

 Squash is one of the most versatile types of produce. There are two main categories: summer squash, which is harvested when immature, and winter squash, which spends more time on the vine and typically has a rigid exterior.

Several specific varieties of squash are available, including acorn, spaghetti, butternut, and kabocha squash. These vary greatly in terms of size, shape, color, and flavor.

While it is often treated as a vegetable, squash is actually a type of fruit, as it comes from a flower and contains seeds. You can enjoy these seeds, as  well as the flesh and, in many cases, the skin. With most types of winter squash, however, you may prefer to scoop out the flesh and discard what’s left. No matter how you eat it, this tasty treat is chock-full of fiber and antioxidants.

Health Benefits

The many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in squash provide several health benefits. The antioxidants in squash can play an important role in reducing oxidative stress. In turn, this may help with cancer prevention. 

Other health benefits provided by squash include:

Improved Eye Health

The vitamin C and beta-carotene found in squash may help to slow the progression of macular degeneration and reduce the chances of  related vision loss. Foods rich in vitamin C can also help prevent cataracts.

Reduced Risk of Depression

Several squash varieties are rich in vitamin B6. People with vitamin B6 deficiency may be at a higher risk of developing mental health concerns such as depression.

Enhanced Skin Health

Although not as effective as topical sunscreen, beta-carotene can play a role in protecting the skin from sun exposure. Reduced exposure to UV light can improve skin appearance.

Nutrition

Several types of squash are rich in vitamin C, which is important for growing and repairing cell tissue. Squash is also high in fiber, which aids in digestion.

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Additionally, squash is a good source of:

Nutrients per Serving

When served raw, one-cup of cubed butternut squash contains:

Things to Look Out For

While the high beta-carotene content in squash can provide many benefits, studies also suggest that consuming too much of this compound can increase the risk of lung cancer. In addition, some types of prepared squash include high amounts of added sugar.

How to Prepare Squash

Squash can be found in almost any grocery store, health foods shop, or farmer's market. It's also easy to grow at home.

While ideal growing conditions vary somewhat based on the specific variety, squash in general thrives when it is planted in an area with full, direct sunlight.

Although squash can be eaten raw, you can enjoy it steamed, roasted, fried, or pureed. A versatile ingredient, it can be included in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.

Here are a few easy ways to include squash in your favorite recipes:

  • Use acorn or red kuri squash to create a delicious filling replacement for pumpkin pie
  • Combine squash, vegetable broth, canned tomatoes, beans, jalapenos, and onions to create vegan chili
  • Blend butternut squash with milk, dates, and cinnamon to make a satisfying smoothie
  • Make spaghetti squash noodles as a healthy substitute for your favorite pasta dish
  • Use butternut or acorn squash as a filling in ravioli
  • Sauté squash with bok choy and edamame to form a unique stir fry
  • Roast and puree your favorite type of squash with herbs. This forms the basis of the perfect autumn soup
  • Use squash as a pizza topping along with prosciutto, gorgonzola, and arugula. 
  • Clean and roast the leftover seeds from squash to enjoy as a healthy snack.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 19, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Archives of Ophthalmology: "A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Clinical Trial of High-Dose Supplementation With Vitamins C and E, Beta Carotene, and Zinc for Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Vision Loss."

{Harvard T.H. School of Public Health: “Antioxidants.”

International Journal of Cancer: "Beta-carotene supplementation and cancer risk: a systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials."

Mayo Clinic: “Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet.”

Nutrients:“The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health”.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "β-Carotene and Other Carotenoids in Protection From Sunlight."

The Journal of Nutrition: “Vitamin C Is Associated with Reduced Risk of Cataract in a Mediterranean Population.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Squash, Winter, Butternut, Raw."

University of Vermont Extension—Department of Plant and Soil Science: “Growing Squash.”

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