As part of Nutrition to Fit’s Frugal Food Favorites series, each week we highlight a favorite affordable food and all of its nutritional benefits, in addition to ways and recipes to include it in your life. This week is all about winter squash!
This week's frugal food is embracing a type of affordable seasonal produce that has many varieties: 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, and more! (Check out this Epicurious article that talks specifically about the flavor characteristics of each of these types of squash.)
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 (1). All of these carotenoids are antioxidants that working in reducing disease risk, especially eye disease (2). 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) that is damaging to the eyes (2, 3).
On top of being the number one source of carotenoids, winter squash possesses other antioxidants, too. They contain vitamin C, manganese, and recent research is suggesting the cell wall polysaccharides also have antioxidant properties (1). Think of antioxidants as like little superheros that prohibit (and sometimes even prevent) damage to our cells caused from oxidation.
Winter squash isn't fat free, but it is low fat (less than 15% of calories come from fat). The awesome thing about this, is that for a low-fat vegetable, you can actually get a decent amount (340 mg) of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (1). 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 (of course there will be variation among the different varieties). Not all starch works the same in our bodies, though .The type of starch in winter squashes is more complex, with the carbs coming from polysaccharides in the squash's cell walls (1). This includes the soluble fiber pectin, which can have heart-healthy benefits as it absorbs cholesterol, and recent animal studies are showing 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 rises and falls with the polysaccharides in winter squash.
Additionally, more research is showing that nutrients found in winter squash (like the B-vitamin like compound d-chiro-inositol) can 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).
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. There's also emerging research suggesting that there may be unique substances in winter squash that may inhibit an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, which may help to partially block the production of cholesterol in our cells (1).
Winter Squash Selection + Storage
Choose winter squash that has a firm rind (softer may indicate a more watery flesh inside), and is hard, heavy, and dull (not glossy). The storage life will depend on the varietal (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. Keep in a cool, dark environment. Once cut, cover and store in the fridge up to a couple days.
Tips for Use + Recipes
Wash the squash before use. I personally find it easier to steam, bake, roast, etc. 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, and these can easily be added to soups, stews, casseroles, oatmeals, etc.
For my mamas, winter squash can make excellent baby food! If you want 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, you can chop squash pieces into smaller sizes and offer it to your child.
Also, food waste note: don't throw away the seeds! The seeds from any type of winter squash can be rinsed and roasted, just like pumpkin seeds! This makes for an excellent, fibrous snack.
We have a TON of recipe contributions from dietitians around the web today, so be sure to check out all the different types of uses for the many varieties of winter squash. Bookmark this page and come back here anytime to consult this great compilation of recipes!
Acorn Squash Waffles by Chrissy Carroll, RDN at Snacking in Sneakers
Roasted Acorn Squash with Maple and Sage by Kristina Todini, RDN at Fork in the Road
Sugar and Spice Acorn Squash by Caitlin Perez, RDN at Nourished Nutrition Counseling and Education
Smoky Tempeh Stuffed Acorn Squash by Emily Cooper, RD at Sinful Nutrition
Wild Rice and Acorn Squash Wedge Salad by Chelsey Amer, RDN at C it Nutritionally
Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash by Kaleigh McMordie, RDN at Lively Table
Stuffed Acorn Squash with Roasted Cherries by Amy Bruursema Getman, RD at Happy Healthy RD
Acorn Squash with Curried Lentils by Kara Lydon, RDN, RYT at Kara Lydon Nutrition
Curried Pineapple Coconut Ambercup Squash Soup by Charlene Pors, RD of Euphoria Nutrition
Thai Squash Soup by Judy Barbe, RD at Live Best
Stuffed Squash with Healthy "Fried" Rice by Katie Pfeffer-Scanlan, RD at One Hungry Bunny
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup by Lindsey Janeiro, RDN, CLC at Nutrition to Fit
Farro Salad with Butternut Squash by Erica Julson, RDN at Erica Julson Nutrition
Sweet Potato, Winter Squash and Cranberry Crumble by Katie Cavuto, RD at Katie Cavuto,RD
Restaurant Style Red Thai Curry by Dixya Bhattarai, RDN at Food, Pleasure and Health
Spicy Butternut Squash and Pear Soup by Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN at Nutrition Starring You
Butternut Squash, Beet and Barley Salad with Apple Maple Vinaigrette by Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RD at Bucket List Tummy
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese by Charlene Pors, RD of Euphoria Nutrition
Roasted Butternut Squash with Pomegranate Sauce by Amy Gorin, RDN at Amy Gorin Nutrition
Baked Butternut Squash French Toast by Amy Gorin, RDN at Amy Gorin Nutrition
Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup by Chelsey Amer, RDN at C it Nutritionally
Black Bean Tostadas with Chile Roasted Butternut Squash by Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD at Marisa Moore Nutrtion
Roasted Vegetables and Pecans with Wild Blueberry Balsamic Sauce by Brittany Poulson, RDN at Your Choice Nutrition
Orzo with Butternut Squash and White Beans by Jenny Shea Rawn MS, MPH, RD at My Cape Cod Kitchen
Roasted Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese and Pumpkin Seeds by Jenny Shea Rawn MS, MPH, RD at My Cape Cod Kitchen
Butternut Squash "Caulfredo" Sauce by Kara Golis, RD of Byte Sized Nutrition
5 Ingredient Butternut Squash Soup by Laura Marzen, RD, LD at FreshFoodBites.com
Butternut Squash Biscotti with Dates and Walnuts by Christy Brissette, MS, RD, President at 80 Twenty Nutrition
Easy Paleo Pizza Crust - Butternut Squash Mini Pizzas by Christy Brissette, MS, RD, President at 80 Twenty Nutrition
Butternut Squash Breakfast Tacos by Kaleigh McMordie, RD at Lively Table
Roasted Fall Vegetables with Sage, Parmesan, and Balsamic Reduction by Chelsea Allen, RD at Chelsea's Healthy Kitchen
Cheesy Butternut Squash and Yellow Split Pea Stew by Natalie Rizzo at Nutrition a la Natalie
Butternut Squash Couscous Fritters by Tawnie Kroll, RDN at Kroll's Korner
Sweet Potato, Zucchini & Butternut Squash Fritters by Whitney English at To Live and Diet in L.A.
Butternut Squash Feta Quiche by Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD at Hungry Hobby
Maple-Roasted Delicata Squash Quinoa Salad by Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN at Nutritioulicious
Protein-Packed Winter Vegetable Frittata by Katie Pfeffer-Scanlan, RD at One Hungry Bunny
Breakfast Stuffed Delicata Squash by Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD at Hungry Hobby
Honeynut Squash Soup by Emily Holdorf, RDN at EmPowered Nutrition
Spaghetti Squash with Meat-Free Bolognese Sauce by Liz Weiss, RDN at Meal Makeover Moms' Kitchen
Spaghetti Squash Taco Boats by Chrissy Carroll, RDN at Snacking in Sneakers
Protein Punch Marinara Spaghetti Squash by Amy Gorin, RDN at Amy Gorin Nutrition
Jambalaya Spaghetti Squash with a Vegetarian Twist by Katie Pfeffer-Scanlan, RD at One Hungry Bunny
Chickpea Kale Curry with Spaghetti Squash by Shahzadi Devje, RD at Desi-licious RD
Veggie Fajita Spaghetti Squash Stir Fry by Chelsey Amer, RDN at C it Nutritionally
Southwestern Style Stuffed Spaghetti Squash [Pressure Cooker] by Brittany Poulson, RDN at Your Choice Nutrition