The Latest News About Winter Squash
What's New and Beneficial About Winter Squash
- Although winter squash has long been recognized as an important food source of carotenoids, only recently have research studies documented just how fantastic winter squash can be when it comes to these key antioxidants. For some groups of study participants, winter squash turns out to be the primary food source of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene in the entire diet! For lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin (three other health-supportive carotenoids) winter squash also comes out among the top three food sources in several studies.
- Seeds from winter squash make a great snack food, just like pumpkin seeds. If you scoop the pulp and seeds from inside the squash and separate out the seeds, you can place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and lightly roast them at 160-170°F (about 75°C) in the oven for 15-20 minutes. By roasting them for a relatively short time at a low temperature you can help minimize damage to their healthy oils. Linoleic acid (the polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid) and oleic acid (the same monounsaturated fatty acid that is plentiful in olive oil) account for about 75% of the fat found in the seeds.
- We think about winter squash as a very starchy vegetable - about 90% of its total calories come from carbohydrate, and about half of this carbohydrate is starch-like in its composition. However, recent research has made it clear that all starch is not the same, and the starch content of winter squash brings along with it some key health benefits. Many of the carbs in winter starch come from polysaccharides found in the cell walls. These polysaccharides include pectins - specially structured polysaccharides that in winter squash often include special chains of D-galacturonic acid called homogalacturonan. An increasing number of animal studies now show that these starch-related components in winter squash have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, as well as anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties.
- Winter squash is a vegetable that might be especially important for us to purchase organic. Recent agricultural trials have shown that winter squash can be an effective intercrop for use in remediation of contaminated soils. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), including pyrene, fluoranthene, chrysene, benzo(a)anthracene and benzo(a)pyrene are unwanted contaminants. PAHs are among the contaminants that can be effectively pulled up out of the soil by winter squash plants. When winter squash is planted as a food crop (as opposed to a non-food crop that is being planted between food crop seasons to help improve soil quality), the farmer's goal is definitely not to transfer soil contaminants like PAHs up into the food. But some of that transfer seems likely to happen, given the effectiveness of winter squash in mobilizing contaminants like PAHs from the soil. For this reason, you may want to make a special point of purchasing certified organic winter squash. Soils used for the growing of in certified organic foods are far less likely to contain undesirable levels of contaminants like PAHs.
Our favorite way to prepare winter squash is to steam it as it takes such a short period of time. It's best to steam 1-inch cubes of squash. The preparation for this is described in the How to Enjoy section of our website. For most types of squash you only need to steam it for 7 minutes. So you save time and enjoy a host of more nutrients.
Winter squash provide numerous health benefits including:
- Antioxidant support
- Anti-inflammatory benefits
- Possibility of better regulation of blood sugar
- Potential for enhancing heart health
For more details on walnuts' health benefits, see this section of our winter squash.
Winter squash is an excellent source of immune-supportive vitamin A (in its "previtamin" carotenoid forms) and free radical-scavenging vitamin C. It is also a very good source of vitamin C, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, manganese, and copper as well as a good source of potassium, vitamin B2, folate, vitamin K, pantothenic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and niacin.
For more on this nutrient-rich legume, including references related to this Latest News, see our write-up on winter squash.