Healthy foods: winter squash

What is it? Winter squash are the quintessential harvest foods. The gourds that bloom in buttery orange and dark green hues - pumpkins, acorn squash, and butternut squash among them - burst with flavor and healthful benefits. Though they look like vegetables, these gourds hide seeds inside their rough, hardy skin, making them technically a kind of fruit. Slice into that tough green exterior of an acorn squash, and you'll find a bounty of seeds and succulent yellow flesh. If you've ever carved a Halloween Jack-o-lantern, you'll recognize the innards of a pumpkin. A butternut squash looks much the same inside, but with fewer seeds.

What is it good for? The rich, deep colors of winter squash give a hint at the plentiful nutrients within. Vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene, is abundant in squash. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant essential to healthy vision, and it may also boost the immune system and protect the body from the kind of free radical damage that may cause heart and blood vessel disorders and cancer. Winter squash provide plenty of potassium, a mineral that helps to regulate the kidneys and the heart as well as the muscles and nerves. You'll also find tons of fiber in these fine fruits, which helps to reduce cholesterol, maintain intestinal health, and moderate blood sugar levels.

What does it taste like? Depending on which gourd you choose, your palate will likely encounter a tender, potato-like texture and a nutty and sometimes sweet flavor. The skins are tough and not made for eating, but the rest of the gourd will be up for grabs! When the squash is washed and cut in half, the seeds and fibrous material can be scooped out. The seeds can be roasted and salted for a fiber-filled snack. The flesh of the gourd can be puréed, cubed, and steamed; made into pancakes; added to soups, stews, or stir-fries; or eaten on its own. You can also bake winter squash whole with a hole pierced in the skin to allow steam to escape. As their name implies, winter squash become available as the temperatures begin to drop, from August to March, with their peak coming in October and November.

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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