If you're looking for a hearty vegetable that can be prepared without too much fuss, pick up a butternut squash the next time you're at the farmer's market. In season from October to February, this variety of winter squash can be picked out by its cream-colored skin and large pear shape.
When you cut it open, you'll see bright orange-colored flesh that is, as its color suggests, rich in carotenoids like beta-carotene, an antioxidant that turns into vitamin A in your body (just one cup of butternut squash provides 437 percent of your daily requirement).1
One of the benefits of butternut squash is its long shelf life, courtesy of its thick skin. You can store one for weeks, even months, provided you keep it out of direct sunlight and protect it from extreme temperatures (about 50-60 degrees F is best).
While long storage times are known to impact nutritional quality in produce, in the case of butternut squash the carotenoids continue to accumulate for the first two months of storage.2 So this is one vegetable that's perfect to keep on hand and use in a pinch.
Did You Know?
- Butternut squash is rich in carotenoid antioxidants and contains an impressive amount of vitamin K1, along with vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, calcium, potassium, and magnesium
- Eating more deep-orange-colored fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease
- Six-spice butternut squash combines squash with cumin and Chinese 5-Spice – a blend of cinnamon, clove, ginger, fennel, and star anise
Top Reasons to Eat Butternut Squash
Are you wondering what else butternut squash is good for? It contains an impressive amount of vitamin K1 (not K2), along with vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. It even contains a respectable amount of plant-based omega-3 fats.
Certainly, the high levels of carotenoids like beta carotene in butternut squash deserve special mention. The George Mateljan Foundation noted:3
"Recent research has made it clear just how important winter squash is worldwide to antioxidant intake, especially so in the case of carotenoid antioxidants. From South America to Africa to India and Asia and even in some parts of the United States, no single food provides a greater percentage of certain carotenoids than winter squash."
There's good reason to make butternut squash a regular part of your diet. Eating more deep-orange-colored fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD),4 for starters.
A beta-carotene-rich diet may also protect against prostate cancer5 and is also associated with a lower risk of colon cancer.6 A deficiency in vitamin A can cause your eye's photoreceptors to deteriorate, which leads to vision problems. This is why eating foods rich in beta-carotene may help restore vision.7
Butternut squash also contains phytonutrients called cucurbitacins, which have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, along with anti-cancer properties. According to the George Mateljan Foundation:8
"Scientists have already determined that several different signaling pathways (for example, the JAK-STAT and MAPK pathways) required for cancer cell development and survival can be blocked by activity of cucurbitacins."
Even the Starch and Seeds May Be Good for You
Winter squash like butternut is on my most recommended vegetables list – but it's in the "use sparingly due to high carbohydrate levels" category. Virtually all (90 percent) of the calories in squash come from carbohydrates and about half of those are starch-like.
Interestingly, consuming this starch in a whole food like squash may have some unique health benefits. The George Mateljan Foundation reported:9
"… [R]ecent 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."
Also noteworthy, you can eat squash seeds too, just as you would pumpkin seeds. They're rich in fiber, protein, minerals, vitamins and more, including healthy fats like linoleic and oleic acids.
What's Better Than Butternut Squash? Butternut Squash with Spices
The recipe that follows, from MyLongevityKitchen,10 features butternut squash combined with healthy spices, which have potent antioxidant properties. So in addition to the health benefits of squash, you'll also enjoy the benefits of spices. One used in this recipe is cumin, which has been shown to enhance memory, relieve stress, and support healthy blood sugar levels.
You'll also notice Chinese 5-Spice. Which is a blend of cinnamon, clove, ginger, fennel, and star anise – all phenomenal spices that you might not eat much of right now. When choosing a squash for this recipe, find one with a hard, dull rind that feels heavy for its size. And, if possible, choose organic. You'll find the recipe below works well as a sweet-savory side dish, and you can eat it warm or cold, whichever you prefer.
Six-Spice Butternut Squash11
- 1 small butternut squash, under 2 lbs.
- 2 Tbsp. ghee, palm oil, coconut oil, or lard, melted
- 2 tsp. coconut aminos (or 1 tsp fish sauce + 1 tsp coconut sugar)
- 2 tsp. coconut sugar
- ½ tsp. cumin
- ½ tsp. Chinese 5 spice
- ¼ tsp. sea salt
- 2 fresh basil leaves
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cut off both ends of the squash by root and stem, and peel the skin off with a vegetable peeler.
- Cut the squash half crosswise. Then, cut both halves lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.
- Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the melted fat with the coconut aminos, coconut sugar, and the rest of the spices except for the basil.
- Add the squash to the mixing bowl, and toss well to coat
- Roast for 25 minutes, turning the pieces after 15 minutes.
- Thinly slice the basil by stacking the two leaves, rolling tightly like a cigar, and slicing across to create ribbons. Carefully mix the basil ribbons into the hot squash.
Sources and References