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Incredibly Versatile Winter Squash

Elena Harrington


Nov 18th, 2015


Diabetes Food Spotlight: Winter Squash

Diabetes Food Spotlight: Winter Squash: Main Image
All varieties of winter squash have some things in common: they all contain beta-carotene and other carotenes and carotenoids

Winter squash are sweet, nutty, and creamy, making them the comfort food of choice in the vegetable world. The yellows, oranges, and greens of pumpkins and other squash help us look forward to hunkering down for a cozy winter. Like other vegetables harvested in the fall, such as potatoes and parsnips, squash are starchy and filling, but their brightly colored flesh is a clear sign that they are also especially nutritious.

The skinny on squash

There are many varieties of winter squash, each with a slightly different nutritional value, but they all have some things in common: all squash contain beta-carotene and other carotenes and carotenoids. Carotenes and carotenoids give squash their yellow, orange, and green hues, as well as their antioxidant properties. Our bodies can also convert carotenes into vitamin A, another important antioxidant and immune-boosting nutrient. And don’t throw away the seeds—just a quarter cup of roasted squash seeds is a good source of magnesium. Squash seeds also provide some omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, selenium, chromium, and iron.

Although they are high in carbohydrates, they are a rich source of fiber and have a relatively low glycemic load. Both squash fruit and squash seeds have been found to be helpful for managing blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Researchers think that fibers in squash fruits may have special insulin-sensitizing properties that may be partly responsible for their blood sugar-lowering effects.

Eat the whole squash

Winter squash are incredibly versatile. Once you’ve removed the seeds and baked or roasted the fruits until soft, you can serve them simply with a little butter and salt, or puree them to make creamy soups and sauces. Most squash have skin that is tender enough to eat (once cooked), so there’s no need to peel them. Some cooks like to remove the skins and bake them into crisps. Another option is to steam your squash, cut it into cubes, and dress it with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of soy sauce, and a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds. These squash cubes can be added to vegetable stews and soups, or mixed into brown rice or whole grain pasta dishes. However, both soy and wheat are regarded as common allergens, so be sure exclude those if you have an allergy to them. And don’t forget the seeds—lightly salt and roast them for a nutritious snack.

(Nutr Res Rev 2010;23:184–90)

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