Fall Super Foods: Butternut Squash

by Z Living Staff

A member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes gourds and melons, butternut squash is actually a fruit. While it has a long history of being eaten by native Americans, it was “discovered” pretty late compared to other fruits and vegetables, and not sold in US supermarkets until 1944. In culinary terms, butternut squash is a late bloomer, but it has bloomed large, growing quickly in popularity, as its fruity, autumnal taste compliments a variety of flavors, including Mediterranean, Latin American and North African.

What Makes A Good Recipe?
Butternut squash has a sweet and mellow flavor that works well in a variety of dishes.  It can be baked or used in soups, pasta dishes, casseroles, and even risotto.  Butternut squash soup combines its autumnal flavor with onions, potatoes, white wine, carrots and nutmeg for warm and comforting dish. Its warm flavor compliments a variety of cuisines, including North and South African, and North American. For a nutritious vegetarian stew, try making a Moroccan Tagine with Butternut squash instead of chicken.

Butternut squash goes well with hearty winter herbs such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper or balsamic vinegar. You can splash with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic and fresh rosemary and grill until soft, or candy it with honey, pecans, cinnamon and butter. Butternut squash with cinnamon, ginger and cloves and pureed makes an excellent soup.

What Are The Benefits?
Packed with vitamins and minerals, there are many health benefits to this versatile vegetable including:

  • Vitamin A: 1 cup of cooked squash has 427 % of the RDA, a vitamin that is essential to eye health, skin, teeth and bone metabolism and immune function.
  • Vitamin C: 1 cup has 31 mg or 33 % of your RDA vitamin C, a mineral needed for gum health, wound healing and immune system health.
  • Fiber: One cup has 10 grams of carbohydrates, including 3g of fiber.
  • Good source of calcium, potassium and manganese. These vitamins and minerals support a healthy immune system along with a healthy heart, bones and tissues in the body.
  • Antioxidents: The orange color of butternut squash is from high levels of beta-carotene, which is both a pre-cursor to vitamin A and a carotenoid. Carotenoids are antioxidants which are beneficial to eye health, and may reduce certain forms of cancer, and help prevent arterial disease.
  • Fat free. With 0.1 g of fat per cup, butternut squash is considered to be virtually fat free. Because it contains no cholesterol, butternut squash is a perfect choice for anyone who is in need of a heart healthy and diet.
  • No cholesterol or sodium.

Is There Such A Thing As Too Much?
Zero fat, no cholesterol or sodium, and high in antioxidants, its virtually impossible to eat too much butternut squash. Technically, if you were eating it several times per day, for a few weeks, you might absorb enough beta-carotene to turn your skin orange. However, it is inadvisable to eat any vegetable or other food too much, no matter how healthy.

How Do I Make Butternut Squash Recipes Healthier?
Because butternut squash is actually a fruit, it is often combined with honey, maple syrup or brown sugar in recipes. While delicious, keep tabs on how much sugar, butter, dairy and fat are in the recipe. If there’s a big dose of the sweet, you can always replace the sugar or sugar-based food with an artificial sweetener, Agave nectar, or Stevia. Butternut soups are typically cream based. For the healthier option, you can replace the cream with milk or use a vegetable broth and thicken with mashed potatoes.

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