Good weight loss programs include healthy foods like winter squashes. Winter squashes are nutrition powerhouses that yield a wide variety of health benefits.
Good Weight Loss Programs Include Winter Squash
We usually think of squashes as vegetables, but botanists characterize them as fruits because they develop from the flower of the plant and contain the seeds. More than 350 different types of squash are commonly grown in North America. These diverse offerings can be categorized into winter and summer varieties, a reference to the time of harvesting. There’s an easy way to distinguish them: summer squashes are soft-skinned, like zucchini and patty pan, and can be eaten fresh or cooked, while the more prolific winter variety have hard exteriors.
The winter squash earns its tough covering while maturing on the vine. If you’re prone to kitchen accidents, you may find cutting into acorn or butternut squash somewhat daunting. Avoid the wait at Urgent Care by learning some handy tips on a YouTube video such as this one, which advises microwaving a butternut squash before taking a knife to its seemingly impenetrable skin.
Winter squashes belong to the Cucurbita (Latin for “gourd”) genus, a type of vine native to the Andes and Mesoamerica. Squash has been cultivated for over 10,000 years in Central America and in Peru, where images of gourds commonly appear on Moche ceramics. Today squash is grown in almost every U.S. state, with Florida leading the way, and over $300 million worth of squash is imported from Mexico each year.
Squash is Part of a Good Weight Loss Program
Any good weight loss program needs to include a variety of healthy foods. Winter squashes fit the bill.
Nutritional Value of Squash
Winter squash is nutrient-rich. Although squashes vary both in calories, carbohydrates and fiber and also in their micronutrient composition, they all supply healthy carbohydrates, the body’s main source of energy. A one cup serving of cooked squash is low in calories, ranging from 42 calories for spaghetti squash, to 115 calories in acorn variety. Squash rivals lentils and barley in its high fiber content, especially soluble fiber, the type responsible for regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Winter squash is ranked among the top three food sources of carotenoid antioxidants. It is also an excellent source of the minerals magnesium and potassium, which help regulate blood pressure and immune system strengtheners Vitamins A and C.
Seven Reasons Squash Should be Part of a Good Weight Loss Program
1. Squash May Give You a Longer Life
Foods like squash that are rich in alpha-carotenoids, are associated with a reduced risk of dying, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracked the health of 15,000 adults through medical exams and blood samples. Carotenoids prolong life by reducing the cell damage that occurs as we age. The study revealed that the participants with highest alpha-carotene levels had a 39% percent lower risk of dying over the 14-year course of the study, compared with those with the lowest rates.
2. Squash Lowers Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
Another study, which analyzed a cohort of 1,900 men from the Lipid Research Clinics Coronary Primary Prevention Trial who suffered from hyperlipidemia, an abnormally high concentration of fats or lipids in their blood, determined that participants with higher serum carotenoid levels experienced a decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease.
3. Squash May Prevent Cervical Cancer
Several studies have shown that low levels of beta-carotene are often found in cervical cancer patients. A study conducted at U.C. Irvine provided beta-carotene supplements to patients with a premalignant form of cervical cancer and monitored them for one year. The results showed that a large percentage of the patients responded well to the supplementation, which shows promise in preventing cervical cancer.
4. Squash May Prevent Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older adults. Consumption of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, plentiful in winter squashes, provide a protective effect against this eye disease.
5. Squash Consumption Boosts Breast Cancer Survival Rates
Postmenopausal women who had suffered from breast cancer were asked to complete food-frequency questionnaires for the year prior to their cancer diagnosis to analyze the potential impact of carotenoid intake on survival rates. The research showed higher intakes of folate, vitamin C and carotenoids, all plentiful in squash, to be “significantly associated with reduced mortality.”
6. Squash May Decrease Risk of Prostate Cancers
One in every six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, the third leading cause of death in the U.S., in his lifetime. Diets rich in beta-carotenoids may play a protective role in prostate carcinogenesis.
7. Squash My Prevent Colorectal Cancers
More than 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people older than 50. A Japanese study found that consuming foods rich in beta-carotenes, including pumpkins, helped prevent polyps and colorectal cancers.
Be Adventuresome with Squash as Part of Your Weight Loss Program
Any good weight loss program should incorporate a wide variety of healthy foods. There are so many types winter squash available, why not be adventuresome and try one you’ve never tasted this winter? It may become your new favorite. Here are some popular varieties to sample.
Kabocha is the Japanese word for squash, which is why these squat green gourds, available in early to mid-winter, are often referred to as Japanese Pumpkins. They have a rich, sweet flavor and are well suited for baking or mashing. A one-cup serving of kabocha is very low in calories (only 40 per serving) and carbs (7g) while supplying 70% of the RDA for vitamin C. For the neophyte, I recommend buying Trader Joes cubed organic kabocha squash. There is also a no calorie sweetener, Bocha Sweet, made from kabocha squash.
Spaghetti squash is a unique yellow-gold oblong nutty-tasting squash that is best eaten in the fall. Once cooked, scrape its deep orange flesh from the skin and watch it magically separate into spaghetti-like strands. This unique characteristic has made this squash popular as a low calorie pasta substitute. While a one-cup serving of pasta has about 220 calories, an equal volume of spaghetti squash contains a meager 42 calories.
Butternut squash is among the most widely available types of winter squash. This bell-shaped tan-yellow squash sports a tough skin that yields to bright orange-yellow flesh. To make butternut squash easier to handle, cut the neck from the body and work with each section separately. It has a sweet, nutty taste, similar to that of a pumpkin. A serving size has 82 calories, 22 grams of carbs, and is an excellent source of beta-carotene. The best time to eat butternut is late winter and early spring.
This deep green skinned fall variety has a mild flavor and is named for its acorn-like shape. Some have christened acorn the nutrition heavyweight of the winter squash world. This hefty squash weighs in with large doses of folate, calcium, and magnesium and contains more potassium than two bananas. But, it’s a little higher than most of its competition in terms of calories (115) and carbs (30g).
This fall cylindrical heirloom squash is cream-colored with green stripes on a pale yellow background. Unlike most winter squashes, the thin skin is edible because it actually belongs to the summer squash species, but is allowed to ripen on the vine. Delicata is also known as peanut squash or sweet potato squash, and contains only 40 calories and 9.3g of carbs in a one-cup serving. Although it doesn’t supply much fiber, it will satisfy your daily needs for vitamin A and also a rich source of vitamin C, calcium and iron.
Lesser Known Varieties:
Countless other varieties of winter squash are becoming more readily available in the produce bin. Buttercup squash is small blue-gray turban-shaped gourd that tastes like a sweet potato. At the other end of the size spectrum is the large, lumpy blue hubbard squash, which is often sold in pre-cut wedges. Boil or bake it, and serve it mashed or pureed. Cumshaw is a still relatively unknown Mexican crookneck squash, with green and white skin, that can weigh as much as 20 lbs. Eat it roasted, as a pureed soup, or as a variation on traditional pumpkin pie. A new variety of squash is the butterkin, which is a hybrid of a butternut squash and a pumpkin. This fall offering resembles a flattened pumpkin. Due to its manageable size and sweet taste creamy texture, it is rapidly gaining in popularity.
How to Cook and Enjoy Squash
The options for cooking winter squash are practically endless. It can be cooked with any technique you favor, including steaming, sautéing, grilling, roasting, or microwaving. After cooking, squash leads itself nicely to being pureed into soup, added to smoothies, baked in muffins, or stuffed into ravioli shells. The flavor of squash pairs equally well with sweet spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and savory flavors such as Italian spices, smoked paprika, or chipotle chili powder.
A popular way to enjoy the sweetness of acorn squash is to cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, top the halves with brown sugar or cinnamon and butter and then bake it. Spaghetti squash is a favorite of celebrity Chef Mario Batali, who has found a way to “approach it with an Italian-ness.” In this “Spaghetti Squash with Soft Herb and Robiola” preparation, he bakes it after adding olive oil and seasoning it with Italian parsley or sage and salt and pepper. Another good way to use spaghetti squash is to cook in a crock pot.
My favorite way to eat winter squash is to roast it in the oven or on the barbeque. This cooking technique caramelizes the sugars and brings out its natural sweetness. Rachel Ray has a very simple roasting recipe that works with any winter squash. Click on Eating Well for a prolific source of winter squash recipes.
Click here to read a slightly different version of this good weight loss article that first appeared on LifeTimeDaily.com