As the days get shorter and colder, a bowl of squash soup sounds like just the thing! Winter squash, unlike its summer equivalent, can be harvested very late into the fall and has a longer storage potential, which provides its cornucopia of nutrients all through the autumn and winter. Best of all, winter squash is high in colon-cancer combating fiber and low in calories — filling you up without filling you out.
1. Pick pumpkins for vision health
Don’t put this star of the Halloween season away just because the jack-o-lanterns have disappeared! Pumpkins are rich in potassium and the bright orange flesh is loaded with beta-carotene. Pumpkins also help in the prevention of cataracts and macular degeneration with their high content of lutein and zeaxanthin, which scavenge free radicals in the lens of the eye. Pumpkins have a lot of common nutrients, like iron, zinc and fiber. The pumpkin is also the perfect fit for losing weight due to its incredibly low calorie content. The sweetest taste can be found in the small-sized pumpkin varieties known as sugar or pie pumpkin.
Eat it! Boil and mash pumpkin just as you would potatoes, or add peeled squash cubes to your favorite soups, stews, and vegetable dishes. Pumpkin is delicious when you cut into 1-inch chunks and throw in the slow cooker with some beans and corn. Cook until the pumpkin is soft enough for a fork to easily pierce. And don’t forget to save those pumpkin seeds after you scoop them out!
2. Acorn squash for fiber
Dark green, with distinctive deep ridges, acorn squash is not as rich in beta-carotene as the other winter squashes, but it is an excellent source of dietary fiber and potassium, as well as smaller amounts of vitamins C and B, magnesium, and manganese.
Eat it! Because of their small size, one acorn squash can be cut in half and baked to make two generous servings. To cook, coat the flesh side of the squash with a thin layer of oil (such as grape seed oil), then place the squash halves on a baking dish, flesh-side down. Bake until tender and sprinkle a tasty seasoning on top like curry, cumin, or cinnamon. The seeds of the acorn squash can also be eaten after being toasted in the oven.
3. Butternut squash for a beta-carotene boost
A close cousin to the pumpkin, butternut squash has a sweet flavor and is rich in vitamins A, B and C. While all winter squashes contain beta-carotene, butternut squash has an extra high content, rivaling that of mangoes and cantaloupe. Beta-carotene has very powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and combats cancer, heart disease, and cataracts. Beta-carotene also prevents the oxidation of cholesterol in the vessels; in other words, no plaque develops that can cause restricted blood flow and lead to heart disease.
Eat it! The rich flavor of butternut squash cooks up well for roasted dishes and soups. Butternut squash is perfect for cutting in half and baking, flesh-side down in the oven for a tasty side dish. Although the flesh is hard, it can be easily peeled with a vegetable peeler.