Buttressing Your Health With Butternut Squash

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) is a type of winter squash and a member of the same species as Dickinson pumpkins (the source of canned pumpkin), Kabochas, and golden cushaws. They belong to the genus Cucurbita, along with  pipians, cushaw pumpkins, some gourds, other winter squash, other pumpkins, zucchini, other summer squash, and acorn squash. All belong to the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes chayotecucumbers, honeydew melons, cantaloupe, and watermelons. Butternut squash, also known in Australia and New Zealand as butternut pumpkin, has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin, with yellow skin and orange fleshy pulp. When ripe, it turns increasingly deep orange, and becomes sweeter and richer.

Butternut squash was reportedly developed as a commercial crop in the mid-1940s by Charles Leggett, in Stow, Massachusetts. Leggett was looking for a squash that was more tender than a Hubbard and more efficient to ship than a gooseneck. After he introduced it to scientists as the Waltham Field Station (who acknowledged his role) it was tagged as the Waltham Butternut. In the United States, Florida is the largest producer of butternut squash, with California ranking a close second.

The color of butternut squash indicates its most noteworthy health benefit: an abundance of carotenoids, including α- and ß-carotenes, cryptoxanthin-ß, and lutein, which your body automatically converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene fights breast cancer and age-related macular degeneration, and supports healthy lung development in fetuses and newborns. One 1/2 cup serving of cooked butternut squash delivers 223% of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin A, a powerful natural antioxidant that your body requires for maintaining healthy skin, mucus membranes, and eyesight. Foods rich in vitamin A help protect your body against lung and oral cavity cancers. A 1/2 cup serving of baked butternut squash also provides 25% DV of antioxidant-rich vitamin C.

Rich in phytochemicals including  and low in fat, butternut squash provides an ample amount of fiber, which helps you manage your cholesterol and weight. It provides significant amounts of antioxidant-supporting manganese, bone-supporting potassium, and heart-healthy magnesium. It also provides a good amount of vitamin E, which helps protect against bladder cancer, prostate cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, and vitamin B6, which is essential for the proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems. The folateniacin, and thiamine content further supports the heart-healthy reputation of butternut squash.

Butternut squash may also have anti-inflammatory benefits because of its high antioxidant content. Incorporating more of this hearty winter staple into your diet could help reduce risk of inflammation-related disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

Nutrients in 100 Grams (1/2 Cup) Baked Butternut Squash 

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin A

11155 IU

223%

vitamin C

15.1 mg

25%

fiber

3.2 g

12.8%

manganese

0.2 mg

9%

potassium

284 mg

8%

magnesium

29 mg

7%

vitamin E

1.3 mg

6%

vitamin B6

0.1 mg

6%

folate

19 µg

5%

niacin

1 mg

5%

thiamine

0.1 mg

5%

calcium

41 mg

4%

pantothenic acid

0.4 mg

4%

copper

0.065 mg

3.25%

phosphorus

27 mg

3%

carbohydrates

10.5 g

3%

iron

0.6 mg

3%

Calories

40

2%

protein

0.9 g

2%

vitamin K

1 µg

1%

zinc

0.1 mg

1%

selenium

0.5 µg

0.7%

sodium

4 mg

0.17%

fat

0.1 g

0.15%

riboflavin

0.017 mg

0.085%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

carotene-ß

4226 µg

crypto-xanthin-ß

3471 µg

carotene-α

834 µg

Domestically grown butternut squash is readily available in the United States from September until the middle of December.  Butternut squashes imported from South American is available year-round.

Select whole butternut squash instead of pre-cut pieces. Look for mature squashes that sound woody when you tap them, and feel heavy in hand. The stem should be stout and firmly attached to the fruit. Avoid butternut squash with wrinkles, spots, cuts, and bruises.

At home, you can store ripe butternut squash for many weeks in a cool, humidity-free, well-ventilated place. Store cut sections in the refrigerator, where they keep well for few days.

Wash butternut squash thoroughly in running water in order to remove dust, soil, and any residual pesticides. Cut the stem end and slice the whole fruit into two equal halves. Remove the central net-like structure and set aside seeds. You can cook the halves as is, stuff them, or cut them into wedges or cubes. Almost all the parts of the butternut squash plant, including fruit, leaves, flowers, and seeds, are edible.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Add raw cubed or shredded butternut squash to salads.
  • Serve it baked, stuffed, or steamed.
  • Make a butternut squash bisque.
  • Use it in casseroles, pies, pancakes, custard, ravioli, bread, and muffins.
  • Roast butternut squash seeds and use them as snacks.
  • Stuff the flowers or add them to soups.
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