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Featured Food of the Week: Winter Squash

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We know when autumn arrives because it seems as if we’re engulfed by an orange hue.

The leaves begin to change and so do the colors in the produce isle of our local grocer or farmers’ market. Pumpkins appear, reminding us that Halloween will soon be upon us. The winter squash supplant the green and yellow summer squash.

Winter squash is a champion when it comes to phytonutrients. The carotenoids, which are responsible for the predominant orange color, are powerful antioxidants and anti- inflammatory substances. We commonly associate orange foods with beta carotene, which is a form of Vitamin A. Other carotenoids found in winter squash are alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Carotenoids are thought to reduce your risk of certain cancers as well as heart disease, and they neutralize free radicals and prevent the oxidation of the bad cholesterol (LDL).

The nutrient list does not stop there. Winter squash is also a good source of potassium, containing 895 milligrams per cup, and a good source of fiber, too, at 5 grams per cup. With a mere 80 calories per cup, it’s a low-calorie choice for health and weight management.

There are many varieties of winter squash: butternut, acorn, spaghetti, Japanese winter squash (kabocha), buttercup, hubbard, and pumpkin. Unlike summer squash, which are harvested immature and have thin skin, winter squash are harvested when they reach maturity. Thus, they all possess a hard, outer skin. This is protective and also the reason it has a long storage life, typically three to four weeks.

Winter squash may be prepared by steaming or baking. It’s best not to boil, as it not only diminishes the flavor and decreases the nutrient content.

To prepare, cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Place it skin side up on a baking pan. Use a non-stick pan or line your pan with foil or parchment paper. Fill pan with a quarter-inch of water. Cover, place in oven, and bake at 350 degrees until tender (about 45 minutes).

You can enjoy the baked squash with cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice. You can also scoop out the flesh and use it in a puree, or use it to make a soup. Another creative idea is partially remove the flesh and combine it with any of your favorite veggies, grains, nuts, dried fruit, ground meats, or turkey. The stuff the mixture into the squash and bake it for a hearty meal.

And don’t forget the seeds. You can scoop them out, remove the pulp or strings, rinse, and air dry them on a baking sheet over night. Then drizzle them with olive oil, and roast in the oven for fifteen to twenty minutes at 350 degrees. For a spicy twist sprinkle with curry or chili powder.

Originally written by Dr. Elaine Rancatore for Zumanna’s 2rhealth.net.


 

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