Butternut squash is one of the most common varieties of winter squash. Like other winter squash, it has a hard exterior and firm flesh and is chock full of vitamin A, potassium and fiber.
Contrary to the name, winter squash is grown in the summer and harvested in the fall. Due to it's thick, tough exterior, it can be stored for several months and eaten during the winter season.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of the butternut squash and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more butternut squash into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming butternut squash.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional breakdown of butternut squash
Butternut squash is one of the most common varieties of winter squash.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of cooked cubed butternut squash (approximately 205 grams) contains 82 calories, 0 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbohydrate (including 4 grams of sugar and 6.6 grams of dietary fiber) as well as 1.8 grams of protein.
One cup of butternut squash provides a whopping 437% percent of your vitamin A needs for the day, as well as 52% of vitamin C and 10% or more of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium and manganese.
Possible health benefits of consuming butternut squash
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like butternut squash decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Lowering and preventing high blood pressure
Getting enough potassium in your diet is just as important as lowering your sodium intake when it comes to maintaining a healthy blood pressure.2 According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2% of US adults meet the daily 4,700 mg recommendation.3
Also of note, a high potassium intake is associated with a 20% decreased risk of dying from all causes.3
The risks for developing asthma are lower in people who consume a high amount of beta-carotene, the antioxidant that gives certain fruits and vegetables their bright orange pigments. Look for other orange plant foods like papaya, apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, pumpkin and carrots to increase your beta-carotene intake.6
Lowering cancer risk
Beta-carotene has also been shown to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer in the Japanese population.4
Among younger men, diets rich in beta-carotene may play a protective role against prostate cancer, according to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition.5
Type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower overall blood sugar levels, while type 2 diabetics have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One cup of butternut squash provides about 6.6 grams of fiber out of the recommended 21-25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day for men.
Healthy looking skin and hair
Butternut squash is also great for your skin because it of its extremely high vitamin A content, which is needed for sebum production that keeps hair moisturized. Vitamin A plays an important role in the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair.
As an added bonus, one serving of butternut squash provides over 50% of the required vitamin C intake for the day, which is needed for the building and maintenance of collagen that provides structure to skin and hair.
Maintaining a high fiber diet helps to prevent constipation and promote a healthy digestive tract.
Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may even decrease inflammation and improve immune function, consequently decreasing the risk of inflammation-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Increased fiber intakes have also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and enhance weight loss for obese individuals.
Boosting immune function
Plant foods like butternut squash that are high in both vitamin C and beta-carotene offer an immunity boost from their powerful combination of nutrients. Some studies have shown that high-fiber foods may also offer improved immune function.
How to incorporate more butternut squash into your diet
Look for butternut squash that are heavy for their size and have a hard, smooth rind free of blemishes. Because of their thick skin, butternut squash can be stored for long periods and do not need refrigeration. Butternut squash pairs well with a diverse range of flavors including cinnamon, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and smoked paprika.
Add butternut squash to your favorite vegetable soup.
- Cut in half and add brown sugar, vanilla extract, and toasted pecans to baked squash
- Add butternut squash to your favorite vegetable soup
- Serve mashed as a substitute for mashed potatoes
- Use as a substitute in any recipe that calls for pureed or canned pumpkin.
Try these healthy and delicious recipes all developed by registered dietitians:Southwest quinoa salad with roasted butternut squash
Butternut squash risotto
Heart healthy chipotle chili
Butternut squash lasagna
Potential health risks of consuming butternut squash
Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.
Potassium is also a nutrient of concern for those with whose kidneys are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.