What's to know about butternut squash?
Contrary to the name, winter squash is grown in the summer and harvested in the fall.
Its thick, tough exterior and firm flesh make it suitable for storing over several months. This means it can be eaten during the winter season.
This is one of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Here are some key points about butternut squash. More detail is in the main article.
- Butternut squash, or winter squash, is harvested in the fall but it keeps well for several months.
- It is a good source of fiber, potassium, and several other key nutrients.
- The nutritional content of squash makes it beneficial for digestion, blood pressure, and for healthy skin and hair, among others.
- Squash can enhance or form the basis of a range of sweet and savory dishes.
The butternut squash packs some great health benefits and can fit into a wide range of meals.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, one cup of cooked, cubed butternut squash, containing around 205 grams, contains:
- 82 calories
- 1.8 grams (g) of protein
- 0.18 g of fat
- 21.50 g of carbohydrate, including 4 g of sugar and 6.6 grams of dietary fiber
It also provides:
- 84 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 1.23 mg of iron
- 582 mg of potassium
- 59 mg of magnesium
- 55 mg of phosphorus
- 31 milligrams of vitamin C
- 1144 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A
Butternut squash is also a good source of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, and manganese.
A cup of cubed butternut squash also provides 582 mg of potassium, more than the amount available in a banana.
Fruits and vegetable consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions.
Consuming plant foods, such as butternut squash, decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality. It can also enhance the complexion, increase energy, and contribute to a healthy weight.
Lowering and preventing high blood pressure
Butternut squash contains a sizeable helping of potassium, which experts have shown to have a positive effect on blood pressure.
To maintain a healthy blood pressure, getting enough potassium in the diet is as important as lowering sodium intake.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend a daily potassium intake of at least 3,510 mg for adults, while the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and recommend 4700 mg per day.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), most American adults consume too much sodium and too little potassium. Fewer than 2 percent of adults in the United States (U.S.) consume the daily recommended amount of potassium.
Beta-carotene is the antioxidant that gives certain fruits and vegetables, like squash, their bright orange pigment.
Lowering cancer risk
One cup of butternut squash provides about 6.6 grams of fiber. The AHA recommend consuming 25 grams of fiber a day for a 2,000 calorie diet.
Healthy skin and hair
The vitamin A content in butternut squash can lead to healthier hair and skin.
Butternut squash can enhance the hair and skin because of its high vitamin A content. Vitamin A is needed for sebum production, which keeps hair moisturized.
Vitamin A plays an important role in the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair.
One serving of butternut squash also provides over 50 percent of the required vitamin C intake for a day. Vitamin C helps build and maintain collagen, which provides structure to skin and hair.
Maintaining a high fiber diet helps to prevent constipation and promote a healthy digestive tract.
Studies have suggested that dietary fiber may decrease inflammation and improve immune function.
A high fiber intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, nourish gut bacteria, and enhance weight loss for people with obesity.
Boosting immune function
Plant foods like butternut squash that are high in both vitamin C and beta-carotene can help boost immunity.
Some studies have shown that high-fiber foods may also contribute to better immune function.
When choosing butternut squash, choose those that are heavy for their size and have a hard, smooth rind that is free of blemishes.
The thick skin means that butternut squash can be stored for long periods without needing refrigeration.
Butternut squash pairs well with a diverse range of flavors including cinnamon, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and smoked paprika.
Here are some quick tips:
- Cut the squash in half, add brown sugar, vanilla extract, and toasted pecans, and bake
- Add butternut squash to a vegetable soup
- Serve mashed as a substitute for potatoes
- Use as a substitute in any recipe that calls for pureed or canned pumpkin
The following recipes for butternut squash have all been developed by registered dietitians:
- Southwest quinoa salad with roasted butternut squash
- Butternut squash risotto
- Heart healthy chipotle chili
- Butternut squash lasagna
Butternut squash is a healthful option, but its high potassium content may mean that some people should consume it in moderation.
Beta-blockers are a type of medication commonly prescribed for people with heart disease. These can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. This risk is the same for other medications for heart failure, such as ACE inhibitors and diuretics.
People who are using beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors should consume high potassium foods in moderation, because some people who use beta-blockers will have a higher risk of hyperkalemia, or too much potassium.
People with kidney problems should take care when consuming large amounts of potassium. If the kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.
A diet that is healthful overall is most important in preventing disease and achieving good health.
A varied intake of nutrient-rich foods, and especially fruits and vegetables, is more important than focusing on individual foods as the key to good health.