11 Ways Winter Squash Can Improve Your Health

11 Ways Winter Squash Can Improve Your Health

It feels safe to say that it’s time to break out the thrifted sweaters from the back of your closet and light some apple pie-scented candles. Light, summer salads are over. It’s comfort food season now and that means it’s squash season, too. While this is the season to make sure that there’s always a can of pumpkin in your pantry, there are so many other winter squashes (like butternut) to try. Heartier than their summer cousins, winter squashes are suited for exactly that type of food: casseroles, stews, squash noodles, and curry. Here’s a little more about what makes them great, plus how to roast them.

What Are the Health Benefits of Squash?

Winter squashes are more nutrient-dense than summer squash, which is telling by their bright orange color that signals high vitamin and mineral content.

As far as vitamins and minerals go, The nutrients found in every type varies, but they are high in beta-carotene (the reason why most winter squashes have bright orange flesh), vitamin C, vitamin B6, fiber, magnesium, and potassium.

Winter squashes pack a punch when it comes to health benefits. To give a few examples, the body converts beta-carotene (an antioxidant) into vitamin A, which benefits the immune system and eye health. Vitamin C helps boost immunity and it aids in the absorption of iron. Vitamin B6 helps the body absorb vitamin B12 and it helps turn food into energy.

Take advantage of winter squash now, when they’re at their peak; eating a vegetable-rich diet can help lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. Pick a squash that’s firm and check the stem for signs of mold. You’ll know squash is ripe if you knock on it and it sounds hollow.

1. Butternut Squash

A fall darling, butternut squash is everywhere these days, from vegan cheese crackers to Trader Joe’s dairy-free mac and cheese. It has light orange skin, bright orange flesh, and thin neck (fun fact: it’s been called a “gooseneck squash), and a bulbous bottom where the seeds are. Butternut squash is popular for its sweet, rich flavor when roasted. It’s delicious when roasted, but it’s also versatile: try blending it into creamy soups or making dairy-free mac and cheese sauce.

Health Benefits: Packed with vitamins and minerals, butternut squash contains vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, and manganese.

How to roast it: Peel, halve, scoop out the seeds, and then cut the butternut squash into your desired shape. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake at 425 on a sheet pan for 40 to 50 minutes.

2. Sugar Pumpkin

Sugar pumpkin is the darling of fall. Not only do they make lovely decorations, but they’re also delicious. These smaller pumpkins have tender flesh when roasted (compared to grainier pie pumpkins) and a sweet flavor.

Health Benefits: Sugar pumpkin is low in calories and contains vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, manganese, iron, and folate.

How to roast it: Top and tail the pumpkin, slice lengthwise, cut into wedges, toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake at 325F for 25 minutes or until tender. If you want to make pumpkin puree, peel the squash, cut it up, and steam for about 15 minutes. Then, puree it using a food processor.

11 Ways Winter Squash Can Improve Your Health
Some describe kabocha’s flavor as savory. | Henry Perks / Unsplash

3. Kabocha

Hailing from Japan, kabocha squash is short and squat with thick, dark green skin and orange flesh. It has a subtly sweet flavor and texture similar to a chestnut. Because the skin is so thick, it’s best to cut with a large knife, like a nakiri bocho—a Japanese knife for cutting vegetables. In the grocery store, you might see it called Japanese Pumpkin. The skin is edible, so you can leave it on. Kabocha is good roasted or simmered in curry.

Health Benefits: Along with beta-carotene, kabocha is a good source of iron, vitamin C, and some B vitamins.

How to roast it: Kabocha squash is thick and tough to cut through, so it’s best to pre-bake it. Preheat your oven to 400F, bake for 10 minutes, then remove, cut into wedges, toss it with oil, salt, and pepper, and bake for about 35 minutes or until tender.

4. Spaghetti Squash

This oblong yellow squash is famous. Scraping the flesh of roasted spaghetti squash with a fork will give you bunch of “noodles” with a slightly sweet flavor. Use it how you would use spaghetti; with marinara sauce, dairy-free pesto or alfredo sauce, or with a bit of oil and roasted vegetables.

Health Benefits: Spaghetti squash may be less vibrant than other winter squashes, but it’s still a good source of vitamin A. It also contains some vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, niacin, and potassium.

How to roast it: Top and tail the squash and halve it lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds, place face-down on a baking sheet, and roast at 400F for about 25 minutes. The flesh should be fork-tender.

5. Delicata Squash

This yellow-and-green, oblong squash almost resembles summer squash. But, like other winter squashes it has a mild and sweet flavor and sweet potato-like texture. Delicata squash is edible, so no need to peel it.

Health Benefits: This striped gourd contains a good dose of vitamin A compared to other winter squashes, plus it contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, copper, and potassium.

How to roast it: Slice lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and cut the squash into crescent moon shapes. Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast at 425F for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Serve with fried sage, if you’re feeling fancy.

6. Acorn Squash

Nothing tastes better than roasted acorn squash from a roadside farm stand in fall. This acorn-shaped squash has dark green skin and a mildly nutty flavor. It’s delicious as a side, but you can also roast it and stuff it (try this quinoa with black beans and corn).

Health Benefits: Like delicata squash, acorn squash is high in vitamin A and vitamin C. It also contains vitamin B1, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and iron.

How to roast it: Halve the squash, scoop out the seeds, and brush it with a little bit of olive oil. Roast face-up on a baking sheet for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tender.

11 Ways Winter Squash Can Improve Your Health
Blue Hubbard squash has tough skin, so you’ll need a sharp knife. | Hometown Seeds

7. Blue Hubbard

These blue-grey skinned squashes have sweet, and yellow-orange, fine-textured flesh, according to seed supplier Hometown Seeds. They’re big—they can weigh up to 20 pounds. Like with kabocha, you’ll want to cut it with a sharp knife. It’s best baked, but you can also steam it (and maybe share a little bit with your dog).

Health Benefits: Blue Hubbards are high in vitamin A (and carotenoids!), plus they’re high in carbohydrates and fiber. It also contains vitamin E and potassium.

How to roast it: Halve it, scoop out the seeds, and place face-down in a shallow pan of water. Roast at 400F for an hour or until tender.

8. Sweet Dumpling Squash

This squat squash has yellow and green skin (which is edible) and orange flesh that tastes like a cross between sweet potato and pumpkin. Use it to replace either in recipes.

Health Benefits: Sweet dumpling squash is exceptionally high in vitamins A and C and it contains small amounts of iron and calcium.

How to roast it: Top and tail the squash, halve it, then slice it into wedges. Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper if desired. Roast it at 425F on a sheet pan for about 16-18 minutes, flipping halfway through.

9. Carnival Squash

Carnival squash is a cross between a sweet dumpling squash and acorn squash—something you can see from its speckled skin and acorn-like shape. It has a mellow flavor.

Health Benefits: Carnival squash is high in vitamin C and vitamin C and it contains a small amount of calcium. It’s also low in calories and high in fiber.

How to roast it: Cut off the ends, halve it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 375F for about 30 minutes.

10. Buttercup Squash

This small, squat squash looks like a tiny kabocha. It tastes similar to one when you roast it, too—mild and slightly dry (so you might also enjoy it steamed).

Health Benefits: Like many other winter squashes, buttercup squash contains beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, which the body converts to eye-healthy vitamin A.

How to roast it: Remove the ends, halve it, and slice into wedges or whatever shape desired. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 425F for about 35 minutes, until tender.

11 Ways Winter Squash Can Improve Your Health
Red Kuri squash has a chestnut-like texture. | Gabriele Lässer / Unsplash

11. Red Kuri Squash

Also called Hokkaido squash, Red Kuri squash has a burnt-orange skin pumpkin-like shape, but it’s smaller. Like kabocha, it has a chestnut-like texture and mildly nutty flavor.

Health Benefits: Red Kuri squash is rich in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and it contains calcium, potassium, iron, riboflavin, thiamine, and beta-carotene.

How to roast it: Top and tail the squash, halve it lengthwise and cut into wedges. Add oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 400F for 40 minutes, flipping halfway through.