Why Everyone Should Eat Winter Squash This Season
October has crept up on me. All of a sudden pumpkins with messily carved faces are sitting on our neighbor’s front porch, and there are large square bins of funny looking gourds, all sizes of pumpkins and a variety of other winter squash outside the doors of my local market.
The weather, a sudden onset of chilly breezes and frequent rain, caught me off guard as well. I quickly went from a shorts and tee shirts wardrobe to a state of constantly chilled, layered in long sleeves and trying my best to fight off the first round of cold season sniffles.
This time of year, change happens fast: outside every window and within every body. The transition takes a toll on us, mentally and physically as we prepare for the stress of the holidays, leave memories of a warm and relaxed summer behind and prepare for the blow to our immune systems that winter months seem to inflict.
Instinctively, we reach for heartier foods that warm and nourish us through this transition period, and it’s no coincidence that these foods, like winter squash, root vegetables, grains and legumes come into season this time of year. The instincts we have are fairly accurate signals our bodies provide regarding what nutrients and sorts of sustenance we need, and nature is fairly good at providing for us what our bodies require at different times throughout the year.
Winter squash, in particular, matures in perfect harmony with the nourishment needs of our bodies this season. While it is more often a front porch or table decoration than an ingredient (yes, pumpkin is a type of winter squash), winter squash has the healing power that awards it a star role in the nourishing seasonal foods category.
With a host of phytonutrients, unique polysaccharide starches, heart healthy oils, high levels of fiber and a versatility of flavors, Winter squash sits on the top of my list for nourishing fall foods. It is not only a versatile ingredient for soups and stews, but also an inexpensive and easily accessible one this time of year.
While it is in season, late September through early December, stock up on a variety to have on hand throughout the winter. If you select firm fleshed winter squash and store it in a cool, dark place, it will last up to 6 months. Your money will go a long way if you consider that many varieties are available for less than $2/lb right now – check Full Circle’s green grocery for the first acorn squash of the season. Keep in mind that squash plants are exceptionally good at extracting chemical contaminants from the ground, and should always be purchased organic!
- Anti-Inflammation – cucurbitacin molecules, found in all varieties of winter squash have been studied for their anti-inflammatory effects. In addition, winter squash also contain anti-inflammatory omega-3’s.
- Immune Supportive – a significant amount of vitamin C as well as an array of antioxidants found in winter squash help boost your immune system.
- Anti-oxidant – the same antioxidants and vitamin c content that help boost your immune system, as well as a high carotenoid content (a potent antioxidant) make winter squash one of the leading food sources of antioxidants.
- Vitamins and minerals – the list of vitamins and minerals found in winter squash is extensive and includes vitamins A, C and B as well as potassium, manganese, folate, copper and tryptophan.
- Low Fat, High Energy, High Fiber – it is not often you find a low fat food that is an ample and very filling energy source. The fats that winter squash do contain are primarily heart-healthy omega-3’s. The high nutrient and fiber levels make this an ideal food that fills, nourishes and energizes without contributing to excess fat consumption or weight gain.
- Blood Sugar Regulating – complex starches in winter squash, as well as an array of B vitamins, help naturally regulate your blood sugar levels. The healthy complex starches are digested slower and provide more prolonged energy rather than causing an immediate spike and fall in your blood sugar levels. Extensive research has ties B-complex vitamins to the bodies’ ability to maintain level blood sugar in the body.
Check back this Thursday for 2 great recipes for winter squash; one simple weeknight meal preparation and one delicious warming curry that your guests will never forget!