I’ve eaten a lot of summer squash…the yellow kind and zucchini. However a less than successful attempt, years ago, to prepare a big spaghetti squash left me leery of the many other varieties available.
My desires to try new things, to eat nutrient dense foods and to come up with something fresh for holiday meals all coalesced when a cashier at Natural Grocers handed me a recipe card featuring stuffed acorn squash. Not only did the recipe turn out great, I also discovered that acorn squash is full of health boosting properties.
What is an Acorn Squash?
Named for its acorn shape, this winter squash is part of the Cucurbita family of vegetables. It was a staple in the diet of many Native American tribes. Acorn squash, like the butternut squash, is packed with essential nutrients that include: vitamins A, B6 and C, potassium, manganese, thiamine, magnesium, iron, niacin, folate, calcium, phosphorus and copper. It’s also high in protein and fiber.
Most acorn squashes are dark green with a hint of orange near the top, but they can also be golden yellow or white.
There is a difference in the nutritional value of raw acorn squash versus cooked. In baked acorn squash, the quality increases significantly for almost every vitamin and mineral. However, three important antioxidants found in raw acorn squash…beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin…drops to zero when cooked. For that reason, it’s good to eat acorn squash both raw and cooked.
Health Benefits of Acorn Squash
Winter squash is known for its disease fighting, immunity boosting properties. Include more acorn squash for these benefits:
• Fights free radical damage. Acorn squash is high in antioxidants, which helps to maintain a healthy body. Free radicals cause inflammation, increasing the risks for diseases such as cancer. The carotenoids in acorn squash help prevent and fight various types of cancer, including skin, breast, lung and prostate cancer.
• Boosts the immune system due to its high vitamin C content and antibacterial and antiviral properties. Not only can extra vitamin C help fight off the common cold and flu, it also keeps the body from becoming even more ill due to complications from common illnesses such as pneumonia. Vitamin C lowers inflammation in the body, fighting infection and disease.
• Reduces high blood pressure, due to its potassium content.
• Protects against neurotoxicity, a toxicity from natural or chemical substances that can lead to permanent nervous system damage. One cause of this condition is exposure to conventional treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation. Eating acorn squash helps protect against lasting injury as a result of these treatments.
• Improves skin for a healthier, more youthful glow. Vitamin C promotes the production of collagen, which helps skin stay clear and wrinkle free. The potassium found in acorn squash reduces the appearance of cellulite in the skin by eliminating the fluid retention common in high-sodium diets.
• Supports prostate health by increasing urinary tract flow and decreasing the swelling of the prostate gland. Another related benefit of acorn squash is its ability to improve prostate health in patients with diabetes. Diabetes is linked to other types of damage caused by oxidative stress. High amounts of vitamin C regulate the function of antioxidants within the prostate and improve the body’s defense against damage to the prostate.
• The high fiber in acorn squash supports healthy digestion and the efficient absorption of nutrients from food. This results in a significant reduction of high blood pressure and improves the levels of fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream, lowering the risks for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
How to Prepare Acorn Squash
Select firm acorn squash, without soft spots. Slice in two, length wise, and remove seeds, which are similar in appearance to pumpkin seeds. And like pumpkin seeds, acorn squash seeds are edible.
It’s easy to bake the squash halves. Rub the flesh with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and nutmeg or cinnamon. Bake on parchment covered baking sheet, cut side down, for 30 – 40 minutes. The squash can be eaten plain or stuffed with rice and veggies. Try this Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe.
Acorn squash can be peeled, cubed and steamed. Or cut into bite sized pieces and added raw to salads. I’m excited to try an acorn squash soup recipe next!