Why Winter Squash Is So Good for You
Learn more about the types of winter squash and their health benefits. Plus, get tasty ideas for how to enjoy winter squash.
Pumpkin recipes may be all you see each fall, but there are over a dozen varieties of of delicious and nutrient dense winter squash to choose from as the weather gets cooler. Compared to summer squash, winter squash varieties tend to have a slightly more hearty and flavorful flesh, larger seeds often used for roasting and many also having a tougher skin that needs to be removed before eating. While amounts of nutrients and antioxidants vary, all varieties of winter squash provide similar nutrient benefits.
Winter squash will deliver Vitamins A and C, antioxidants, fiber and potassium. When you're prepping winter squash, don't ditch the seeds. They can be roasted and also provide nutrients including more fiber, mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (the types you want to eat more of), vitamin E, and iron. (Try out step-by-step guide to roasting pumpkin seeds.)
Learn more about why all the different varieties of winter squash are so good for you and get delicious ideas to add these healthy vegetables to your diet.
1. Butternut Squash
One of the most popular varieties of squash, it can be use in so many ways. It's one of the most rich in Vitamin A, boasting over 400% of the recommended daily value per cup, in the antioxidant form of beta-carotene. Sarah Schlicter, M.P.H., R.D.N., of Bucket List Tummy, says "This winter squash is delicious roasted on its own, as a salad or stir fry tipper, pureed into a soup or just paired with a balanced meal." Schlicter also notes it's high in vitamin C, B-vitamins, potassium and magnesium.
Per cup, butternut also offers 3 grams of fiber to benefit gut health. Due to it's high antioxidant activity, and presence of the carotenoid zeaxanthin, research has suggested butternut squash may help protect your eyes from macular degeneration, support heart health and play a role in immune function.
Related: Healthy Butternut Squash Recipe
2. Buttercup Squash
A short and stout variety with a green skin, the texture of buttercup squash is sweet and creamy. Like other varieties, buttercup is rich in vitamins A and C as well as magnesium. It's rich in potassium, offering 26% of the recommended daily value. Potassium is important for fluid balance and blood pressure, and most Americans don't get enough (eat more of these potassium-rich foods). It also offers a variety of carotenoid antioxidants. The American Institute for Cancer Research states that while more research is needed, studies show diets higher in carotenoids are associated with a lower risk of lung cancer.
3. Honeynut Squash
This variety looks like a baby version of butternut squash. While it shares many nutrient characteristics of other squash varieties, such as exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, it provides a sweeter flavor and is able to cook more quickly thanks to its small size. After halving and roasting your honeynut squash, dig some of the flesh out and mix with a seasoned whole grain before stuffing it back into the squash and enjoying alongside your favorite protein. Here's how to prep and roast honeynut squash.
4. Acorn Squash
Michele Fumagalli, R.D., L.D.N., owner of Fit Plate Nutrition, loves how acorn squash is the size of a bowl when halved. "The taste and nutrient profile makes it a perfect in meals whether roasted and stuffed, made into a mash or soup, or cut along the ridges for a steak-cut fry alternatives", says Fumagalli. The skin of acorn squash is edible when cooked, so you can stuff and roast your squash and eat it all, increasing the fiber content of your meal (although you can certainly opt to skip the skin). Laura Farrell, R.D. mentions eating the fiber-rich skin can promote optimal digestive function. Acorn squash is a good source of vitamin A, magnesium and potassium and is high in vitamin C.
Try it: How to Cook Acorn Squash
5. Spaghetti Squash
Since its flesh can pull apart into strands that resemble angel hair pasta, spaghetti squash is often used as a pasta replacement, or addition to pasta dishes. This unique characteristic helped it gain popularity in kitchens and on restaurant menus (here's how to prep and cook it at home). While it isn't as high in vitamins and minerals as other winter squash varieties, it does still provide a variety of carotenoid antioxidants and 2 grams of fiber per cup.
Related: Top 25 Spaghetti Squash Recipes
6. Sweet Dumpling Squash
Since it looks similar to decorative gourds, you may skip over sweet dumpling squash in the grocery store. However, its smaller size means it cooks quickly. Sweet dumpling squash is an excellent source of vitamin A and since you can eat the skin, it offers both soluble and insoluble fiber, which benefit the gut in a variety of ways. Brush on some maple syrup and dust with some cinnamon before roasting as a sweet seasonal side dish.
7. Kabocha Squash
You may find kabocha squash with either a dark orange-red or a green skin, but either have similar interiors. This short and stout squash is great to cut into slices for roasting or to peel and roast in cubes before adding to salads and mixed dishes. It is a bit higher in fiber than many varieties at close to 3 grams per cup and it is an excellent source of vitamin A. It also offers smaller amounts of iron and calcium, on top of potassium and B vitamins found in other varieties.
Try It: Roasted Kabocha Squash & Grapes
8. Delicata Squash
These small and long squash are more delicate than other varieties as their name implies. If you're intimidated to eat squash skin—delicata squash is the variety to start with. Farrell mentions, "It adds a sweet flavor to any fall or winter dish and unlike other squashes, requires no peeling, and cooks quickly." She mentions it's also high in vitamins A and C which support eye and immune health, respectively. You can slice and season your delicata squash before roasting, or stuff with a mixture of your favorite protein, whole grain and greens.