October Nutrition Notes
Tomah Health Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator Joan Kortbein, RD, CD, CDE
Squash is one of the most popular autumn vegetables. I love how so many varieties of squash are named for another food like the spaghetti squash (if you haven’t made it yet the directions are included below), banana squash, sweet dumpling squash, or the zucchini squash. Squash, as a whole, are loaded with good nutrition. Their attractive skins also make them a popular autumn decoration outside the kitchen.
Keep in mind that there is winter and summer squash – named mainly for their availability.
Summer squash is harvested mid-summer and is generally available just during the summer months. Summer squash contain more water than winter squash making them lower in calories. They are not as rich in vitamins and minerals as the winter varieties, but still provide a good amount of vitamin C, potassium, and Vitamin A (carotenes). To prepare summer squash simply wash, slice, and steam. Cut away the end attached to the vine before cooking. Squash that have a grainy or leather-like skin are usually over-ripe. Summer squash do not freeze well.
Winter squash, on the other hand, is usually harvested late summer into the fall and if stored properly can last well into the winter months. The winter squash group includes pumpkin, acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash. Winter squash, like other richly colored vegetables, are excellent sources of Vitamin A. Generally, the richer the color of the vegetable, the more Vitamin A it contains. They are also very good sources of thiamine (Vitamin B1), Vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, and potassium. Winter squash is a higher carbohydrate vegetable, but recent studies are showing the type of starch in squash contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and insulin-regulating components. So if you have avoided them in the past thinking they were too high in carbs, you can likely add them back into your meals again without the guilt.
Choose winter squash that are heavy for their size with hard, tough skins. Avoid any with sunken spots or that have cuts or moldy spots. Skins that are not firm usually indicate the squash is not fully ripe yet.
Storing: Squash can be stored in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area. You can put the whole, unwashed squash on a stack of newspapers to keep them dry at temperatures between 45-50 F. Check on them often to make sure they are not showing signs of spoiling.
Cooking: You can also cook and freeze the fleshy part of the squash. Start by washing the squash, cut in half and remove the seeds with a spoon, and then finish by baking or steaming (if the skin of the squash is really tough cook in the microwave for about three minutes to soften). The more water you use to cook the squash in, the more flavor and nutrients you will lose from the squash. Bake until it is tender when poked with a fork and mash as you would a potato. Many recipes call for butter, brown sugar, and cream. If you want to keep it healthy, simply add water until you get the desired texture and freeze. Squash is wonderful served on its own or added to soups, pies, cookies, or breads. The seeds from the squash can be baked just like pumpkin seeds for a seasonal snack.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Wash the squash and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds with spoon. Place the two halves, cut side down, in baking dish with about ¼ inch water in bottom. Bake 50 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork. To microwave, cover the squash with wax paper and cook on HIGH about 12 minutes. Remove and use a fork to scrape out the inside of the squash creating a spaghetti-like appearance. Season with olive oil, dash of pepper and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese or top with spaghetti sauce. Enjoy!
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