What do you think of when you hear the term “squash?” Maybe it’s last summer’s bumper zucchini crop or the pumpkin that you carved last October? Yes, those are two popular squashes, but there are so many other varieties. In fact, squash is a term that includes literally dozens of fruits – yes, fruits – that share similar characteristics and belong to the plant genus Cucurbita.
Some of the popular squash varieties are butternut, acorn Hubbard, Kabocha, Delicata, Calabaza and spaghetti. Some squashes are identified by the season they are harvested, such as summer and winter squash.
Squash has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. Archeologists have found evidence of squash being grown in ancient North and South America, and early European settlers found it to be a staple part of the diet of some Native American tribes.
More than just a decorative object for fall harvest season, squash offers many nutritional and health benefits. It is packed with vitamin A and contains a high percentage of vitamins C, E, and B6, niacin, thiamine and folate. Squash also boasts a variety of healthy minerals, including potassium, magnesium, manganese, calcium and iron.
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Here are 11 health benefits you can enjoy from adding more squash to your family’s diet.
1. Inflammation reduction. The omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids (including lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene) in squash can help reduce inflammation in the body. Squash consumption has been linked to less inflammation in conditions such as arthritis, gout, type-2 diabetes, ulcers and cardiovascular disorders.
2. Immunity boost. The vitamins (especially the vitamin A) and minerals found in squash work as antioxidants in the body, helping to neutralize harmful free radicals and offering an important boost to the body’s immune system.
3. Lung health. Vitamin A, which is abundant in squash, has been linked with healthy lungs, and it may offer some protection against emphysema and lung cancer.
4. Diabetes management. Squash is rich in B-complex vitamins, which are important to the metabolism of sugar in the body. In addition, the dietary fiber found in squash, such as pectin, is an important part of the body’s blood sugar regulation process.
5. Infection protection. Have you ever roasted and eaten pumpkin seeds? Squash seeds offer antimicrobial and antifungal benefits, which can protect the body from harmful parasites and certain diseases.
6. Neural health. Folate, which is plentiful in squash, is important to the diet of pregnant women. A lack of folate, or folic acid, has been linked with infant neural tube defects.
7. Cardiovascular health. Minerals, such as magnesium and potassium, that are in squash are important to the heart. As a vasodilator, potassium helps relax the tension of blood vessels and arteries and increase blood flow to the heart. The pectin (fiber) found in squash is important to healthy and strong artery walls, which help reduce the chances of heart attack or stroke.
8. Blood circulation. Squash has high levels of iron and copper, two essential minerals for the body’s red blood cells. Therefore, eating more squash can help reduce anemia and can improve your overall mental and physical energy levels.
9. Better vision. The large amount of beta-carotene found in squash is good for your eyes. Beta-carotene consumption is linked with a reduced risk of macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and other issues associated with aging eyes.
10. Breathing. A diet that includes squash can help you breathe better. In fact, squash’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can reduce the irritation that causes asthma.
11. Strong bones. As an important source of zinc, calcium and manganese, squash can help strengthen your bones and reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis.
What would you add to our list? Share your tips in the section below:
The Giant Book of Kitchen Counter Cures, Karen Cicero and Colleen Pierre, Jerry Baker Books, 2001.