Some of the health benefits of acorn squash include its ability to boost the immune system, prevent certain types of cancer, improve vision, protect the skin, strengthen the bones, reduce blood pressure, maintain fluid balance, regulate blood sugar and cholesterol, improve digestion, and maintain proper circulation.
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What is Acorn Squash?
Acorn squash is aptly named because when fully grown, they look quite similar to large acorns, except they are green and heavily ridged around the exterior. The scientific name of acorn squash is Cucurbita pepo (var. turbinata). They are also commonly known as pepper squash or Des Moines Squash. Although they are considered a winter squash in terms of seasonality and the time when they are eaten/reach maturity, they belong to the same species as summer squashes. Both the flesh and the trumpet flowers that grow from the tops of the squash are edible, although the leaves and flowers are more commonly eaten in Eastern countries, such as the Philippines. Acorn squash, like most other squash varieties, can be baked, sauteed, steamed, stuffed, or mixed in with other meat and vegetable dishes.
Historically, acorn squash was frequently used by Native Americans, as it is native to North and Central America. It has spread across the world, both east and west, thanks to the European explorers who took the squash seeds back to their lands and began to cultivate this hearty and nutritious fruit. Besides the delicious taste and the harsh conditions in which acorn squash can grow, it is also more nutrient-dense than any of its other summer squash relatives, making it an invaluable part of a healthy and balanced diet. Let’s take a closer look inside this dark green fruit and find out what makes it such a healthy and nutritious food source.
Nutritional Value of Acorn Squash
As mentioned above, acorn squash is extremely nutrient-dense for its size, but also, it has a diverse range of nutrients. It is rich in dietary fiber, like most fruits and vegetables, while also being very low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. In terms of vitamins and minerals, acorn squash has significant levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, thiamin, pantothenic acid, and other B-family vitamins, and its range of minerals is truly impressive, including potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, phosphorous, and calcium.
Health Benefits of Acorn Squash
Acorn Squash is a great source of vitamin C, which is one of the best ways to boost your immune system. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, stimulates the production of white blood cells, which defend the body from pathogens and other unwanted germs/microbes. Furthermore, vitamin C is an important part of the body’s development, in terms of muscle tissue, blood vessels, teeth, skin, and organs. Vitamin C also works as an antioxidant, helping to protect the body from more serious conditions, like heart disease and certain cancers.
Vitamin A is found in significant quantities in acorn squash, and while that isn’t an unusual vitamin to find, high levels of it mean high levels of beta carotene as well, which is a very good antioxidant to have in our system. Specifically, beta carotene has been directly linked to reducing oxidative stress in the eyes, which means that cataracts and macular degeneration can be prevented with proper intake of the vitamin A in acorn squash.
Along with protecting the eyes, vitamin A also plays an important role in maintaining skin health. The antioxidant compounds derived from vitamin A, as well as other vitamins found in acorn squash, ensure that the skin looks young and full of color, while also helping to eliminate blemishes and scars, speed the healing of wounds, and protect the skin from pathogens and premature aging.
Controls Digestion and Diabetes
Perhaps the most significant component found in acorn squash is dietary fiber. A single serving of acorn squash contains 9 grams of fiber, which is more than 1/3 of the daily requirement. Fiber regulates our digestion by adding bulk to our bowel movements and eliminating constipation, diarrhea, cramping, and bloating. Furthermore, dietary fiber helps to regulate the levels of blood sugar in the body, thereby helping to prevent the development of diabetes, and also to help those suffering from diabetes with maintaining stable glucose levels. Finally, dietary fiber helps eliminate excess cholesterol in the body, thereby preventing atherosclerosis and subsequent cardiovascular conditions like strokes and heart attacks.
Regulates Blood Pressure
The high content of potassium found in this delicious variety of squash means that blood pressure can be maintained at a safe level. Potassium is a vasodilator, meaning that it relaxes blood vessels and arteries, thereby reducing stress on the heart and lowering blood pressure. Potassium also helps to regulate the fluid balance in the cells and tissues, boosting metabolic efficiency and keeping our enzymatic and cellular pathways functioning properly. Magnesium regulates the uptake of potassium, so the high content of magnesium in acorn squash makes these effects even stronger.
Builds Strong Bones
Acorn Squash has a wide variety of minerals, including calcium, manganese, magnesium, copper, iron, and phosphorous. Many of these minerals are integral parts in the development of new bones, as well as the regrowth and healing of the bone matter we already have. Sufficient mineral diversity in the body can help to prevent osteoporosis and ensure that our bones remain strong and functional well into our later years.
Antioxidants are found in many foods, but acorn squash is particularly fortunate to have very high levels of vitamin C and beta carotene, two very effective antioxidant compounds. This means that free radicals can more easily be neutralized before causing mutations in healthy cells. Along with preventing various types of cancer, antioxidants like those found in acorn squash also prevent cognitive disorders, premature, aging, and a range of other serious health conditions that are often associated with oxidative stress from free radicals.
Word of Caution: Acorn squash is very high in carbohydrates, and while there aren’t any simple sugars in acorn squash, as you would normally find in carbohydrates, they still fill the body up in terms of calories. Those on low-carb diets should probably choose another fruit to complement their dietary restrictions.