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Winter Squash’s Health Benefits

October 26, 2015 (Updated: August 4, 2021)
Lily Moran

In season right now is one of the most under-appreciated foods I know.

Winter squash is a squash grown in the summer, harvested in the fall, and devoured in the winter. It has a hard exterior that can keep it fresh for a long time without refrigeration.

Beneath that tough shell is vivid orange or yellow flesh—a sure sign of the antioxidant beta-carotene. Combined with other antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, winter squash is a mile deep in delicious benefits.

Winter squash delivers a hefty helping of health, and comes in a glorious range of varieties including:

  • Acorn
  • Banana
  • Butternut
  • Calabaza
  • Delicata
  • Green Hubbard
  • Kabocha
  • Pumpkin, Sugar Pumpkin
  • Spaghetti
  • Sweet Dumpling

What makes this tough guy so special?

Winter squash was such an important part of Native Americans’ diet that they buried it with their dead for nourishment on their journey to the next world.

But it can nourish and protect us very well before our own final journey—maybe even delay that journey—for years.

Plenty of research has shown that increasing consumption of winter squash (and many other plant foods) reduces your risk of obesity, heart disease, and mortality from all causes.

Winter squash excels by giving us all this and more:

Prevents high blood pressure, lowers it if present

For healthy blood pressure, more potassium in your diet is as important as less sodium. That’s why it’s a true health crisis that 98 percent of U.S. adults fail to meet the recommended daily potassium intake of 4,700 mg, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

A cup of cooked winter squash steps up to the plate to deliver 20 percent of that requirement—with zero percent sodium.

Reduces your risk of heart attack, stroke, and cancer

Winter squash’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties protect against both heart attack and stroke. In younger men, winter squash’s abundant beta-carotene can protect against prostate cancer.

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Manages diabetes

Type 1 diabetics whose diet is rich in fiber have lower overall blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetics have improved blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels. One cup of butternut squash provides nearly one-third of the recommended fiber for women and nearly one-quarter of the amount for men.

Prevents, reduces obesity

Some recent studies show that the fiber in winter squash can reduce the risk of obesity and help obese individuals shed some extra poundage.

Prevents asthma

A diet high in beta-carotene reduces the risk of developing asthma.

Promotes healthy skin and hair

Winter squash blesses your skin with loads of vitamin A—necessary to help regenerate skin and produce the sebum that keeps hair moisturized. Squash also delivers more than half of our recommended vitamin C, a key ingredient in collagen that provides structure and keeps your skin and hair looking young and healthy.

Boosts immune function

Winter squash delivers loads of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and fiber, all essential to a healthy immune system.

Protects digestive health

Maintaining a high fiber diet helps to prevent constipation and promote a healthy digestive tract—essential for our overall health.


Beta-blockers, which are commonly prescribed for heart disease, can increase potassium levels in the blood. If you’re taking one, eat winter squash and other high potassium foods in moderation. Talk it over with your doctor.

Potassium is also a concern—a serious one—if your kidneys are compromised and can’t remove excess potassium from the blood.

Pick and prepare a winter winner

As I mentioned, a winter squash’s tough skin means it can be stored for months without refrigeration. Look for one that feels heavy for its size and has no soft spots. Beware any blemishes that look like punctures. They’re winter squash’s one vulnerability: when penetrated, they go bad quickly.

That thick skin also makes winter squash a tough nut to peel for cooking. Rather than scrape it with a sharp instrument for days, bake it first. It will then peel easily, giving you its lovely, health-giving flesh, which you can prepare in dozens of delicious ways. Fried, baked, mashed, in soup, roasted, sautéed—it’s grown all over the world, so there’s a world of different, mouth-watering recipes.

Happy, healthy eating!

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