Set aside your Starbucks pumpkin spice latte and bakery-bought pumpkin loaf. It’s time to get your squash on, because many of the “decorative gourds” that have lined your mantle are actually edible.
As the fall and winter seasons unfold, farmer’s markets and grocery stores stock up on winter’s favorite vegetables: gourds. You might be thinking… what the heck do we do with these little, weird-looking guys…?!?! Most people use them for decor and they do make a great fall decoration…but they offer so much more!
This diverse family of vegetables includes different varieties of squash and pumpkin. The different strains of gourds have numerous health benefits which aid in boosting immunity, blood circulation, bone strength and enhancing eyesight. Gourds also work with our body to fight against inflammation, diabetes, and gallstones. There are different varieties of gourds and they classified as either summer or winter squash, but most take to the spotlight during fall and winter. Prepared as either sweet or savory, these veggies are packed full of nutrition and benefits.
1) Immunity Booster
Maintaining a strong immune system is essential to our bodies’ optimal wellness. Pumpkin is notorious for its high source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant responsible for its orange color. Squash is also full of immunity boosting antioxidants, such as vitamin C. Antioxidants are important for counteracting free radicals, the erratic molecules that cause damage to healthy cells.
2) Reduces Inflammation
Gourds contain several anti-inflammatory compounds that aid in reducing inflammation throughout the body. Many compounds, such as omega-3 fatty acids, different carotenoids, and some naturally occurring sugars are responsible for these anti-inflammatory benefits.
3) Manages Diabetes
In a 2007 study conducted by the Journal of Medicinal Food, pumpkin showed the best potential in managing hyperglycemia due to its unique antioxidant activity and ability to control glucose levels. Roasted pumpkin and squash seeds have also been shown to improve insulin regulation.
4) Improves Circulation
Several different gourds contain high levels of minerals responsible for managing blood circulation, such as copper and iron. Increased blood circulation can improve oxygen levels throughout the body. Gourds’ high levels of iron can also prevent anemia since iron is responsible for the production of red blood cells.
5) Strengthens Bones
All gourds contain essential minerals that play a role in maintaining bone strength and density. These minerals include calcium, magnesium, manganese and zinc.
6) Protects eyesight
One serving of squash or pumpkin contains over 4x your daily requirement of vitamin A. Vitamin A can be converted to retinal, which is important for protecting the outer surface of the eye. The high levels lutein in gourds are also beneficial to eyesight. In a Harvard study done on individuals with retina damage, the university found that participants who took daily supplements of lutein and vitamin A had a slower loss of vision compared to those who did not. See more benefits of pumpkin here.
7) Lowers Risk of Gallstones
The high levels of magnesium in gourds can help protect against the formation of gallstones. Magnesium prevents gallstone formation by producing specific enzymes. The antioxidant components in gourds, such as beta-carotene, also aid in protecting against gallstones.
8) Maintains Heart Health
All winter squash is rich in potassium, which plays an important role in regulating blood pressure. Just one cup of butternut squash provides almost 20% of your daily requirement of potassium.
9) Muscle Builder
Pumpkin seeds are full of protein. They contain a whopping amount of 7 grams per servings, which is great for those that are vegan! There are ways to get muscle-building compounds while eating a plant-based diet, you just have to be strategic!
10) Promotes Healthy Digestion
Gourds, specifically winter squash, contain a large amount of fiber per serving. Acorn and hubbard squash contain the highest amounts of fiber within the gourd family, with about 10 grams per serving. The insoluble fiber content enhances digestion and bowel activity while the soluble fiber content promotes healthy cholesterol levels.
So the question remains – how do I cook these things?
Autumn Squash Soup – this is DELISH! Just like Panera’s only much healthier 😉
Spaghetti Squash Pizza Bake
Spaghetti Squash Pumpkin Alfredo – this is a double whammy with both squash and pumpkin!
Try these oven roasted Brussels and Acorn Squash
Acorn Squash is super easy and versatile…this is one of my favorite ways to bake it on the sweeter side. If you want too, you can make stuffed acorn squash and simply replace step 4 by adding ground turkey or ground beef and veggies and then bake again for 20 min.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place squash in a shallow baking pan, cut side down.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until tender.
Turn cut side up; season with salt and pepper, dot with butter or coconut oil, and sprinkle with brown sugar substitute and cinnamon. Bake for 20 minutes more.