Spaghetti squash is perfectly named because its flesh separates into spaghetti-like strands. If you love spaghetti but limit your pasta intake because of calories or carbs, then you already have two reasons to choose this vegetable replacement. Spaghetti squash also delivers a range of nutrients, including fiber and vitamins C and A.
Like other winter squash, spaghetti squash has a tough rind that’s difficult to cut, so the easiest approach is to bake or boil it whole. After it’s cooked, it’s a breeze to cut in half, then drag a fork across the flesh to separate it into strands. One cup of cooked spaghetti squash only has 42 calories, compared to a cup of cooked pasta with over 200 calories. It only has 10 grams of total carbohydrates, which is one-fourth the amount you’ll get from the pasta. You’ll also get 9 percent of the recommended daily intake of dietary fiber.
Spaghetti squash provides vitamin A in the form of the carotenoids called alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. It’s such a rich source that it ranks near the top of the USDA’s list for both kinds of these carotenoids. Carotenoids can be converted into the form of vitamin A that you need to maintain normal vision and healthy skin. They also work as antioxidants that prevent cellular damage from free radicals and fight inflammation. One cup of cooked spaghetti squash provides 6 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A. You won't get vitamin A from pasta unless its made with spinach or other vegetables.
Vitamin C fights free radicals throughout your body. Free radicals are formed during normal metabolic processes, but they also result from other things that negatively impact your body, such as cigarette smoke, sunlight, severe life stress and lack of sleep. If they're not neutralized by an antioxidant, free radicals attach to cells and cause damage that leads to chronic illnesses. You also need vitamin C to support the immune system and to make collagen, which is a type of tissue in your skin and is involved in wound healing. One cup of cooked spaghetti squash gives you 7 percent of the recommended daily intake, while plain pasta doesn’t have any vitamin C.
Potassium is one of several minerals that can carry an electrical charge through fluids in your body. It sustains a regular heartbeat and works together with another electrolyte, sodium, to stimulate muscles and nerves. The effort required by your body to maintain the proper intra- and extracellular ratios of potassium and sodium accounts for 20 to 40 percent of the energy you burn while resting, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. One cup of cooked spaghetti squash gives you 4 percent of the daily intake of potassium, which is three times more than the amount in a cup of cooked pasta.
Getting enough dietary calcium throughout your life is essential because old bone is constantly replaced with new minerals to maintain strength. Without enough calcium to support this rebuilding, your risk of developing osteoporosis increases. You also need calcium to stimulate muscles and nerves. If levels of calcium drop, your body takes it away from the bones to support those vital functions. You’ll get 3 percent of the recommended daily intake from 1 cup of cooked spaghetti squash, which is three times more than pasta.
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Squash, Winter, Spaghetti, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Or Baked, Without Salt
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Spaghetti, Cooked, Enriched, Without Added Salt
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Alpha-Carotene Content of Selected Foods
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Beta-Carotene Content of Selected Foods
- Linus Pauling Institute: Carotenoids
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin C
- Linus Pauling Institute: Potassium
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Calcium
- University of California: Calcium and Osteoporosis
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.