Butternut squash is a winter squash that is usually available from the beginning of fall through the winter. Low-calorie and practically fat-free, butternut squash offers significant health benefits, including amino acids, beta-carotene and fiber. You can eat baked, boiled, sautéed or fried butternut squash on its own or add it to salads and stir-fries. Butternut squash also makes a delicious autumn soup.
One cup of baked butternut squash cubes contains 82 calories, 27 percent of the daily value of fiber, 7 percent of the DV of carbohydrates, 4 percent of the DV of protein, trace amounts of fat and sodium and no cholesterol.
Fiber passes through your body without being absorbed, but it still aids metabolism and digestion. Soluble fiber aids digestion by dissolving in water to form a gel-like substance that slows your metabolism, helping your body absorb importation vitamins, nutrients and energy sources. Insoluble fiber, which doesn't dissolve in water, allows waste materials to flow quickly through your intestines and bowels, preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements. Because fiber isn't digestible and doesn't contain calories but does add bulk to your foods, it is a useful tool for maintaining or losing weight. Fiber also lowers blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, inflammation and the risks of Type 2 diabetes, hemorrhoids and diverticulitis, a condition where the inner lining of your intestines can become inflamed and infected. Research continues into whether it may play a role in preventing colon cancer. Butternut squash is a rich source of fiber.
Your body breaks protein down into amino acids during metabolism. Amino acids play vital roles in cellular creation, repair and maintenance and are essential for the growth and development of children and the health of pregnant women. Amino acids come in three different varieties: essential amino acids, conditional amino acids and nonessential amino acids. Your body produces both conditional and nonessential amino acids. It's not necessary to eat foods containing nonessential amino acids, and you only have to consume foods with conditional amino acids if you're ill or stressed. Your body does not manufacture essential amino acids. You have to get them from your diet. Butternut squash contains at least trace amounts of every essential and conditional amino acid.
Beta-carotene is a plant pigment that your body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A aids in vision, skin, immune and mucus membrane health. It's also an antioxidant that helps prevent cellular damage from free radicals. There's evidence to suggest that this antioxidant property may help lower the risks of heart disease and some cancers. Beta-carotene may also help prevent age-related vision loss, metabolic syndrome and scleroderma -- an autoimmune disease characterized by hair loss, hardening of the skin, changes in skin pigmentation and ulcers on the fingertips. The beta-carotene in 1 cup of cubed, baked summer squash is equivalent to 127 percent of an adult male's recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A.
Butternut squash makes a healthy side dish for steak, fish or chicken entrees. Butternut squash can be turned into a delicious soup, but try to use a vegetable or nonfat milk base instead of a whole-milk or cream base to cut down on fat, saturated, fat and cholesterol. Serving butternut squash boiled, microwaved or sautéed in heart-healthy oils like olive oil or canola oil is also a much healthier option than frying it.
- Epicurious Food Dictionary: Squash
- USDA National Agricultural Library Full Report: Nutrient Data for 11486, Squash, Winter, Butternut, Cooked, Baked, Without Salt
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: USFDA Daily Values
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Fiber -- All Information
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet
- PubMed Health: Diverticulitis
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Protein in Diet -- All Information
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin A
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Beta Carotene
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Scleroderma -- All Information
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images