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The Nutritional Power of Winter Squash

Posted Jan 20 2011 9:12am

winter-squash-nutrition

I don't hate winter. I despise it. My vegetable garden, which supports us with fresh veggies from spring to autumn, is a tangled mess of winter rye grass and legumes. The farmers' markets are all closed. And most of the veggies at the grocery store have traveled from climates that never have snow days.

It's enough to make me want to move (farther) south.

Still, about this time every year I rediscover a reason not to hate the cold so much: winter squash.

It took me years to warm up to these funny shaped gourds. Like pumpkins, which are part of the same family, they look more like a harvest decoration tool than a food. But that's selling the squash short.

They are wonderful sources of flavor, color and nutrition in winter. For taste, winter squashes are great split in half, rubbed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and herbs, and roasted in an oven until tender. They can be pureed and added to soups. Or they can be the highlight in a hearty, vegetarian feast.

Their sweet and nutty flavors may make you forget their amazing nutritional profile. Winter squashes are loaded with lots of antioxidants and essential nutrients like vitamins A and C, potassium, dietary fiber, manganese and many B vitamins. Even their seeds, which make a great snack when they're roasted, are a good source of polyunsaturated fats.

Here's the lowdown on four popular squashes you can find at most grocers:

Round and dark green with long grooves, the Acorn squash's flesh is yellow and tastes nutty and sweet.

Butternut squash is shaped like a long pear with a lengthy shaft and a bulbous end. It has a dull, pale yellowish-orange skin and a vibrant orange flesh, which tastes sweet.

Delicata squashes are small and yellow with dark green and orange stripes. Unlike most winter squashes, the delicata's is thin and fragile. Check for bruising before you buy. The flesh is cream-colored with a nutty, sweet taste.

Pale yellow in color and shaped like a rugby ball, spaghetti squash is named for its flesh, which comes apart in long strands once it's been cooked.

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