Winter squash and pumpkin add nutritious colour to any autumn meal—and they can even help curb the growth of cancer cells

By Margaret Nearing

6 reasons to eat more squash

1. Get your vitamins

Winter squash is rich in the beta carotene our bodies use to make vitamin A—important for vision, bone growth and reproduction. The amount of beta carotene varies with the colour intensity of a squash’s flesh: Half a cup (125 mL) of butternut contains 4,684 micrograms (mcg). Half a cup of light-coloured spaghetti squash has just 45 mcg—but don’t ignore this one: It has double the amount of omega-3 fatty acids found in butternut.

2. Prevent cancer cell growth

While normal cells “listen” to other cells around them, cancer cells are blocked from communicating and act autonomously. Studies at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii show that cell communication allows the transfer of growth-inhibiting signals from normal to abnormal cells. Beta carotene and other carotenoids can turn on a gene that encourages this communication, helping to prevent the growth of cancerous cells.

3. Avoid cataracts

Pumpkins—also part of the squash family—are especially rich in the pigments lutein and zeaxanthin. A 2008 study followed more than 35,000 women for an average of 10 years. Those with the highest amounts of these two pigments in their diet (6,716 mcg per day) had an 18 percent lower risk of cataracts compared to those with the lowest (1,177 mcg per day). One cup (250 mL) of cooked pumpkin has 2,484 mcg.

4. Cut risk of gallstones

Elevated levels of triglycerides (the most common form of body fat) and decreased levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol may increase your risk of gallstones. A diet rich in magnesium helps reduce this risk, according to a recent U.S. study. One cup (250 mL) of acorn squash has roughly 28 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of this mineral.

5. Control blood pressure

Getting more potassium may lower the risk of developing high blood pressure, and decrease blood pressure in people who already have it. Winter squash is a rich source: One cup (250 mL) of hubbard squash, for instance, provides about 16 percent of what you need each day.

6. Load up on protein

Baked pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, make a nutritious snack. One ounce (30 g) has seven grams of protein—almost as much as an equal serving of peanuts—and provides four milligrams of iron, more than 20 percent of the RDA. (But watch the calories: There are 148 per ounce.)

This article was originally titled "Essential Squash," in the November/December 2008 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!

Best Health Magazine, November/December 2008

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