Winter squash, of which butternut squash is just one variety, tend to be daunting to the modern cook, and are therefore generally underused and underappreciated. But for millennia, squash were a vital part of the diet of the indigenous populations of the Western Hemisphere. In Native American folklore, winter squash was one of the “three sisters,” along with corn and beans—the cornerstone of life for the tribes, as they could subsist on these three foodstuffs alone when times were hard.
Hearty Native American Favorite
There was good reason to designate the hardy squash as one of the nutritional linchpins of the Native American diet. Butternut squash contains generous helpings of vitamin C and potassium, and is an excellent source of dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and a bevy of B vitamins. Best of all, butternut squash in particular contains extraordinary amounts of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene.
The Yummy Way to Shrink Inflammation
Beta-carotene has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It prevents the oxidation of cholesterol in the body, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, and helping to prevent the progression of atherosclerosis. It may protect against diabetic heart disease and assist in blood sugar regulation, and it has been shown to protect against colon cancer.
Did You Know?
Butternut squash seeds can be saved and toasted. They’re a wonderful source of nutrition as well as a delightful and healthful snack!
Other prominent nutrients found in the squash support the actions of its beta-carotene. Vitamin C has equally potent anti-inflammatory characteristics, assisting in reducing the effects of rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Potassium helps lower blood pressure, fiber helps reduce the risk of colon cancer, and folate can guard against heart attack and stroke.
Select and Store
Squash can be found year-round, but they are at their peak in October and November—their seasonal harvest time. They can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to two months. Choose squash that are firm and heavy for their size. Make sure there are no soft spots, mold, or decay. There should be a short bit of stem on top—a removed stem leads to quicker spoilage.
In the Kitchen
Butternut squash are versatile—use them in soups and stews or tossed with pasta. Just peel, cut, steam, and enjoy. Or try one of our simple recipes, and discover just how tasty and satisfying this Native American staple can be!
Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Walnuts Serves 6
This quick and aromatic side dish pairs brilliantly with sautéed turkey cutlets and fresh spinach for an easy and appealing weeknight meal.
2 lb. butternut squash (1 medium squash), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup dried cranberries
1 Tbs. orange blossom honey
1 Tbs. orange juice
1 tsp. walnut oil
½ tsp. cranberry juice
½ tsp. apple cider vinegar
PER SERVING: 120 CAL; 2 G PROT; 5 G TOTAL FAT (0 G SAT FAT); 20 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 5 MG SOD; 4 G FIBER; 9 G SUGARS
Butternut Squash Soup with Leeks and Ginger Serves 8
This delicate soup makes an elegant starter for a special meal, or a terrific family dinner with a big green salad and a loaf of bread.
4 lb. butternut squash (2 medium)
2 Tbs. organic canola oil
3 large leeks, white parts only, sliced and rinsed
¼ cup peeled minced fresh ginger
7 cups organic low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup fresh orange juice
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1½ cups peeled, cored, and chopped ripe pears
¼ cup light organic coconut milk
PER SERVING: 195 CAL; 5 G PROT; 5 G TOTAL FAT (1 G SAT FAT); 36 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 89 MG SOD; 8 G FIBER; 11 G SUGARS