Fall and winter can bring a cornucopia of new foods to mix into your diet and provide health benefits. Winter squash is in season now and it is an excellent source of antioxidants, B-vitamins, and beta-carotene, while still being low cost and versatile. Unlike its summer equivalent, it can be harvested very late into the fall and has a longer storage potential, which allows it to provide its variety of nutrients all through the autumn and winter seasons. Best of all, winter squash is high in colon-cancer combating fiber and low in calories – filling you up without filling you out.
Just because Halloween is over doesn’t mean you have to throw out all of your pumpkins! Pumpkins are rich in potassium and the bright orange flesh is loaded with beta-carotene. They also help in the prevention of cataracts and macular degeneration with their high content of lutein and zeaxanthin, which scavenge free radicals in the lens of the eye. The sweetest taste can be found in the small-sized pumpkin varieties known as sugar or pie pumpkin.
Don’t forget to save those pumpkin seeds after you scoop them out! Pumpkin seeds are much more than tasty snacks: they are high in zinc, which is a natural protector against bone loss, contain almost your whole daily requirement of magnesium, promote prostate health, reduce inflammation, help lower LDL cholesterol, and prevent kidney stones, to name just a few of their many benefits.
Spaghetti squash is an oval-shaped squash that is a significant source of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, E, and C. Research has found that calcium – in addition to building strong bones – can reduce the instance of colon cancer and lower blood cholesterol levels that contribute to heart disease and strokes. Vitamin C builds collagen, helping tissues heal and maintaining younger looking skin and is thought to prevent the progression of conditions like atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Vitamin E can slow down cellular aging and fend off cancer. That’s a wide array of benefits for one food!
Spaghetti squash can also help with your weight loss plans, as it is low in both carbohydrates and calories. After it’s cooked, you can dig a fork into the flesh of a spaghetti squash and pull out long yellow strands that resemble spaghetti. Though they taste like squash, the “noodles” can serve as a low-calorie substitute for pasta.
Look for a larger squash, as they have a better flavor and bigger strands. To prepare, pierce the whole shell several times with a large fork, place in a baking dish, and bake for about an hour. You can also boil in water for twenty to thirty minutes.
A close cousin to the pumpkin, butternut squash has a sweet flavor and is rich in vitamins A, B, and C. While all winter squashes contain beta-carotene, butternut squash has an extra-high content, rivaling that of mangoes and cantaloupe. Beta-carotene has very powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and combats cancer, heart disease, and cataracts. Beta-carotene also prevents the oxidation of cholesterol in the vessels. In other words, no plaque develops that can cause restricted blood flow and lead to heart disease.
Their rich flavor cooks up well for roasted dishes and soups. Butternut squash is perfect for cutting in half and baking, flesh-side down, in the oven for a tasty side dish. Although the flesh is hard, it can be easily peeled with a vegetable peeler.
Tips for Picking, Storing, and Preparing
Picking Your Squash: Look for squashes that feel heavy for their size and have hard, deep-colored skins that are blemish-free. A soft rind indicates that the squash is watery and lacking flavor.
Storing: Almost all winter squashes, by virtue of their tough skins, can be kept in a cool, dry, low-light place for between one to three months. Cut-up pieces of squash can be kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Preparing: To cook winter squash, first rinse off any dirt, cut in half and remove fibers and seeds; then bake, steam, or boil. Boil and mash winter squash just as you would potatoes, or add peeled squash cubes to your favorite soups, stews, and vegetable dishes. Dress up any cooked winter squash with olive oil and your favorite herb or spice. To prepare squash seeds, bake or pan-fry in a small amount of oil.
For more information about healthy seasonal foods with great benefits, pick up a copy of “The Tao of Nutrition.” One advantage of Chinese nutrition is that it adapts to every individual’s needs to prevent disease by treating the whole person.
May you Live Long, Live Strong, and Live Happy!
Dr. Mao Shing Ni, best known as Dr. Mao is a bestselling author, doctor of Oriental Medicine and board certified anti-aging expert. He has appeared regularly on “Dr. Oz,” “The Doctors” and “EXTRA.” Dr. Mao practices acupuncture, nutrition, and Chinese medicine with his associates at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica and Newport Beach. Dr. Mao and his brother, Dr. Daoshing Ni founded Tao of Wellness more than 25 years ago in addition to also founding Yo San University in Marina del Rey. To subscribe to his tip-filled newsletter please visit www.taoofwellness.com. To make an appointment for evaluation and treatment please call 310.917.2200 or you can email Dr. Mao at [email protected]