Squashes are prolific warm weather crops and evidence suggests that squashes may have been first cultivated as long as 10,000 years ago. Squash is part of “Three Sisters” along with corn and beans, the three main agricultural crops of Native Americans groups in North America.
Squashes are divided into 2 categories- summer and winter squash. Summer squashes are harvested during the growing season as immature fruits, while the skin is still soft, requiring little to no cooking. Crookneck, zucchini, straight-neck and patty-pan are all summer squashes. Winter squashes are harvested at maturity, generally at the end of the growing season and get their name because they can be stored through the winter. They have thick, hard skin and require longer cooking times than summer squashes. Butternut, Hubbard, buttercup, ambercup, acorn and spaghetti squashes and pumpkins among others are all winter squashes.
Nutritional Content of Squashes
Squashes are nutritional powerhouses loaded with health benefiting nutrients, minerals and antioxidants. These contents vary depending on the type of squash. In general, squashes are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, vitamin B2, vitamin B6 and phosphorous.
Health Benefits of Squashes
1. Heart Health: Squashes are almost fat and cholesterol free, low in calories and are packed with nutrients that aid cardiovascular health. The magnesium and potassium content of squashes help reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The folate helps rid of the unhealthy metabolic byproduct homocysteine, which is known to contribute to heart diseases. Squashes have plenty of fiber that helps lower cholesterol levels reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and other heart diseases.
2. Eye Health: With all the carotenes present in squashes, including beta carotene and lutein, they make for an excellent addition to one’s diet to maintain excellent vision. Intake of lutein helps prevent the onset of cataracts and macular degeneration.
3. Boosts Immune System: Vitamin C is known to a have a positive effect on the immune system and is present in abundance in squashes. A cup of butternut squash contains a third of one’s daily required amount of Vitamin C.
4. Digestive Benefits: Squashes contain both soluble and insoluble fiber that is critical in the excretion of toxins, normal functioning of digestive system, promoting regularity and adding bulk to stools.
5. Blood Sugar Regulation: Squashes contain B1, B3, B6, pantothenic acid and folate, all B-vitamins that are essential for regulating blood sugar levels.
6. Good for Pregnant Women: Folate which is present in squashes has been shown to reduce the occurrence of neural tube defects and other birth defects when ingested by women before and during pregnancy.
7. Anti-Oxidants: Squashes have high content of various antioxidants, helping keep harmful free radicals at bay and preventing prostate, colon, lung and breast cancers.
8. Bone Health: Adequate amounts of manganese, calcium, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium all contribute to mineralize bones and add to general fortification. Regular consumption of squashes helps fight osteoporosis and other bone diseases.