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Healthy Facts About Acorn Squash
Acorn squash is a small variety of winter squash named for its resemblance to a large acorn. Its firm, yellow-orange flesh has a mellow, sweet flavor that pairs well in dishes containing bacon, garlic, maple syrup or spices such as sage or nutmeg. Like its close cousin’s butternut squash and spaghetti squash, acorn squash is more nutrient-dense than all types of summer squash. Acorn squash is rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and antioxidant compounds. A diet with a high intake of the nutrients provided by acorn squash may decrease the risk of a number of serious medical conditions.
Acorn squash contains vitamin A, niacin, folate, thiamine and vitamin B-6, but it is an especially good source of vitamin C. A 1/2-cup serving of cooked, cubed acorn squash provides approximately 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C for healthy adults following a 2,000-calorie diet. Adequate vitamin C intake promotes the health of the immune and skeletal systems and may help prevent hypertension, heart disease, cancer and osteoarthritis. The vitamin C content of foods is degraded by exposure to air, light, heat and water. To maximize the amount of vitamin C you receive from acorn squash, use the vegetable three to four days after purchase and cut it only right before cooking. Steam or bake the squash instead of boiling it to keep vitamin C from being lost in the cooking water.
Each 1/2-cup serving of acorn squash contains 13 percent of the recommended daily allowance of potassium and 11 percent of the RDA of magnesium. As both a mineral and an electrolyte, potassium plays a vital role in muscle contraction and in maintaining the body’s water balance. Magnesium regulates potassium levels, strengthens bones and teeth and aids in proper energy metabolism. Regularly eating potassium- and magnesium-rich foods like acorn squash can lessen your chance of stroke, osteoporosis, depression and diabetes. Acorn squash also contains small amounts of iron, calcium, zinc and phosphorus.
Acorn squash provides 5 grams of dietary fiber in every 1/2-cup serving, an amount that fulfills 18 percent of the recommended daily intake of fiber. The majority of acorn squash’s fiber is soluble fiber. According to Mayo Clinic.com, this type of fiber helps regulate blood levels of both glucose and cholesterol. In 2009, an article published in ‘Nutrition Reviews’ summarized current dietary fiber research and concluded that a diet containing fiber-rich foods like acorn squash could help prevent stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and gastrointestinal disorders.
The American Dietetic Association lists winter squash as one of the best sources of the antioxidant beta carotene. Antioxidants are compounds that can prevent cellular and DNA damage by inhibiting the activity of unstable free radicals. A high intake of antioxidant-rich foods is linked to a lower risk of cancer, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that may specifically support eye health and prevent the development of age-related macular degeneration.
Healthy Cooking Methods
To get the greatest benefit out of acorn squash’s nutrients, choose a low-fat cooking method. Mark Bittman, author of ‘How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,’ advises that steaming or roasting winter squash is simple, uses no added fat and yields cooked squash that can be served chunked or mashed as a side dish or added as an ingredient to other entrees. For additional flavor, acorn squash can be grated and sautéed in a small amount of olive oil. According to Bittman, it’s best to cook acorn squash in water only when it is part of a soup, since the vitamins lost by the vegetable during the cooking process are retained in the soup’s broth.