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How healthy is butternut squash, really?

Betty Gold, realsimple.com on

Published in Health & Fitness

Butternut squash is incredibly versatile. It’s just as delicious when pureed and served with pork as it is roasted and served with salad greens. You can use it to bake bread or layer it into lasagna and (news flash), butternut squash is probably what you’re actually eating when you cook anything with canned pumpkin.

Butternut squash is also incredibly good for you, says Hillary Cecere, RDN, a registered dietitian for Eat Clean Bro. Here’s a breakdown of all the benefits you’ll reap from fall’s second most festive gourd.

Immunity

Butternut squash is high in four carotenoids: alpha carotene, beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants are the pigment that gives it its orange color. Beta carotene — and to a lesser extent, alpha carotene — will be converted into vitamin A (retinol) in the body. Evidence shows that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of carotenoids may help prevent cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and cancer.

Take note: Carotenoids are absorbed best when consumed with fat, so add some oil when roasting squash for better absorption.

Fighting inflammation

Butternut squash is also high in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. Carotenoids and vitamin C both work to protect cells from free radical damage. Free radicals can damage cells and cause inflammation, which can lead to chronic diseases.

Cognitive function

 

Lutein and zeaxanthin, found in butternut squash, could benefit in maintaining cognitive health. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only two carotenoids that can cross the blood-retina barrier to form macular pigment in the eye. Studies suggest that lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in the macula are correlated with brain lutein and zeaxanthin status and might be used as a biomarker to assess cognitive health. One study found that having ample lutein in the brain was associated with better cognitive measures, such as language, learning and memory.

Eye health

Vitamin A is needed for healthy eyes and skin. The provitamin A, beta carotene, found in butternut squash is converted into vitamin A. Vitamin A helps prevent dry eyes and night blindness. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids found in the retina, where they function as antioxidants and may prevent age-related problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

Digestive health

Butternut squash contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber speeds up the passage of foods through the stomach and intestines; soluble fiber holds onto water and turns into gel during digestion. It slows digestion and nutrient absorption from the stomach and intestines. Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol by binding to cholesterol and transporting it out of the body. One cup of raw cubed butternut squash (140 grams) has 3 grams of fiber.

(Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges. Online at www.realsimple.com.)

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