Winter squash are cheap and plentiful this time of year. However, their awkward shape, thick skin, and hard flesh can make them intimidating to cook. Below, Alicia Ford, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Vancouver Clinic, discusses the most approachable varieties and how to incorporate them into your diet.
Q: What counts as a winter squash?
Alicia: Winter squash are harder squash—the ones that have a firmer gourd and will last a little longer. They’re great to keep in your pantry. They include acorn, butternut, and kabocha squash; sugar pumpkins; and delicata squash—even though you can eat its rind.
Q: What do winter squash offer people nutritionally?
Alicia: They tend to be a good source of fiber, vitamins A and C, and folate. They’re naturally low in fat, making them great for heart health. Because they’re plants there’s no cholesterol in them. Plus every time we eat plants we absorb phytonutrients, which protect the immune system and ward off diseases.
Q: Do patients need to worry about the number of carbs squash contain?
Alicia: Winter squash are a high-quality carbohydrate and rich in fiber. People who are managing diabetes or who are watching their carbohydrate intake should be aware of how much squash they’re consuming. However, it’s not necessary to cut carbs out completely, and squash are a great option compared with many other choices. Winter squash contain just 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates per 1-cup serving, whereas white pasta and rice has 45 to 50 grams, and potatoes 30 grams per 1-cup serving.
Q: Why do you think they can be intimidating to people?
Alicia: First, you don’t really know what to do with them. Second, the shell is really hard, and if you don’t have a sharp knife or knife skills it can be difficult to know where to start. They are awkwardly shaped, too.
Q: How do you suggest people venture into the world of gourds?
Alicia: Delicata squash is really approachable because you can eat the skin. The squash is a long oval shape and you can just slice it in half to make boats, scoop out the seeds, and roast it with olive oil and seasonings. Or slice each “boat” into half-moons and roast it that way. Grocery stores often have butternut squash pre-cubed. It’s more expensive but a good way to try out the flavor. It’s great roasted or as a soup. If you’re making a whole squash, it’s generally easier to bake it before cutting it up and removing the skin. Squash can be cooked in the oven, a slow cooker, and even the microwave.
Q: What are your favorite types of winter squash?
Alicia: In addition to delicata, I really like spaghetti squash. In our house we sub it for spaghetti noodles. Even my toddler eats it. I like to use kabocha to make curry. I just roast it, peel it, and pop it in. Acorn squash are adorable and little. I like to slice them open and fill them with goodies like quinoa, veggies, and raisins. A little cheese never hurts either. Plus seeds on top for crunch.
Q: Are there types of squash preparations people should avoid?
Alicia: Try to limit saturated fats like butter. If you want to add something savory, use olive oil. Some people like to sweeten squash with brown sugar, so it’s important to watch the portion size there. Roasting is a healthier way to bring out the sweetness. Those watching their blood pressure need to keep an eye on salt and really lean into lemon, garlic, onion powder, and other spices.
Q: What is the goal of including squash in your diet?
Alicia: It really comes down to nutrition. I always want people to look for as many servings of veggies and fiber as they can get, and squash are a good way to increase that.