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How to Cook Squash (and Why You Should)

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    Acorn Squash

    Thanks to it high levels of beta-carotene, this sweet, nutty-flavored squash has been linked to both cancer and heart disease prevention. Plus, just one cup of cooked acorn squash delivers 40 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, says Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, the author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight.

    How to cook squash: NYC chef Daphne Cheng, who specializes in vegetable-based dishes, suggests tossing roasted acorn squash in salad of arugula, spinach, or butter lettuce with a creamy dressing. "Acorn squash has a really nice nutty flavor, especially when it's roasted," says Cheng.

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    Spaghetti Squash

    Slice spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, bake it on a sheet pan, and you'll quickly understand where it gets its name. At just 42 calories per cup, the long spaghetti-like strands are a great low-calorie alternative to traditional pasta, says Bannan. "Simply add cheese and a little fresh basil, or try it in lasagna," she says.

    How to cook squash: If you aren't buying the squash to use in place of pasta, Cheng suggests tossing cooled spaghetti squash, pomegranate seeds, fresh parsley, and lemon juice with a simple vinaigrette for a crisp salad or side dish.

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    Butternut Squash

    With cooler weather come cravings for butternut squash soup—naturally—and this is a creamy bowl of comfort food you can feel good about. Just one cup of cooked butternut squash has 582 mg of potassium—that's more than a banana! Potassium helps keep blood pressure down by balancing out sodium levels, says Bannan.

    How to cook squash: Besides the beloved pureed soup, Cheng suggests using butternut squash in an unexpected way—in dessert. "Roast it, and puree it for a mousse, substitute it for pumpkin in pie, or even make it into an ice cream," she says.

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    Though this familiar green squash hits peak freshness is summer, both of our experts say they enjoy it year-round. "It's definitely a low-calorie option if you're trying to maintain or lose weight, " says Bannan. One medium zucchini has only 33 calories.

    How to cook squash: "I like lightly sautéing it with garlic," says Cheng. "You could also slice it and add to a risotto dish with fresh basil." Cheng points out that zucchini's hardiness makes it suitable as a main dish.

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    There's so much more to pumpkin than lattes and pie. One cup of cooked pumpkin has more than 200 percent of your daily vitamin A requirement (beta carotene is generally abundant in orange-hued foods) and lots of vitamin C. However, reaping all those nutritional benefits can depend on how you prepare this squash. "Vitamin C is water-soluble," says Bannan, meaning that you can lose some of the nutritional value during the cooking process. "If you're making soup, that's fantastic," she adds, as the liquid will retain the vitamin C lost from the squash.

    How to cook squash: Cheng suggests using pumpkin in chili, soups, stews, or curry dishes. "Pumpkin is hardy and perfect for fall, " she says. "It works well with lots of different flavors like curry and cardamom."

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    Yellow Squash

    Like zucchini, yellow squash is typically synonymous with summer, but there's one popular food gadget that can change the way you think—the spiralizer. "It's a fantastic solution if you want a healthy pasta-like meal," says Bannan. Cooked yellow squash only has about 15 percent as many carbs as the same amount of pasta, keeping all those extra carbs off your plate. Bonus: Both zucchini and yellow squash have high water content, helping to maintain hydration while also reducing bloat.

    How to cook squash: Yellow squash "is a little bit mild, but it's a nice delicate flavor," says Cheng. "It would be really nice with fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, or rosemary."

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    Think of kabocha as an acorn squash–sweet potato hybrid: It has a sweet, nutty flavor, but also a drier, dense texture like a starchy potato. You'll fill up on kabocha easily thanks to 9 grams of fiber, which aids weight management and digestion, says Bannan.

    How to cook squash: Because of kabocha's potato-like consistency, Cheng suggests swapping out plain ol' russet potatoes, which don't offer much nutritionally, for kabocha. Just boil or roast the squash, then "mash it up with garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil," she says.

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    Delicata Squash

    As the name would imply, the skin of this yellow and green striped squash is quite delicate and can be eaten after it's cooked. This vibrant color of the skin and flesh are an effect of carotenoids, antioxidants shown to have numerous health benefits such as preventing heart disease and some forms of cancer, as well as age-related eye conditions.

    How to cook squash: "Delicata is a really beautiful squash," says Cheng. "Roast it and slice into rings for a beautiful way to present it." She suggests seasoning the squash with smoked paprika and red wine vinegar. You can also slice the squash in half, fill the center with the stuffing recipe of your choice, and bake, says Cheng.


Alyssa Sparacino

Alyssa is the deputy digital editor for SHAPE & FITNESS and an ACE certified personal trainer. She is a cycling and barre enthusiast, and lover of both planks and pasta. Before joining the #ShapeSquad she was the digital editor for HGTV Magazine and assistant editor of  More →

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