What looks like an acorn but tastes like a squash … and helps your body fight disease? The answer is simple: the acorn squash. Named for its acorn-like shape, the acorn squash is part of the Cucurbita family of vegetables known for its disease-fighting and immunity-boosting properties.
Acorn squash nutrition, like butternut squash nutrition, is packed with an incredible number of essential nutrients and is part of a diet that can reduce your risk for a number of very dangerous diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
It’s been around for several hundred years as one of the staple foods of many Native American tribes, so if you’re late to the game, that’s OK. Find out why acorn squash nutrition may just turn out to be one of your new favorite foods.
What Is Acorn Squash?
This variety of winter squash is known as Cucurbita pepo var. turbinata, and is closely related to summer squashes as well. It’s mistaken often for a gourd due to its shape and coloring. The most common acorn squashes are dark green in color with a splash of orange near the top, but they can also be found in a golden yellow color and white selection.
Acorn squash is one of the many types of winter squash available. What’s the distinction between winter squash, summer squash and pumpkins, you may ask? Simply the time of year they’re eaten. Winter squash have thicker, harder rinds that make them perfect for storing for long periods of time, like during the winter when crops are scarce.
Acorn squash is intriguing because of the difference in nutritional value of the raw vegetable versus the cooked version. When you have baked acorn squash, the nutritional quality increases significantly for almost every vitamin and mineral. However, the presence of three important antioxidants found in raw acorn squash nutrition, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, diminishes to zero when cooked. For that reason, it’s not a bad idea to eat acorn squash both raw and cooked to maximize its nutritional content.
Among the important nutrients found in acorn squash nutrition, its vitamin C, fiber and potassium are the most acclaimed. Although it has a relatively large calorie load for one small portion, the presence of such a large amount of fiber and essential nutrients makes it a great addition to a weight-conscious and optimal health diet.
One cup of baked and cubed acorn squash contains about: (11)
- 115 calories
- 29.9 grams carbohydrates
- 2.3 grams protein
- 0.3 gram fat
- 9 grams fiber
- 22.1 milligrams vitamin C (37 percent DV)
- 896 milligrams potassium (26 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram manganese (25 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram thiamine (23 percent DV)
- 88.2 milligrams magnesium (22 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligram vitamin B6 (20 percent DV)
- 877 IU vitamin A (18 percent DV)
- 1.9 milligrams iron (11 percent DV)
- 38.9 micrograms folate (10 percent DV)
- 1.8 milligrams niacin (9 percent DV)
- 90.2 milligrams calcium (9 percent DV)
- 92.2 milligrams phosphorus (9 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram copper (9 percent DV)
1. High in Antioxidants
You’ve heard it over and over: It’s important to eat foods high in antioxidants. But have you ever stopped to ask why?
Free radicals are “uncharged molecules” that are created by the body during various processes and because of environmental and dietary factors. Their presence is not bad in moderation, as they’re part of the body’s way of detoxifying. However, in the current culture of many countries in the world, like the United States, increasingly unhealthy diets and environmental exposure to endocrine disruptors mean that many people have an exceptionally high amount of free radicals within their bodies.
Because these molecules are unstable, free radicals can potentially wreak havoc on your health. They’re linked to many diseases and serious conditions, like cancer, due to the way they damage and cause cells to mutate. It’s extremely important to balance the free radicals in your body with dietary antioxidants for proper health. (1)
The good news about acorn squash nutrition is that it has significantly high levels of antioxidants important for maintaining optimum functioning within the body. Most impressively are the carotenoids contained in just one serving of acorn squash. This type of antioxidant is well-known for helping prevent and fight various types of cancer, including skin, breast, lung and prostate cancer. (2)
Beta-carotene, in particular, is found in large quantities in raw acorn squash. Although not considered an “essential nutrient,” beta-carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A, which is vital to proper health and function. People who consume large amounts of beta-carotene statistically have lower instances of heart disease and cancer.
2. Boosts Immune System and Decreases Inflammation
One of the best things about acorn squash nutrition is the large quantity of vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, it has. Vitamin C has long been known to benefit the body in many ways, specifically for its power in boosting immunity.
Not only can extra vitamin C help you fight off the common cold and flu, but it also helps your body from falling even more ill to complications that arise from these common illnesses, such as pneumonia. It’s commonly understood to be an antibacterial and antiviral nutrient in the body.
3. Reduces High Blood Pressure
Acorn squash is one of the top 10 potassium-rich foods available, which is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure levels. A diet high in potassium causes significantly regulated blood pressure, especially when accompanied by foods low in sodium. (4)
4. Aids in Fighting Cancer
Preventing cancer is a lifelong fight that can be helped when you eat more acorn squash. Like many foods high in antioxidants, acorn squash is also a cancer-fight food that helps decrease your risk for certain cancers.
Squash is also known to protect against neurotoxicity, a toxicity from natural or chemical substances that can sometimes lead to permanent nervous system damage. (5) One common cause of this condition is exposure to conventional treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation. By eating squash, you help protect yourself against lasting injury resulting from these treatments.
Another way acorn squash nutrition can help in the battle against cancer is the high presence of vitamin C within it. High levels of vitamin C help the human body better respond to conventional treatments for cancer by acting as a “targeting” agent, so that chemotherapy, for example, more efficiently kills cells, rather than everything it touches. Vitamin C has also been used as a stand-alone treatment option for lung and ovarian cancer.
5. Improves the Look of Your Skin
Eating acorn squash regularly can also have an impact on the health of your skin. Vitamin C promotes the production of collagen, which helps skin stay bright and staves off wrinkles.
The potassium found in acorn squash nutrition is known for reducing the appearance of cellulite in skin by treating the fluid retention common in high-sodium lifestyles. By decreasing your sodium intake and eating foods rich in potassium, like acorn squash, you will notice a reduction in cellulite.
6. Supports Good Prostate Health
Acorn squash nutrition has also been found to be good for the health of your prostate in various ways.
In addition to its general anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, squash can help reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia, also known as BPH or enlarged prostate. Preliminary research suggests consumption of squash increases urinary tract flow and decreases the swelling of the prostate gland in BPH. (6)
Another prostate-related benefit of acorn squash is its potential ability to improve prostate health in patients with diabetes. Diabetes is closely linked to many issues with enlarged prostate and other types of damage caused by oxidative stress. High amounts of vitamin C seem to be able to regulate the function of antioxidants within the prostate and improve the body’s natural defense against damage to the prostate. (7)
7. May Reduce the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions considered risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. It affects more than 3 million people each year in the U.S. alone and is characterized by a person having at least three of five possible conditions. These include abdominal obesity (a large waistline), high blood triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood), too-low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. (8)
As you experience these conditions, your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke increases. However, a diet high in fiber is one step in the journey to fighting metabolic syndrome and reducing your risk for its sometimes fatal consequences.
High-fiber foods, acorn squash among the best of them, support healthy digestion and the efficient absorption of nutrients from food. They’re known to significantly reduce high blood pressure and improve your “lipid profile,” or the levels of fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream, both of which are conditions found in metabolic syndrome. (9)
Not only can acorn squash nutrition help lower blood triglycerides, reduce high blood pressure and regulate cholesterol, but the fiber in it is also helpful in reducing obesity, another important factor in metabolic syndrome. (10)
How to Select
Like many common produce items, acorn squash is particularly susceptible to the absorption of pesticides and should be purchased in organic varieties whenever possible. (12) Check out this Dirty Dozen list for other foods you should only ever buy organic if you’re able.
This winter squash variety is particularly susceptible to decay, so make sure to purchase only squash with no outward signs of damage, including a soft rind. Depending on the age and quality of the squash, it can keep anywhere from one week to six months. Make sure to store it away from direct sunlight in a cool, dry area.
How to Cook
After slicing your acorn squash in half, it’s useful to thoroughly clean out the middle section of seeds and stringy parts before then separating the vegetable into cubes. And don’t automatically trash the seeds — like with pumpkins, the seeds of acorn squash are edible and high in antioxidants. You can keep extra cubes wrapped in plastic in your refrigerator for a few days before eating or cooking them, or try freezing them once you have separated out the appropriate amount for specific recipes.
There are many appropriate cooking methods for acorn squash, and you must first peel them if you choose to steam them, like most winter squash. When baking, peeling is not necessary.
Interested in combining different squash types or the differences between them? There are many varieties available, each with their own nutritional value. Butternut squash offers a nutty flavor and is easiest to peel. Calabaza is similar to butternut but is rarer and can be found in the Caribbean.
One squash popular in creating pie fillings and similar items is the hubbard squash, which is massive in comparison to other squash and can weigh up to 20 pounds.
One of the most common ways to prepare acorn squash is to roast it, so I created this unique Roasted Acorn Squash recipe with a delicious filling that’s good for you and tastes amazing.
If you’re interested in a recipe for Acorn Squash Soup, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one as well. It’s perfect for a cozy winter day.
We created this list of 18 Acorn Squash Recipes sure to satisfy any craving. From a bread recipe to a quinoa and chicken concoction, these are exciting and creative ways to add this vegetable as a staple in your diet.
Interesting Facts About Acorn Squash
The acorn squash is indigenous to North and Central America and was introduced to European settlers by Native Americans during the time of colonization. These Native Americans referred to these varieties of winter squash as being one of the Three Sisters, staple foods responsible for the long-time existence of these ancient peoples. The other two foods in this trio were beans and corn.
After being exported to various parts of Europe, farmers in both France and Spain found it to be a successful crop, and it’s still cultivated there today. Winter squash can also be discovered growing in Australia.
Today, acorn squash is known also as “pepper squash” or “Des Moines squash.”
Side Effects, Allergy and Drug Interaction
Because it’s low in purines and oxalates, acorn squash is generally considered very hypoallergenic. However, there are some people who have a winter squash allergy, so stop eating acorn squash and contact your doctor immediately if you develop rashes, hives or notice difficulties in breathing.
Another common reaction to squash is mild irritant contact dermatitis, an inflammation and swelling of the skin caused by handling this vegetable with bare hands. It’s more common in other forms of squash, but if you find your skin becomes itchy, red or swollen when handling acorn squash, try using gloves when preparing it.
The only medicinal interaction known to occur from acorn squash is related to the beta-carotene in the raw form of the veggie. Large amounts of beta-carotene can interact with statins and mineral oil, so if you take either of these, try eating your acorn squash only in cooked form.
- Acorn squash, a member of the winter squash family, has been used for centuries, first by Native Americans as one of their main staple foods.
- Acorn squash nutrition boasts of 15 important vitamins and nutrients, the most prevalent being fiber, vitamin C and potassium.
- Because of the vitamin A, vitamin C and other important antioxidants contained in acorn squash, it’s a disease-fighting food that helps boost your immune system and reduce chronic inflammation that leads to many diseases.
- Acorn squash also decreases high blood pressure and is able to help prevent metabolic syndrome, which is a large risk factor for diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
- One interesting property of acorn squash is its ability to protect and improve the health of the prostate in men with prostate issues.
- It’s important to buy acorn squash organic whenever you can because of the number of pesticides conventional crops contain.
- The nutritional value of acorn squash changes from raw to cooked, so it’s good to eat both in order to get the most “bang for your buck.”
- Acorn squash is an inexpensive superfood that can be used in a huge variety of cooking methods and is sure to positively supplement any diet.