Fall is here, and with it comes spooky Jack-o’-latern pumpkin decorations and festive, woven-wicker cornucopias overflowing with gourds and seasonal squashes. But these in-season pumpkins and squashes are good for more than just Halloween decor and pumpkin pies. In fact, squashes and pumpkins are chockful of nutrients and antioxidants that can revolutionize your health and upgrade your immune system just in time for cold-and-flu season.
What’s in a Name: Gourds Versus Squashes
Gourds (Cucurbitaceae) are, according to the U.S. Farmer’s Almanac, one of the oldest plants to be cultivated by humans.
In fact, there’s evidence that ancient societies used them as far back as 5,000 years ago! Pumpkins are a type of gourd, as are all squashes, but that’s where the similarities end in today’s modern language
- Pumpkins and squashes can be ornamental or edible
- Gourds are hard-shelled and in most cases not edible and are instead used for decorative purposes, or to make items like sponges or bowls
In today’s article, we’ll focus on some of the most common squashes (including pumpkins!) that are colorful, delicious, and surprisingly healthy for you.
The Health Benefits of Pumpkins
This fall alone, farmers in America will harvest more than 1 billion pounds of pumpkin. But before you carve up your pumpkin and toss out its orange meat and crisp seeds, you should know all the incredible wellness benefits that pumpkins offer.
Nutritional analyses reveal that pumpkins are very healthy. It’s a great source of fiber and relatively low in carbohydrates, while also offering exceptional levels of:
- vitamin A (a single cup of cooked pumpkin has more than two days’ worth of your vitamin A needs)
- immune-boosting vitamin C
- immunity-enhancing vitamin E
- essential minerals like iron, copper and potassium
But that’s not all:
- When it comes to superfoods, pumpkins are very rich in antioxidants that protect your health on a cellular level, reducing your risks of numerous diseases (including cancer!)
- While many people think of vitamin C and similar vitamins for immunity, the vitamin A in pumpkin has also shown benefits for enhancing the function of your immune system’s virus-fighting cells
- Pumpkin’s high fiber content can improve your metabolism while also assisting with healthy weight maintenance and weight loss, and the fiber can also support optimal gut health (your gut health has a strong correlation with your immune health)
The Health Benefits of 3 Fall/Autumn Squashes
Pumpkins often steal the spotlight in the fall. However, there are many other seasonal squashes that can add color to your Halloween dinner table and enhance your health.
1. Butternut Squash
Butternut squash has double the amount of vitamin A compared to pumpkins, and also far higher levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, and numerous B vitamins. The colorful flesh in butternut squash is also linked to healthier outcomes — in one study, those who ate yellow-orange fall produce like butternut squash saw their risks of heart disease drop by nearly a quarter.
2. Acorn Squash
Unlike butternut squash and pumpkins, these tiny fall squashes are very high in natural starches. They pack quite a sweet flavor, and those healthy starches can boost your digestive health. They’re also a great way to naturally sweeten numerous dishes without using added sugar, all while boosting the vitamin C content of your meals.
3. Spaghetti Squash
This squash is very low-carb — one cup of cooked spaghetti squash nets you only 7 grams of carbohydrates, of which 2 grams are fiber (5 grams of net carbs) — making it ideal for those who are watching their carb intake. As its name implies, cooked spaghetti squash has the look and shape of noodles when you scoop it out of its shell. This makes it a versatile dish that can be used in place of regular spaghetti and whipped together with your favorite pasta sauces.
This fall, try thinking of pumpkins and squashes as more than just decor. They can be boiled, fried, sauteed, roasted, and so much more. They’re also incredibly versatile, tasting delicious in anything from a pie to a soup. By diversifying your diet with these fall pumpkins and squashes, you’ll add much-needed nutritional diversity to your health and wellness.