Q. I love to eat winter squash now that the weather is getting cooler. Does it have any nutritional value at all?

A. It’s more than just a pretty starch!

Most people don’t realize winter squash is packed full of nutrients. Most think winter squash provides us with nothing but carbohydrates, but what they don’t realize is that winter squash is a phytonutrient powerhouse.

Winter squash, unlike summer squash, has a hard skin, (a little firmer than a watermelon rind) and is peculiar-looking, to say the least. Winter squash comes in many sizes, colors, textures, and flavors and the popular varieties include butternut, spaghetti, and acorn. Other varieties such as hubbard, buttercup, banana, turban, or delicata aren’t as popular, but worth a try if you happen to come across them in your grocery store.

Winter squash is rich in carotenoids. Carotenoids are the plant pigment that gives winter squash, along with other fruits and vegetables, their bright red, yellow, and orange color. Carotenoids are a class of phytonutrients that possess the antioxidant function of protecting the cell from free radicals. Carotenoids also have anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits and have been associated with the prevention of cardiovascular disease as well as several types of cancer, http://www.health-canada-pharmacy.com.

Orange-hued winter squash has beta-carotene and alpha-carotene which act as antioxidants in our body. Our bodies convert these carotenoids to Vitamin A which boosts immune function and aids in keeping cells healthy. Yellow winter squash contains higher amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin which are responsible for keeping our eyes healthy by protecting them from ultraviolet rays. Winter squash is also an excellent source of Vitamins A and C, is a good source of fiber, and is lower in calories than most think. A half-cup serving has only 34 calories and provides roughly 10 grams of carbs. Fall is the peak season for winter squash, but it can be bought year-round at any grocery store.

Click here for a Butternut Squash Soup recipe.