Butternut squash is a form of winter squash that is also known by the name “butternut pumpkin” in Australia and New Zealand. This squash has a sweet and nutty taste that is similar to that of standard pumpkins. It has a yellow skin (that turns deep orange as it ripens), and the pulp inside is orange and fleshy. The riper the fruit, the richer and sweeter the pulp will taste.
The squash grows on a vine, and there are several different varieties of it. The most popular type is the Waltham Butternut Squash, which was developed at the Waltham Experiment Station in Waltham, Massachusetts, by either Robert E Young or Charles Leggett, depending on whose version of the history of the fruit you believe. Dorothy Leggett, Charles’s widow, claims to this day that her husband developed the squash in Stow, Massachusetts, and that he introduced it to the researchers at Waltham Field Station.
Fruit or Vegetable?
Technically, this squash is a fruit, but it is often used like a vegetable. It can be roasted, pureed for use in soups, toasted or even mashed. It is used to make breads, casseroles and muffins, and is even used by itself as a side dish for barbecues or as a healthy snack.
A 100g serving contains just 45 calories, of which most come from carbohydrates. There are 12 g of carbohydrates, 2g of fibre and 2.2g of sugar in a serving, along with 1g of protein and 0.1g of fat.
A serving of this fruit contains 212% of your RDA of vitamin A, as well as 35% of your RDA of vitamin C, 10% of your RDA of vitamin B-6, and some iron, folate, calcium, potassium and magnesium too.
Vitamin A is important for the health of your eyes, while vitamin C is an immune-system-boosting antioxidant. There are several antioxidants in this fruit, and in addition to helping your immune system they also reduce inflammation and can help to reduce the symptoms of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. People who follow a diet that is not 100% Paleo may find this beneficial because lactose-containing foods can cause an inflammatory response. Antioxidants are also valuable for the prevention of lung, colon, prostate and breast cancer.
The B-vitamins in the squash are useful for blood sugar regulation, and they can help to reduce the risk of and slow the development of Type 2 diabetes. In addition, vitamin B6 is helpful for preventing birth defects, supporting the health of your heart and boosting your immune system.
Folate is a nutrient that is particularly important for pregnant women, and potassium has been found to be helpful for relieving hypertension. In addition, it is important for athletes to pay attention to their potassium intake because they sweat a lot, and low potassium levels can cause cramps and impair athletic performance.
Squash and the Paleo Diet
Butternut squash makes a great addition to the Paleo diet. The Paleo diet is a back-to-basic s diet that involves avoiding processed foods, refined carbohydrates, grains and most dairy products in favour of grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and other ethically farmed meats, vegetables and a small selection of in-season fruits as well as nuts and berries.
The idea behind this diet is that it is closer to what our ancestors ate, and therefore what nature intended our bodies to live on. Modern diets are focused on foods that are produced via intensive agriculture, and while this is convenient for meeting the calorie requirements of large populations, it is not ideal from a point of view of optimal individual health.
Butternut pumpkins or squash are a good choice for Paleo diet followers. They are incredibly versatile, and can be used to make creamy rice-free risottos, flatbreads, pizza crusts and even fries. Instead of baking sweet potatoes in toxic vegetable oils, simply roast a chopped squash for a tasty, satisfying side dish that can satisfy and cravings you might have.
You can also add the squash to lasagnes and casseroles, cook it in pancakes, mash it and top it with coconut milk for a porridge-like dish, or slice it thin to make a crisp-like snack.
The Paleo diet tends to be high in protein and low in carbohydrates. This is not a conscious choice, however. The Paleo diet is not the Atkins diet or any other low-carb, macronutrient-focused eating plan. Rather, it is a diet that involves choosing foods that are as close to nature as possible. It is a natural side effect of the choices that are available to you that you will end up eating a lot of protein and healthy fats and far fewer carbohydrates, at least compared to modern grain-centric diets.
Adding squashes and other fruits to your diet is a good way to satisfy your cravings while still avoiding refined sugars and grains.
Preparing Butternut Squash
To prepare squash, the skin, stalk and seeds are usually removed. This is not because they are inedible — the seeds can be consumed roasted or raw, and the skin becomes quite soft and edible once it is roasted. However, most people are primarily interested in the interior of the squash.
The traditional way of cooking squash is to cut it in half lengthwise, brush it with cooking oil and place it on a baking tray so that the cut side is facing down. The squash is baked for around 45 minutes, until it is soft inside.
There are few fruits that are as versatile as the butternut pumpkin. This fruit can be used as a sweet or a savoury food, and each way of preparing it produces a different taste and texture. If you are looking for a way to increase your carbohydrate intake, or simply want a treat for the days when you don’t feel like chicken, broccoli and other staples, then this is a great choice. It is relatively low in calories, and the relatively high fibre content means that the fruit’s sugars will be released into the bloodstream more slowly than sugars from refined sources would be.
photo credit: Butternut coupée en deux via photopin (license)