Butternut squash is the most popular among winter squash varieties. Oftentimes the squash is recognized as a large, pear-shaped, golden-yellow pumpkin fruit, which is now being sold in farmers markets across the Northern hemisphere. Butternuts are annual, long trailing vines. They are usually cultivated in the warmer climates of South, and Central America for their edible fruits, flowers, as well as seeds.
Botanically, the vegetable belongs to the cucurbitaceae family of field pumpkins, which are thought to have originated in the Central American region. The butternut plant is monoecious, and features different male and female flowers that require honeybees for effective pollination. Butternut is actually the most common among winter squash fruits.
Externally, the squash is best described as large-sized fruit featuring a thick neck attached to a pear shaped bottom, with smooth, ribbed skin. The fruit however, varies widely in its shape and size. Individual fruit may weigh up to 15 kilograms. Inside, its flesh is yellow to orange in color. A cross-section of the lower bulb features a central hollow cavity containing mesh-like mucilaginous fibers interspersed with large, flat, elliptical seeds similar to pumpkin seeds. The fruit’s unique golden-yellow color comes from its yellow-orange pigments in the skin and pulp.
Butternut squash is low in calories as well. Just 45 calories per 100 grams. It contains no saturated fats, or cholesterol. It is a very rich source of dietary fiber, and for that reason is one of the most commonly recommended foods by dietitians for controlling cholesterol, and weight.
Butternut squash has more vitamin-A than that pumpkin does. At 10630 I U per 100 grams, it is most likely the single best vegetable source in the cucurbitaceae family. It provides about 354% of RDA per 100 grams. Vitamin A is a powerful and natural anti-oxidant, that is required by our body for maintaining the integrity of skin, and mucus membranes. It is also an essential vitamin for vision. Research studies suggest that natural foods rich in vitamin-A also help to protect our body against both lung, and oral cavity cancers.
Butternut squash has plenty of natural poly phenolic flavonoid compounds like A and B-carotene, cryptoxanthin-B, and lutein. These compounds convert to vitamin-A inside our body, and deliver the same protective functions as vitamin-A does. Vitamin-A is a water-soluble anti-oxidant, and as such protects our body from free radical damage. This is one of the largest factors in combating the aging process, as free radicals wreak havoc of all kinds within our body on its various structures.
Regarding vitamins, butternut squash is rich in the B-complex group of vitamins. These include folate, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamine, and pantothenic acid. It has similar mineral profile to pumpkin, meaning it contains adequate levels of minerals like iron, zinc, copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
Another great feature of butternut squash, are the seeds that are found internally. These seeds are a good source of dietary fiber, and mono-unsaturated fatty acids that are very important for heart health. In addition, the seeds are a very good source of protein, minerals, and numerous health benefiting vitamins. The seeds are also an excellent source of the health promoting amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan converts to the beneficial GABA, which is used as neurochemicals in our brain.
To list a few of the other benefits that butternut squash brings to the table:
1. Beta carotene, and other carotenoids have been shown to turn on a gene that blocks cancer cells from communicating with other cells around them. Furthermore, the normal cells then transfer growth-inhibiting cells to the abnormal cells, preventing the growth of new cancerous cells.
2. Elevated levels of triglycerides (the most common form of body fat), and decreased levels of HDL (good cholesterol) may increase your risk of gallstones. A diet rich in magnesium helps reduce this risk. One cup of squash has roughly 28 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of this mineral.
3. Getting more potassium may lower the risk of developing high blood pressure, and decrease blood pressure in people who already have it. Squash is a rich source. One cup (250 mL) of squash provides about 16 percent of our RDA.
4. Baked pumpkin seeds make a nutritious snack. One ounce (30 g) has seven grams of protein. That’s almost as much as an equal serving of peanuts. It also provides four milligrams of iron, which is more than 20 percent of our RDA.
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