Summer Squash Health Benefits
Narragansett Indians call it askutasquash, which means, “things that may be eaten raw.” It’s a word that dates back to the 1640s (probably earlier for the Native Americans).
Today, we’ve shortened the word to just “squash,” and we use it to describe a game, a refreshing drink, a crowd of people, a verb that means, well, “squash”…and one of the world’s more under-appreciated yet healthiest foods.
The two most common types of squash are the summer and the winter squash.
Summer squash are those harvested when immature, while the rind is still tender and edible. Winter squash have thick rinds and can be stored for long periods.
But there are actually several lesser known, delicious, and equally healthy varieties as well.
Most common US summer squashes
In the US, we most commonly find three types of summer squash:
- Zucchini, whose skin can be yellow in color but is more often found as a dark green or speckled variety. It’s one of the summer squash types that have edible flowers favored by devoted foodies.
- Crookneck and straightneck squashes are usually yellow, sometimes pale green. The two varieties can be very similar in appearance—crooknecks often have not-very-crooked necks. Cushaws are a special variety of crookneck that’s much larger than the others, often used in baking.
- Scallop squashes, also called pattypan squashes, are the typically saucer-shaped cuties and come in colors from pale yellow to golden yellow to medium green. They can be slightly sweeter than other summer varieties.
But, more importantly, summer squash is absolutely PACKED with health benefits
Like so many other “humble” foods (like beans), summer squash are anything but humble when it comes to health benefits—they’re just shy. So it’s time to call them what they are: one of the world’s healthiest foods.
Amazing anti-inflammatory power. The research is still emerging, but the preliminaries are very promising. The presence of our beloved omega-3 fats in the seeds of summer squash, and the presence of both anti-inflammatory carotenoids and polysaccharides make summer squash a natural choice for protection against inflammation. Studies show potential anti-inflammatory protection for the cardiovascular system and the GI tract. The anti-inflammatory benefits may even play a role in protecting against type 2 diabetes.
Antimicrobial protection. Summer squash seeds and their oils have long been used in botanical and folk medicine for their anti-microbial and, especially, anti-parasitic properties. Their dried seeds are still used in some parts of the world to treat intestinal tapeworms or other parasites.
Prostate health support. The seeds and oils also appear in folk medicine to treat non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland—benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH. They’ve traditionally been used to help reduce the frequency of urination that is common among men with BPH.
Potential anti-cancer benefits. The combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients in summer squash has potent potential to provide anti-cancer benefits.
“Squash” diabetes risk. Summer squashes include an unusual amount of pectin—a special polysaccharide linked to protection against diabetes and better regulation of insulin.
Keep your vision sharp and focused. Summer squash is a rich source of manganese, vitamin C, and conventional antioxidants. It also contains an unusual amount of other antioxidants that are very helpful in protecting the eye against age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Vitamins and minerals. Most of the many B-complex vitamins we need are delivered in valuable amounts by summer squash, including folate, B6, B1, B2, B3, and choline. The essential minerals zinc and magnesium come along for the ride.
Fill up on fiber. Summer squash provides a very good amount of dietary fiber at 2.5 grams per cup. I recommend 45 grams per day per adult. A cup gets you started for just 40 calories.
Plus, when properly handled and prepared, summer squash’s antioxidants are exceptionally stable, hanging in with minimal loss of potency, even when steamed or frozen. So summer isn’t the only season to enjoy summer squash.
More research is needed satisfy the data-hungry conventional medical establishment, but I’m confident we’ll see well-documented large-scale human studies that will plant summer squash firmly among our practice tools.
Get the most from your summer squash
To get their full antioxidant benefits, eat the flesh, skin and seeds. As with many fruits and veggies, valuable nutrients are distributed throughout the food.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that local, organic summer squash is the way to go—as with all foods. And I recommend you use a natural bristle brush to gently cleanse the skin of your summer squash under cold running water.