Winter squash: High in fiber, low in fat and full of flavor

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Executive Chef Angie Smith at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center prepares a winter squash salad, Wednesday, December 7, 2016.


By Karen Phillips

Sunday, December 11, 2016


If you are looking for a new side dish that’s as delicious as it is healthy, it’s time to check out butternut squash. The nutrition and health benefits of butternut squash are a plenty. By incorporating this hearty winter staple into your diet you might reduce your risk of inflammation-related disorders and cancer, while improving your heart health and vision

Butternut squash is loaded with vitamin A and antioxidants which are needed for healthy eyesight. And because of its high antioxidant content, butternut squash may also have anti-inflammatory effects; reducing the risk of inflammation-related disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Butternut squash is also very high in antioxidant carotenoids to protect your body’s cells from free-radical damage that can lead to cancer and skin aging.

Other vitamins that butternut squash is good for are vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K. It also contains most of the B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid and pyridoxine.

Butternut squash health benefits also include important minerals like magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and zinc.

Low in fat with no saturated fats or cholesterol, butternut squash is one of the healthiest vegetables for weight loss with its low calories and high levels of dietary fiber. There is only around 75 calories in one cup cooked cubes in spite of their rich taste. About 6 grams of primarily insoluble fiber in that same cup is known to be especially beneficial for relieving constipation.

And don’t forget the seeds! Like pumpkin seeds butternut squash seeds are a good source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids that benefit for heart health. In addition, they are rich in protein, minerals, and numerous health-benefiting vitamins.

If you value good nutrition in your diet then it’s well worth eating butternut squash regularly.

Karen Phillips is nutritionist for food services at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center


How to cut a butternut squash:

Executive chef Angie Smith at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center demonstrates how to cube a butternut squash below. Smith said many local grocery stores sell packages of pre-cut butternut squash for buyers’ convenience.

Step 1: Use a sharp knife to remove peel from top to bottom

Step 2: Cut squash in half lengthwise

Step 3: Use an ice cream scoop to remove seeds

Step 4: Place scooped-out side down and slice squash lengthwise

Step 5: Chop into bite-size pieces



Here’s a salad recipe that contains butternut squash and other ingredients from fall’s bounty that was prepared for diners at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center:   

Autumn Harvest Salad

Ingredients 1 Servings

Baked Butternut Squash 1oz

Roast Chicken Breast 2oz

Cranberries, Dried 1 tbsp

Cooking Spray, Pan Coating 1 spray

Lettuce, Spring Mix ½ oz

Cranberry Vinaigrette 1 oz

Quinoa, Cooked 2 oz

Mushrooms, Sauteed 1 oz

Candied Pecans, Outtakes 1 tbsp


Roast chicken a day ahead and place in the cooler over night to cool.

Roast Butternut Squash ahead of time and place in cooler over night to cool.

Assembly for plating: In a mixing bowl toss 2 oz Quinoa, 1 oz Butternut Squash, ¼ cup Spring Mix, 1 oz of sliced mushrooms, ¼ cup chopped Chicken, 1 tbsp. Cranberries and 1tbsp. pecans. Toss ingredients lightly with Light Vinaigrette (She mixes balsamic vinegar and cranberry juice for her vinaigrette).


Here’s a hearty winter squash recipe that can be prepared the day before and reheated for serving:

Butternut Squash Gratin

Layers of butternut squash and potatoes with cheddar and nutmeg.


3 tsp olive oil (separated int 1 and 1/2 tsp amounts)

3/4 tsp ground nutmeg

2 cups leeks, fresh, sliced

2 tbsp minced garlic gloves, fresh

2 cups half and half cream

3/4 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

2 lb butternut squash, fresh

1 lb 8 oz Yukon gold potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 cup cheese, shredded


Heat oil in a pan and sweat leeks and add garlic. Add the half and half, salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Set aside. Peel and de-seed squash; slice thinly using a mandolin. Slice potatoes (no need to peel) slightly thinner than the squash. Place both in a bowl and toss well with milk mixture. The slices will stick together so take the time to separate as much as possible to get the seasoning on all slices. Brush the inside of roasting pan with oil.

Arrange 1/3 of butternut squash and potatoes into the pan neatly and evenly. Sprinkle 1/3 cheese; then arrange 1/3 more butternut squash and potatoes. Sprinkle 1/3 cheese; then arrange the remaining squash and potato. Reserve remaining cheese for topping later. Pour in the remaining half and half mxiture. Cover and bake in a preheated 350F degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove cover and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Continue to cook until vegetables are tender when poked with a fork, about 20 to 30 minutes more.

Chef’s Notes:

This takes some time to cook. You can cook this the day before and reheat for your dinner.