Squash is the quintessential fall and winter food. While acorn and butternut are the other common winter squash, lesser-known spaghetti, hubbards and turbans are tasty and healthy too.

Did you know that squash is a health food? It’s a gourd full of goodness, make that six:

1. Prepare your achy joints for winter by boosting up on the anti-inflammatory properties found in acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash. It won’t cure your arthritis, but the antioxidants can help alleviate some of the symptoms.

2. A serving of butternut squash has 35 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, an essential nutrient that has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks. And if you’re filling up on healthy, tasty squash, you decrease the amount of room available in your tummy for accidentally having a Big Mac attack instead.

3. There are lots of fun things to do indoors during winter besides baking pumpkin pies. If you are pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant, eating folate-rich foods such as that dreamy pumpkin pie can help prevent serious birth defects. I love when I can say: EAT DESSERT.

4. You probably already know this, but just in case, winter is so not your skin’s BFF (she‘s not nice). The cold air outside mixing with the heat inside causes dry, itchy skin, dandruff and eczema. Lucky for you, bright winter squash colors means they’re loaded with large amounts of beta-carotene, a super skin food. Squash are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which improve skin as well. Think of all those tore-bough facemasks with pumpkin. You can do better and cheaper by making them yourself.

5. Cancer can’t grow if it can’t oxidize. That’s why the big deal about antioxidant-rich foods is well supported by lots of scientific research. Beta-carotene found in squash is especially important in preventing colon cancer, which is the perfect segue to my favorite subject.

6. Fiber turns a pumpkin into “PumpKing.” The creamy texture of pumpkin and other squash may appear to be without roughage, but a ½-cup serving has more than 3 grams of fiber. Regular, healthy bowel movements improve your skin, help eliminate toxins and inflammation, so post-holidays you won’t feel that pumpkin protrusion.

And now the fun part: how to prepare those hard-shell monsters. By now, you’ve probably realized that most stores take the labor out of the equation by selling pre-cut cubes of butternut squash or canned pumpkin. When in a pinch, I love the hassle-free cubes, but wholeheartedly stick to roasting pumpkin for incomparable flavor over the canned stuff. Especially in pie!

Roasting winter squash: Place the squash halves, cut-side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Rub the flesh with softened butter or oil, season with salt and pepper. If preparing for a sweet dish — drizzle with brown sugar, maple syrup, or orange juice. Flip the squash over and roast them for 40 to 45 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven.

Butternut Squash Hummus

Makes 2 cups

Got vegans? Sometimes it’s hard to navigate through all the dietary needs over holidays. This is a hit with every category.

2 cups butternut squash, grated or chopped fine (you can steam it first if you don’t have a high powered blender.)

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Juice of 1 lemon

1 large clove garlic

1 tsp. ground cumin

3 Tbsp. raw tahini

1 tsp salt

2-3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Blend all ingredients in high powered blender. Chill and serve with rice crackers or crudités.

For another healthful and delicious alternative to pumpkin pie, check out the Pumpkin Mousse recipe on my blog www.karenschuppert.com. Free of dairy and gluten, but loaded with flavor.

Napa nutritionist Karen Schuppert is thankful for all you readers out there. She’d love to hear your ideas on gratitude. Email her at Karen@karenschuppert.com Happy Thanksgiving!

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