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Precious Pumpkin – the Healthy Benefits of Fall Squash

The fall season means you'll be seeing pumpkins and squashes for sale for decorations when you're out and about. While you're picking up some to make your home look festive, buy a few extras to cook up in the kitchen and treat yourself to a delicious, healthful side dish or main course. Fall squash varieties offer a multitude of benefits for the body, as they are very rich in nutrients. Read on to learn more about what's inside your favorite fall squash types.

- Butternut squash treats your body to antioxidants, the nutrients that reduce oxidative damage, decreasing the aging effects that free radicals have on the skin and organs. From one single-cup serving of butternut squash, you'll consume 457 percent of your daily vitamin A, 52 percent of your daily vitamin C and 11 percent of your daily vitamin E.

- Pumpkin is one of the best sources of beta-carotene, a type of vitamin A that is necessary for eye health and for maintaining the lining of the nasal and digestive tracts. One cup of pumpkin provides up to 245 percent of your daily requirements for vitamin A, giving you a major dose of antioxidants.

- Acorn squash is the perfect way to ensure you're getting some of the most important minerals that your body needs to be at its best. A 1-cup serving of acorn squash provides one quarter of your day's requirements for potassium and manganese. Your body relies on manganese to assist with bone development and provide strength to the bones, while potassium is required to work with sodium to regulate many body systems.

- Spaghetti squash is a well-balanced fall squash variety in that it contains a little bit of nearly every vitamin and mineral that your body requires on a daily basis. It also contains some essential fatty acids and 18 amino acids. One serving gives 9 percent of the daily dietary fiber requirement to help promote proper digestive and bowel functioning.

- Hubbard squash is another antioxidant-rich fall squash variety, containing nearly 2.5 times the needed daily amount of vitamin A per 1-cup serving. The squash also provides more than 15 percent or more of the daily requirements for vitamins C and B6, potassium and manganese per serving. Plus, you'll get 10 percent of your daily protein requirement from a single serving.

Keep in mind that the nutritional content discussed here is based on a 2,000-calorie diet and for squash that has been baked without salt. When preparing squash, be careful about what you use to season or flavor it. Stick to a heart-healthy oil packed with monounsaturated fats like hazelnut, olive oil, pumpkin seed oil and flax seed oil to be friendly to your heart and to your waistline. Try using other spices in place of salt to limit your sodium intake. Nutmeg and cinnamon are great for flavoring many squash varieties, and you can find many recipes for these precious pumpkins and squashes online.

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