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Now appearing at your nearest grocery, these hard skinned gourds offer much more than a good looking centerpiece! Though the name is somewhat misleading since most winter squash are available year round, autumn is particularly abundant in all varieties of winter squash. Their hard skins gives them a much longer storage life compared to summer squash.

Many of the varieties of winter squash contain a deep yellowish orange flesh, a terrific source of carotenoids including alpha carotene, beta carotene, and lutein. These carotenoids offer antioxidant activity to defense against disease-causing free radicals. Winter squash also offers a healthy dose of fiber and vitamins and minerals including magnesium, iron, vitamin B1, B3, B6, C, E, potassium, and folate.

The most popular of the winter squash varieties are acorn, butternut, spaghetti and Hubbard squash. The acorn squash looks just as its name suggests, like an acorn. On the outside it may be dark green or even orange – or green with orange stripes. The skin of the acorn squash is really hard so you need to use great care when cutting it. It is usually easiest to use a large chef’s knife that you insert in the middle then see-saw through the rest of the squash.

The butternut squash has a pale creamy colored skin with a nice fleshy interior and just a small seed cup. It is used a lot in soups and stews and is also delicious baked and sprinkled lightly with cinnamon sugar. The skin on most of these winter squashes is edible, just be sure to wash it well prior to baking.

Spaghetti squash is just plain fun to eat. When cooked, the flesh of this squash comes out in strands that look just like spaghetti noodles. You can even top it with marinara or your favorite pasta topping. One of the easiest ways to prepare spaghetti squash is to cut it in half, remove the seeds, add both halves to a large pot (cut sides up) along with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the squash is tender, watching to make sure all the water doesn’t evaporate and adding more as necessary.

IMG_7034e-5About: Dr. James Rouse is a naturopathic doctor and expert in functional and lifestyle medicine. An author of nine books, host and founder of Optimum Wellness Media, and Ironman triathlete, James has coached Fortune 50 and 500 companies, MLB and NFL teams, several branches of US Government and consults for companies including BackJoy, SKOOP and Kroger Grocery. He has shared his message to audiences in the US, Europe and Asia.