The health benefits of butternut squash are focused on the vitamins that it contains and several key antioxidant compounds that can prevent cellular damage in the body from free radical oxygen molecules in the bloodstream. Like most popular squashes, butternut squash is also very low in calories, with 100 grams (3.5 ounces) containing only 45 calories, so it can be consumed in large portions without causing weight gain. It is also high in vitamin A with a 100 gram serving containing 67% of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended daily allowance for this vitamin. Typical antioxidant compounds present increase the benefits of butternut squash, which include poly-phenolic compounds which serve an anti-inflammatory role in the body, and carotenoids that promote cardiovascular health.
Butternut squash is a type of winter squash along with zucchini and gourds that is so closely-related to the pumpkin that it is called the butternut pumpkin in countries like Australia and New Zealand. The vitamins most strongly present in these types of squash include vitamin A and vitamin C, with large amounts of potassium and manganese minerals as well. Significant amounts of various B vitamins along with beneficial trace elements like copper, zinc, tryptophan, and omega-3 fatty acids are also present in butternut squash. Another one of the key health benefits of butternut squash that promotes a balanced diet is its high quantity of dietary fiber. Fiber, like vitamins, does not offer caloric benefits for the body, but instead serves as an important cleansing mechanism for the digestive tract.
The important benefits of butternut squash are centered around its antioxidant compounds such as the carotenoids, which can be quite uncommon in other fruits and vegetables. Vitamin A is a main antioxidant, but others that are present are more specifically categorized as poly-phenolic or carotenoid compounds such as cryptoxanthin-B, alpha- and beta-carotene, and lutein. Poly-phenolic chemicals are known to dilate blood vessels to aid in blood flow and heart function, which also serves an anti-inflammatory role for the skin. Carotenoids give butternut squash its yellow or orange color and can help to prevent cancer as well as improve eyesight and heart function.
Butternut squash dishes that preserve many of these compounds include salads, pureed soups, and steamed dishes where it is added to pasta. The benefits of butternut squash may be diminished with cooking, however, as this tends to break down many of the beneficial vitamins that it contains. Since it is low in fat, sodium, and calories, however, it is a good substitute for less healthy ingredients during cooking. It is also used around the world in a variety of foods from soups to breads.