Nancy's Nutrition Corner

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," Hippocrates.

Winter Squash

With holiday goodies laid out everywhere you go, nutrition may not be foremost on your mind this time of year. But let's take a few minutes to think about feeding our bodies well, even over the holidays. Luckily, winter squash is in season. It IS a most wonderful time of year! Winter squash is a nutrient dense food with many health benefits. In this short article, I'll focus on its protective effect against cancer.

Beta-carotene. One of the most abundant nutrients in winter squash is beta-carotene. Beta carotene has the ability to scavenge free radicals and inhibit oxidative damage. For this reason, beta-carotene and other carotenoids are thought to be protective against several diseases including cancer. Epidemiological studies have confirmed that people with high intakes of fruits and veggies rich in carotenoids have lower incidences of cancer.

Vitamin C. The association between vitamin C intake and a protective effect against cancer is especially strong with cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus and stomach. The possible mechanisms of ascorbic acid's action against cancer development include a role in immune-competence, an ability to act as a free radical scavenger, and an ability to block carcinogenic processes.

Phytonutrients. Winter squash is a source of the phytochemical beta-cryptoxanthin. Studies have demonstrated that beta-cryptoxanthin can reduce the risk of lung cancer. Researchers believe that this is due to the antioxidant effect of beta-cryptoxanthin and also to expression of a gene that protects cells from becoming cancerous.

Let's Not Forget Fiber. As I have mentioned in previous articles—fiber increases fecal bulk and shortens fecal transit time thereby decreasing the time in which carcinogens have contact with the colon. In addition, insoluble fibers actually bind carcinogens and move them out of the body.

There you have it: four good reasons to pick up some winter squash! There are some beautiful varieties available this time of year, and a slice of baked squash makes a perfect side dish or quick snack.

Nancy Silva, ND is a licensed naturopath with a penchant for good food. Her monthly column discusses the nutritional aspects of some of the foods available through LocalHarvest. You can contact Nancy from her listing on our website.

Back to the December 2008 Newsletter