There are few things as comforting as a big bowl of spaghetti with marinara sauce and meatballs. Traditional white wheat pasta, tasty as it is, isn’t necessarily the healthiest option, especially for gluten-intolerant folks. Enter spaghetti squash. It might not look super appealing on the outside, but on the inside, it transforms into thin strands that resemble—you guessed it—spaghetti.
The winter vegetable is a trusted ally whenever you’re looking for a lower-carb, more nutrient-dense version of pasta. But as with any other trendy food, it’s easy to wonder if it’s truly healthy or just an overhyped ingredient (giving you some side-eye, activated charcoal). We tapped a few nutrition experts to find out the full deets.
Spaghetti squash nutrition: Does it have any benefits?
1. It’s good for gut health
Spaghetti squash is rich in fiber, offering up around two grams per cup—just under 10 percent of your daily recommended intake. And as you surely know at this point, fiber is crucial for digestive health. “Fiber acts as a prebiotic by feeding the good bacteria in your intestines which form a vital part of your digestive and immune systems,” says Lisa Richards, CNC, a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. “This fiber also improves digestion by moving slowly through your gastrointestinal tract and improving regularity.” Nutrition expert Cynthia Thurlow, NP, adds that, “A healthy gut promotes excellent immunity.”
Looking for more foods good for gut health? Check out these dietitian-approved picks:
2. It can promote healthy weight management
One of spaghetti squash’s biggest draws is that it’s low in carbs and high in fiber making in a great swap for regular pasta if you’re trying to slim down. “One cup of spaghetti squash provides nearly 10 percent of an adult’s fiber needs for one day,” says Richards. “A diet high in fiber can help with weight loss primarily because it increases satiety, the feeling of fullness. This aspect of fiber helps to prevent overeating and indulging in sugary cravings.”
3. It’s surprisingly high in antioxidants
We often think of foods like pomegranates, oranges, and kale as being rich in good-for-you antioxidants, but don’t forget about spaghetti squash. It contains beta carotene and vitamin C which can help prevent chronic diseases and inflammation. “Antioxidants have been studied for many years and have demonstrated abilities to fight cell-damaging free radicals and toxins,” Richards says. “When damaged cells replicate, they create a higher risk for chronic disease and inflammation.” It’s also packed with lots of other essential nutrients, Thurlow says, including potassium, magnesium, and manganese. It’s also rich in vitamin A, which is good for eye health, and B-vitamins, which contribute to proper cell functioning.
4. It’s a low glycemic food
More and more people have been thinking about prioritizing low glycemic foods for more even blood sugar levels, and spaghetti squash definitely counts. “Spaghetti squash has a low glycemic index which means it will not cause a sudden spike in blood sugar like higher-carbohydrate alternatives,” Richards says. “It also contains polysaccharides which is a type of fiber that prevents blood sugar from rising after meals. Both of these qualities can be helpful for those wanting to manage their diabetes through diet.”
5. It can help combat inflammation
Spaghetti squash also has omega-3 fatty acids (surprise!), making it anti-inflammatory and great for overall health. “Most Americans consume far too many omega-6 rich foods, largely from the processed food industry’s use of seed oils, like canola, soy, etc. which are pro-inflammatory,” Thurlow says.
Great, so it has tons of benefits…how do I cook spaghetti squash?
First, you have to pick a good one to cook. As with all produce, spaghetti squash is best when it’s in season. Yes, you can typically find spaghetti squash year-round, but it’s at its prime in the fall and winter months. “Look for one with a nice firm exterior that is free from bruises,” says Maya Feller, RD, at Maya Feller Nutrition. Take into account the weight of the spaghetti squash as well. “It should feel heavy for its size, which means it is full of water and fresh,” adds Daily Harvest’s nutritionist Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN.
Now, for the cooking part. Shapiro recommends roasting it in the oven so it can caramelize and bring out its sweetness. To do so, lay the squash horizontally on a cutting board and slice it into rounds. Then remove the seeds and drizzle olive oil and sprinkle some salt and pepper. “I roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or so until the strings are soft and separate easily from the outside skin,” she says.
If you’re pressed for time (read: lazy), cooking it in an Instant Pot is another option. Shapiro suggests slicing the squash in half and cooking it on high pressure for 15-20 minutes, and then doing a quick release.
What you do with the spaghetti squash is up to you—its mild flavor profile makes it very versatile. You can put precooked squash in a sauce pan and sauté it with a red sauce or pesto. You can serve it alongside other roasted veggies and add shrimp, chicken, ground turkey, or another source of protein. Or, save yourself from doing extra dishes by making chicken pesto squash bowls. There’s really no wrong way here.
Originally published October 31, 2019. Updated December 11, 2020.
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