Squash is one of the numerous gourds of the genus Cucurbita. It possess numerous health benefits ranging from strengthening the immune system, preventing cardiovascular diseases, to relieving constipation. Most of the medicinal properties of squash are mainly due to its diuretic, laxative, hypotensive, and anti-carcinogenic effects.
Botanical name: Cucurbita pepo L.
Other names: Pumpkin, Coyote melon, Courge, Gourd, Calabaza.
Squash are the fruits of the genus Cucurbita, belonging to the botanical family Cucurbitaceae. It contains a fleshy pulp which in most cases is orange or yellow in color, with its center filled with small seeds. Their rinds also vary in color from orange, yellow, white, green, purple, to black. Squash comes in different shapes, mainly spherical, ovoid, and bottle-shaped.
Squash is a fruit, but is mainly used as a vegetable. It is a major food source for the native Americans. It can be processed to make many foods such as bread, biscuits, desserts, donuts, pancakes, ice cream, and pumpkin butter. The Africans use squash to prepare a delicious dish known as squash soup. The Indians cook squash along with sea foods such as prawn, while the Japanese eat them boiled along with sesame sauce, or make them into balls with sweet potato.
Apart from its culinary uses, some varieties of squash are used for cleansing purposes. Some contain saponins, which can be used as a soap, shampoo, and bleach. Squash are also popularly used in folk remedies. The Native Americans have used pumpkin to treat intestinal worms and urinary ailments for many years. In China, it has been used in their traditional medicine for the treatment of schistosomiasis, and expulsion of tape worms. The folk healers in Mexico use a variety of squash to lower blood sugar level.
• Squash contains carbohydrates in reasonable amount, representing about 6% of its total content.
• It also contains proteins but in low amounts, just about 1% of its total content.
• It contains virtually no fats.
• Squash contains significant amount of minerals, with provitamin A (bete-carotene) standing out among others.
• It also contains moderate amount of minerals such as calcium and potassium. It is among the lowest of any food in sodium, a mineral that is antagonistic to heart and arteries.
• Soluble vegetable fiber is also present in significant quantities in squash. Its presence gives it a satiating effect on the appetite.
Medicinal uses of squash
- Fights hypertension
- Prevents cancer
- Prevents coronary heart disease
- Relieves constipation
- Prevents stomach disorders
- Boosts immunity
- Controls diabetes
- Prevents neural tube defects
This effect of squash in preventing hypertension is straight-forward and validated by scientific facts. As already known, sodium and potassium are two substances which can cause and prevent hypertension respectively. Squash contains virtually no sodium and contains rich amounts of potassium.
The high potassium content of squash acts as a vasodilator and relieves the tension on our blood vessels, thus preventing hypertension and its complications such as stroke and arteriosclerosis. This makes squash consumption recommended for hypertensive patients, provided no salt is added.
It is a known fact that the squash family (Cucurbitaceae) together with that of cabbage (Cruciferae), constitutes the foods with the highest cancer-preventing property. Squash contains the 3 most effective anticarcinogens (cancer-preventing substances), namely: vitamin C, vegetable fiber, and beta-carotene (provitamin A). This makes intake of squash highly recommended for those willing to prevent this disastrous disease.
The anti-cancer activity of squash has been validated by numerous scientific studies. A research published in 2013 evaluated the antioxidant and anticancer properties of squash leaf extract. It found this extract to significantly inhibit human cancer cell growth. This findings makes squash one of the potential foods to look out for in the natural treatment and prevention of cancer in the future.
Coronary heart disease
Coronary heart disease is caused due to the deposition of cholesterol on the walls of the arteries supplying blood to the heart. This deposition not only make narrower the artery, but reduce the flow of blood to the heart. This condition is known as arteriosclerosis.
Cholesterol being the main cause of coronary heart disease, is formed from the fats you eat in your food. When they block our arteries, they can interfere with blood supply to the heart or even the brain, thus leading to conditions such as heart attack and stroke.
The consumption of squash at least three times a week is highly beneficial for those suffering from coronary heart disease.
But what makes squash so good for the heart?
It is rich in both magnesium and potassium, which collectively act to prevent numerous cardiovascular disorders. Also, squash is rich in fiber, which is very good at absorbing and eliminating excess cholesterol from the body. Moreover, squash is rich in folates, compounds which are able to neutralize harmful level of homocysteine in our bodies, whose high concentration has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The mild laxative effect of squash makes them highly recommended in cases of constipation. The fiber responsible for its laxative effect is a soluble one, and can in no way harm the intestine. The intake of squash and other high-fiber vegetables is a natural, yet simple way to combat constipation.
Squash has a soothing as well as a protective effect on the stomach lining (mucosa). Its pulp is also capable of neutralizing excess stomach acid due to the presence of alkalizing mineral salts in it. This makes intake of squash beneficial for those suffering from excess stomach acid, heart burn, dyspepsia, and gastroduodenal ulcer.
This wonderful member of the gourd family is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C. Antioxidants protects our bodies from the action of free radicals. These free radicals if left untreated are very dangerous to our bodies, and are linked with premature aging, cancerous growths, and heart diseases.
Moreover, squash contains significant amounts of vitamin A and other phytonutrients, which act collectively to boost the body’s immune system and defend it against foreign invaders.
When about one-third of all people with diabetes don’t know they have this disease, it becomes imperative to do whatever you can to prevent it. One way to reduce your risk for this deadly disease is through a proper diet, comprising of fruits and vegetables with great anti-diabetic effect. Squash is one of those foods you can trust to lead your way, and keep you going.
How is squash good for the diabetics?
Squash is rich in fiber, including pectin. Fiber acts to reduce blood glucose level by reducing the assimilation of sugar into the blood stream. Since they are considerably harder to digest, they trap glucose molecules within them, thus slowing down the release of this sugar molecules in the process. This is very important for those with insufficient insulin, as the little amount of glucose absorbed slowly into the bloodstream is within the metabolic capacity of the limited insulin.
Also, squash contains significant amounts of manganese. This mineral has been proven by many scientific studies to assist in the regulation of blood sugar level by directly assisting the enzyme responsible for glucose metabolism. It has also been associated with the ability to boost pancreatic function, and improve the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.
Prevents neural tube defects
Squash contains significant amounts of folates, a vitamin that has been associated with reduced risk of neural tube defects in pregnant women. This birth defects occur in the first month of pregnancy, often even before knowing you are pregnant. This is why prospective mums need to have this vitamin in significant amounts in their bodies, so that they can be readily available when needed.
Squash consumption is one way to add more folic acid to your body, thereby protecting your unborn child from these defects.