Spaghetti Squash Nutrition Facts

Health Benefits You May Not Know About

spaghetti squash nutrition facts and health benefits
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Spaghetti squash (Cucurbita pep var. fastigata) is a type of winter squash that is unlike other members of the gourd family. It is non-starchy and tends to have firm yellow flesh, as opposed to the softer orange flesh of acorn squash, butternut, and other winter squash varietals. Its texture and flavor are best described as being "toothy" and slightly nutty.

Spaghetti squash is often used as a substitute for pasta. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor perfect for olive oil and tomato-based sauces. When cooked, the fibrous flesh gets stringy, resembling strands of spaghetti. It is generally available year-round with a peak season from October through March

While it isn't as rich in antioxidants as pumpkin and other winter squashes, spaghetti squash is an excellent source of dietary fiber and B-complex vitamins such as folate, niacin, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). 

Nutrition Facts

Spaghetti squash is a nutrient-dense food, meaning that it is low in calories but rich in key vitamins and minerals. It is perfect for anyone who wants to cut back on the carbs and lose weight in a healthy manner.

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for one cup (155g) of spaghetti squash prepared without butter or salt.

  • Calories: 42
  • Fat: 0.4g
  • Sodium: 28mg
  • Carbohydrates: 10g
  • Fiber: 2.2g
  • Sugars: 3.9g
  • Protein: 1g

Carbs in Spaghetti Squash

Winter squash of any sort is usually a "no-no" for low-carb or ketogenic diets. Spaghetti squash is one of the exceptions. With only 10 grams per one-cup serving, you can easily swap it for a cup of cooked pasta and save yourself no less than 170 calories and 30 grams of carbs. It is even allowed on phase 1 of the South Beach Diet and the induction phase of the Atkins Diet.

Spaghetti squash is rich in dietary fiber, an indigestible form of carbohydrate that helps maintain regular bowel movements. Most of the fiber is soluble, meaning that draws water from the digestive tract and forms a gel-like substance that gently eases stools from the bowels. This gentle laxative effect may aid in alleviating mild constipation;

Fats in Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti is virtually fat-free with only 0.2 grams of polyunsaturated fat and 0.1 grams of saturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are essential fatty acids that your body needs for brain function and cell growth. They are beneficial to heart health and may help reduce blood pressure.

Protein in Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash is a relatively poor source of protein but one that can easily be boosted with shavings of parmesan and a nice dollop of vegetarian bolognese sauce.

Micronutrients in Spaghetti Squash

Where spaghetti squash truly shines is in its micronutrient content. Based on the reference daily intake (RDI) issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—the intake needed to ensure good health in 98 to 99 percent of the population—a single serving of spaghetti squash dishes up:

It also offers a healthy amount of the antioxidants, such as vitamin A and carotenoids. Spaghetti squash offers modest amounts of thiamine, magnesium, folate, calcium, and iron.

Health Benefits

Generally speaking, any diet rich in vegetables and fruit can help lower blood pressure, normalize blood sugar, and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer. With respect to winter squash, there is a lack of research into their actual impact on any of these conditions.

With that said, winter squash has long been used in some cultures to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and cancer. Here is what some of the current research says:

Diabetes

Rich in dietary fiber, spaghetti squash has a low glycemic index (GI), meaning that it won't cause sudden spikes in your blood sugar. Compared to butternut squash, which has a relatively moderate GI of 51, spaghetti squash has a GI of less than 20. 

Spaghetti squash also contains polysaccharides, a type of indigestible fiber that can prevent blood sugar from rising after eating. A 2017 study from China reported that mice fed a high-fat diet experienced improvements in blood sugar and insulin response after being fed a pumpkin polysaccharide extract for six weeks. The protein and unsaturated oils from the seeds also appeared to have a moderating effect on blood sugar.

Heart Disease

The same Chinese report concluded that a diet rich in winter squash-based polysaccharides translated to a reduction in triglycerides, total cholesterol, and "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol while triggering an increase in "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. 

These metabolic changes confer to improvements in blood pressure and a reduced risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Similarly, the high potassium in spaghetti squash may counteract the detrimental effects of sodium on blood pressure.

Cancer

Certain antioxidants in spaghetti squash, like beta-carotene and lutein, are classified as flavonoids. These compounds protect human cells from the damaging effects of oxygen. Flavonoids have been researched extensively for their role in preventing or inhibiting cancer cell growth, including certain types of breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer.

While the current evidence is far from conclusive, a 2012 study funded by the United Nations reported the squash flavonoid extracts were able to inhibit colon and lung cancer cell growth in test tube studies.

Similarly, an epidemiological study published in the journal Cancer found that smokers who were provided a flavonoid extract had between a 15 percent and 18 percent reduction in lung cancer risk compared to smokers provided a placebo. (The same benefit was not seen in non-smokers.)

Common Questions

What should I look for when buying spaghetti squash?

Choose spaghetti squash that is firm with no soft spots or blemishes. It should feel heavy for its size. Avoid squashes that don't have their stems still attached. The stem helps keep out bacteria and seals in the moisture. Do not buy spaghetti squash with soft areas or a moldy stem. If anything, the skin of the squash will get firmer as it ripens. A ripe squash will typically sound hollow when tapped.

Spaghetti squash should be stored in a cool, dry place. Left whole and uncooked, it can remain in the pantry for a month or so without any problem. Once cooked, refrigerate the leftovers in an airtight container and consume within three to five days.

How do you cut spaghetti squash?

Spaghetti squash is harder to cut than pumpkin or butternut squash. To prevent injury, place the squash on a thick bundled towel on the kitchen counter. To get the longest strands, cut it lengthwise from the stem to the bud.

Instead of trying to stab the squash (and possibly slipping), place your kitchen knife lengthwise on the squash, and tap the back of the knife with a hammer until the blade sinks in. Keep tapping until the tip of the knife is firmly embedded and won't slip out.

Next, grasping the knife handle with one hand and the stem firmly the other, press down until the knife passes through the bud end. If it doesn't go through completely, turn the squash over and start from the other side. 

Can you eat spaghetti squash seeds?

Yes, you can. Simply scoop the seeds out and roast them for a nutritious snack. Squash seeds are rich in protein and magnesium. However, the skin of the spaghetti squash is incredibly tough and should not be eaten.

Recipes and Preparation

Spaghetti squash must be thoroughly steamed or baked to obtain the pasta-like flesh. The easiest way to do this is to bake the squash halves face down in the oven, as follows:

  • Preheat your oven 375 F.
  • While the oven is heating, rinse the spaghetti squash and cut it in half lengthwise (as above). Use a kitchen spoon to scoop out the seeds, which you can save for roasting.
  • Place the squash halves face down in a casserole dish and pour about one-half inch to an inch of water around them.
  • Bake until just tender, about 30 to 45 minutes (depending on the size of the squash). You will know that the squash is done when you can pierce the skin easily with a fork.
  • To obtain the spaghetti strands, rake a fork back and forth from stem to bud. You may need to hold the squash with a kitchen towel to keep from burning yourself.
  • If you'd like to roast the seeds, wash them under the tap, remove the fibrous strands, and pat them lightly with a towel. Toss the seeds in a bowl with a couple of teaspoons of cooking oil and a sprinkling of salt. Roast in a 300o F oven for 40 minutes until crisp and a light golden brown.

While you also could also steam the squash or bake it in a microwave, baking it face down in the oven seems to render the best product.

Allergies and Interactions

Spaghetti squash is not commonly associated with allergies. If an allergy does occur, it may cause a mild rash and possibly the localized swelling of the lips and tongue. In rare cases, there may be nausea and vomiting.

Seek emergency care if the symptoms are severe or you experience breathing difficulty, rapid heart rate, lightheadedness, widespread hives, or the swelling of the face or throat. These may be signs of a potentially life-threatening, all-body allergy known as anaphylaxis.

Because spaghetti squash has mild laxative properties, it can potentially amplify the effects of stimulant laxatives, such as Ex-Lax (senna glycoside), Senokot (senna glycoside), Nature's Remedy (cascara), Dulcolax (bisacodyl), and castor oil.

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