It’s that time of year again. Leaves are falling from the trees, there’s pumpkin spice everything, and the ubiquitous candy displays are doing nothing for your diet. But there’s one colorful display that you probably pass right on by with your shopping cart—squash!

Whenever I ask people about winter squash, they inevitably reply with something along the lines of “those pretty fall decorations?” Well, sort of . . . but not what I was going for. Using the multi-hued, bumpy vegetables only to decorate your doorstep falls fabulously short of their usefulness. 

The fall squash selection, including varieties like butternut, acorn, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), Hubbard, and delicata to name a few, is a veritable treasure trove of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Sure, we all like sweet potato for better a glycemic index and a more nutrient-dense option than plain white spuds, but anything can be overdone. Enter the squash.

Heart Healthy

In order to maintain healthy blood pressure, doctors recommend not only decreasing your sodium intake but also increasing your potassium. Bananas can get boring and kiwis are expensive, but the average squash gives you 17% of the daily recommended value in one serving. Top that off with high levels of magnesium and you’re looking at a decreased risk for heart attack and stroke.

Antioxidant Powerhouse

Squash also contains 1144 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A per serving, far exceeding your daily recommended value. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that may protect against certain forms of cancer. Add to that high levels of beta carotene and Vitamin C and you have a free-radical fighting militia on your hands. Did I mention all of these antioxidants help improve the look of your skin too?

Low in Sugar, High in Fiber

Sure, some say that squash is a carb, and they’re not entirely wrong. But not all carbs are created equal. Much like a sweet potato, squash has a high nutrient density in combination with healthy fiber levels to back it up. The fiber in squash not only helps with digestion, but it also helps maintain a steady blood sugar level, a benefit any diabetic would find appealing.

The list above is certainly not all-inclusive. Other benefits cited include preventing asthma, boosting the immune system, acting as an anti-inflammatory, good vision, healthy mucous membranes, and more. But we still have one more hurdle to cross: How do you cook the suckers?

The Internet abounds with options. Some people love them savory—a breakfast hash, added to chili, roasted with paprika—and some like them sweet. Squash can even be cooked and stuffed with apples, raisins, and spices for a fall treat. You can make them into frittatas, add them to your sheet pan meal, and puree them for soup. The possibilities are endless. 

Next time you’re in the grocery store, stop by the squash display and pick one up. Search for the name of the squash and recipes (e.g. delicata squash recipe) and break into a whole new world of flavor and health.