It’s easy to understand how spaghetti squash got its name. Even though when sliced open, the raw fruit looks hard and solid just like any other squash, it’s in the cooking that the flesh begins to resemble spaghetti. In fact, the spaghetti squash is so similar to pasta that it’s often used as a healthy pasta substitute.
Spaghetti squash (also known as vegetable spaghetti) can range in color from yellow to orange to ivory and is easy to grow in gardens or containers. The flavor of the spaghetti squash isn’t sweet, but has a rather mild taste. In addition to its use as a low-carb spaghetti substitute, the squash can also be used in stews, soups, other vegetable dishes, or even eaten raw.
Eating healthy isn’t always easy, but it can be fun — especially when you give yourself permission to play in the kitchen. Plus, making spaghetti squash is easy — you don’t need to get out your spiralizer or mandolin to create vegetable pasta. All you need is a fork and some good, old-fashioned muscle. Is today the day you find a new low-carb favorite?
The Nutritional Makeup of Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash is a great source of nutrition to add to your diet. According to the USDA, 1 cup of cooked spaghetti squash contains 42 calories, 1 gram of protein, 0.5 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of sugar. It is also a good source of B vitamins, fiber, folate, potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
The Health Benefits of Spaghetti Squash
- It’s low-calorie. I already mentioned that, cup-for-cup, spaghetti squash contains almost one-fifth of the calories of pasta. So now, when you crave a big bowl of spaghetti, you can have a big bowl of spaghetti — squash. Add red sauce or a little olive oil, some broccoli, or other blanched vegetables and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and enjoy!
- Its is made up of almost entirely water. Ninety-two percent water, to be exact. That’s the same amount of water as watermelon. Crazy, right? Now, when you nosh on spaghetti squash, you’re also getting your fill of water that can help you stay hydrated throughout the day. Also, the extra water will help fill you up so you are less likely to overeat.
- It is low-carb. If you practice a low-carb lifestyle for weight-loss reasons or because you have diabetes, then spaghetti squash is a great food to include in your diet. With only 10 grams of carbohydrates per cup, it’s lower in carbs than most kinds of winter squash. Plus, only four of the carbs come from sugar and two come from its fiber contents.
- It’s keto-friendly. Since spaghetti squash is low in carbs and used often as a substitute for higher-carb pasta, it is a natural fit for a keto diet. Remember to be mindful of your portion sizes though, because it’s not completely carb-free.
- It contains omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. So you can get your fill of healthy fats while you work to lose or maintain your weight. Omega-3s found in spaghetti squash can help lower inflammation, which can put you at risk for dementia, heart disease, depression, certain kinds of cancer, and arthritis. It can also slow the buildup of plaque inside your arteries and veins.
- It contains folate. Each cup of cooked spaghetti squash contains 12 micrograms of folate. Folate is an important mineral responsible for lots of functions in your body, such as helping to create and develop new cells and keep your heart healthy. It’s also an important mineral for pregnant women, as adequate consumption of folate can help prevent birth defects.
- It Helps You Get Your Fill of Vitamins C and B. Spaghetti squash can also provide you with vitamins C and B6. Vitamin C helps your body to both grow and repair your connective tissues, blood vessels, bones, and skin. It also acts as a powerful antioxidant, helps your body absorb iron, and also can help decrease bad cholesterol levels. Vitamin B6 helps regulate some body processes, such as the production of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters and helps your metabolic processes run more smoothly.
- It can help lower your blood pressure. Did you know that adequate consumption of potassium is essential for maintaining your blood pressure? The potassium found in fruits and veggies such as spaghetti squash helps your kidneys to work more efficiently, thus balancing out the sodium levels in your body to stabilize your blood pressure.
Is Spaghetti Squash Good for You?
Spaghetti squash is full of good-for-you vitamins and nutrients. When comparing the calories of a cup of pasta (200+) to a cup of spaghetti squash (42), you’ll find you can save up to 170 calories! Plus, spaghetti squash is low in carbohydrates. When you’re trying to lose weight, filling up on low-calorie, low-carb foods can help you get the nutrients you need. And you can eat more of those foods and still stay in your calorie range.
Is Spaghetti Squash a Starch or a Vegetable?
Although they do contain some carbohydrates, they are not considered particularly starchy when compared to other fruits and vegetables. Spaghetti squash is part of a group of plants called Cucurbita pepo and is considered a fruit.
Can Spaghetti Squash Be Bad for You?
The short answer is “no.” Low in carbs and calories and high in water content and other key vitamins and nutrients, everyone should include squash as part of their healthy diet.
How to Pick Spaghetti Squash
Even though spaghetti squash can be found in your produce department year-round, early fall through the winter is the peak season, when they are the most fresh and flavorful. When choosing a squash, make sure it’s free of spots and cracks and feels firm to the touch. Ideally you should pick one that still has its stem, as that helps keep bacteria from spoiling the inside of it.
How to Store Spaghetti Squash
You can keep your whole spaghetti squash in a cool, dry place for up to three months. It’s best not to refrigerate the squash, as that will accelerate the ripening process, but it can be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks. Cut squash should be stored in tightly wrapped plastic wrap or an air-tight container for one to two weeks.
How to Cook Spaghetti Squash
Would you be surprised to learn I employ five variations in how I cook my spaghetti squash? While the most-used preparation is probably roasting, you can also use your microwave, slow cooker, stovetop, or Instant Pot.
- Roasting: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Next, cut the spaghetti squash in half and remove the seeds (and save them for roasting later, if you wish). Spray each half with cooking spray or drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the squash halves cut-side down onto a baking sheet for 35-40 minutes, testing its tenderness with a fork.
- Microwave: If you are in a hurry, you can also cook the spaghetti squash in the microwave. Pierce the whole squash all over with a fork or knife. Microwave for 10-15 minutes, until tender to the touch. Remove it from the microwave, carefully cut in half, and scoop out the seeds. (You might want to wait for it to cool a bit or handle with a kitchen towel to keep from burning yourself.)
- Slow Cooker: Either place the whole squash (poke fork holes into the squash if cooking it whole) or two halves in the slow cooker with a cup of water for 4-8 hours. You can also cook it in a sauce of your choice rather than water.
- Stovetop: For this method, I recommend cutting the squash into pieces and boiling in broth or water for 15-20 minutes.
- Instant Pot: Slice the spaghetti squash in half and remove the seeds. Place a steamer basket in the Instant Pot and place the spaghetti squash on to the trivet. Add 1 cup of water to the pot. Close the lid and set to manual mode for 7 minutes. Once finished, manually open the vent and carefully open the lid once the pressure has released.
- In all methods, the final step is to “shred” the pulp using a fork. You can then keep it in the squash for squash bowls or scoop it out of the skin for other recipes.
Spaghetti Squash Recipes and Ways to Eat It
- As a substitute for pasta. It isn’t called “spaghetti squash” for nothing. Simply bake then scrape out the squash out with a fork, combine all the other ingredients in this Italian Spaghetti Squash Casserole, serve it to your family (or keep it all to yourself), and smile because everyone is going to leave dinner happy and satisfied.
- As a side dish. If you, like me, sometimes prefer your “pasta” on the side, then you’ll enjoy making this recipe for Baked Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti Squash. Simply baked, scraped, and seasoned with salt and pepper, this is the low-carb pasta stand-in you’ve been searching for.
- As a squash boat. I think we can all get behind a food that comes in its own container. Less mess, less dishes, and more time to enjoy the food. I love making spaghetti squash boats so much, I have created several variations on the theme. For a great one-dish meal, consider creating Pesto Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Sausage, Low-Carb Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs with Fresh Mozzarella, Cheesy Sausage and Kale Spaghetti Squash Boats, or one of my favorites — Tomato Basil Spaghetti Squash with Vegetarian Sausage.
- In a salad. The thing I love most about salads is how versatile they are. You can throw in all sorts of veggies, fruits, seeds, or nuts, and your pick of proteins, in any order or arrangement you desire. My Spaghetti Squash Chopped Greek Salad offers a little bit of everything. Tossing the squash in dressing before serving keeps it from sticking together and helps it to taste and feel more like pasta.
- In a cheesy gratin. If you’re looking for something different to bring to a potluck or want to experiment with a new way to incorporate spaghetti squash, consider making this Spaghetti Squash Gratin. Serve it as a side or with a hearty bowl of vegetarian soup or a salad to round out a meal.
- In Asian dishes. I’ve always had a love of Chinese food that I have learned to balance out with a love for eating healthy. To that end, I’ve created several recipes that swap rice or lo-mein noodles for the noodly goodness of spaghetti squash. Try my Low Carb Chicken Lo Mein with Spaghetti Squash, my Spaghetti Squash Fried Rice, a Spicy Asian Spaghetti Squash dish, or this Sesame Spaghetti Squash with Edamame.
- In a crust. Move over cauliflower, there’s a new pizza crust in town. Crispy, delicious and flavorful, this Spaghetti Squash Pizza Crust is everything you love in a crust, except minus the carbs, fat, and other processed ingredients I think we can agree we can all do without.
Can You Eat the Seeds?
Don’t pitch the seeds because you can eat those, too. Prepare squash seeds much like you would pumpkin seeds: Pull them from the squash, rinse them, and roast them in the oven. You can eat the whole seed or discard the hull and stick to the kernel inside. They make a great snack and can be stored for up to three months at room temperature.