Spaghetti squash looks like spaghetti when it's served, but it has far fewer calories and carbohydrates. This makes it a perfect vegetable substitute for pasta if you’re trying to cut back on calories and carbs and increase your daily veggie intake.
Spaghetti squash provides many important nutrients and fiber and can be a great way for your kids to eat a veggie while they're eating "spaghetti."
What Is Spaghetti Squash?
Spaghetti squash is a typical winter squash. It's oval, with a hard, yellow-tinged outer skin. These squashes appear fresh in farmers markets in fall and early winter, and they store well. You can buy them year-round, but they’re an especially appealing dish in winter when many fresh vegetables tend to be bland.
After cooking spaghetti squash, you can use a fork to pull out the interior strands. Spaghetti squash doesn't start out looking like spaghetti noodles, but after cooking, it separates nicely into long, thin ribbons that resemble pasta noodles. And although these "noodles" taste nothing like noodles made from grains, their hearty texture helps them hold up well to sauces traditionally paired with pasta.
How to Use Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash is bright yellow. When you buy it, it should be hard all over and heavy like other winter squashes. Look for a squash that has few blemishes. Spaghetti squash looks like an oval version of a butternut squash.
To cook spaghetti squash, steam it or bake it; then slice into it with a sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds, discarding them, and use a fork to pull out the "ribbons" of pasta. Once you've got a pile of noodles, separate them onto individual plates, and add roasted veggies and a meat sauce, or just drizzle them with olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
To add flavor and texture, add spaghetti squash ribbons to quiches or frittatas, or blend them into soups or savory sauces.
More Vegetable, Less Starch
Unlike its winter squash cousins, butternut, acorn and pumpkin squashes, spaghetti squash is less of a starch and more of a vegetable when it comes to calorie content. Butternut, acorn and pumpkin squashes are starchy vegetables, which means they're more calorie dense. A cup of cooked butternut squash has about 85 calories and 20 grams of carbohydrates.
A cup of cooked spaghetti squash, on the other hand, ranges from 31 to 42 calories. There are about 7 grams of carbs in a 1-cup serving of spaghetti squash. Calorically speaking, spaghetti squash is more like other low-calorie veggies, such as broccoli, carrots and cauliflower.
Serving spaghetti squash with high-calorie toppings increases your calorie intake, but the calories are from the toppings, not the squash.
Benefits of Spaghetti Squash
Like most winter squashes, spaghetti squash is a nutritional powerhouse. Although whole grain pasta contains a good deal of fiber, 1 cup contains about 220 calories. Spaghetti squash not only has less than one-quarter of the calories, but it also has more fiber than pasta made with refined flour, along with more nutrients.
One cup of spaghetti squash has 2.2 grams of fiber, about 9 percent of the recommended daily amount, or RDA. That fiber will help you feel more full, just as pasta might, but without the extra calories.
Spaghetti squash nutrition content includes vitamin A, which helps protect you against infections. It also keeps your eyes and skin healthy. It also has vitamin C, which heals cuts and keeps teeth and gums healthy. It’s high in vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate and pantothenic acid as well.
Colorado State University Extension reports that a serving of a high-fiber vegetable, like spaghetti squash, could be better than taking a vitamin supplement, because the vitamins in the vegetable are working together, which makes them more efficient.
Helps Build Strong Bones
A cup of spaghetti squash also contains more than nine minerals that are good for bone health. The mineral with the highest concentration in spaghetti squash is manganese, which supports bone structure, increases bone metabolism and helps prevent osteoporosis. It also has other minerals, including iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
Other Health Benefits
All of the nutrients provided by spaghetti squash are important to your health. By eating spaghetti squash with a healthy tomato sauce or even some olive oil and a little grated Parmesan cheese, you can up your body’s cancer-fighting nutrients. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are said to be protective against cancer.
- University of Delaware Food and Nutrition Education Lab: October: Spaghetti Squash
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Squash, Winter, Spaghetti, Raw
- Washington Post: Winter Squash: What to Know Before Serving These Seasonal Stars
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Supplements: Vitamins and Minerals
- USDA: ChooseMyPlate.gov
- Washington Post: Pasta Gets a Healthful Makeover With Spaghetti Squash