If there were one amazing nutrient that had the power to reduce your mortality risk by more than one-third while simultaneously keeping your waistline from expanding, you'd be sure to get plenty of it, wouldn't you?

Then resolve to eat more squash, as well as orange and green vegetables like carrots and kale. These richly hued health foods tend to be high in alpha carotene, a type of carotene that may help lower the risk of death from everything from heart disease to cancer.

Squash can lower the risk of dying from heart disease or cancer?

That’s right! Studies show that people with the highest blood levels of alpha carotene enjoy as much as a 39 percent lower risk of dying from causes that include heart disease and cancer. Alpha carotene is a hardworking, free-radical-fighting antioxidant that's found in almost all colorful veggies, but particularly yellow, orange and dark green ones like winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, peas, broccoli and kale. Alpha carotene is similar to beta carotene, but researchers think that alpha carotene may be a bit mightier at slowing and stopping the growth of certain types of cancer cells.

Why can’t I take an antioxidant supplement for the same effect?

The thing about alpha carotene is that antioxidant supplements don't usually contain it. And, what's more, studies haven't found that carotenoid supplements (like beta carotene) are very effective disease fighters. So it's extra important to meet your carotene needs – alpha and all – with a vegetable-filled diet.

In the winter, you can do this by eating lots of winter squash.

Slimming squash

As an added bonus, research shows that getting more vegetable fiber, like that found in squash, into your diet could help prevent an expanding waist and may even help you drop a few pounds. Be it butternut, acorn, or delicata, winter squash has a lot going for it nutritionally. Squash is not only high in fiber – about six grams of fiber per cup of mashed squash – but also in water. That means you can eat lots and feel full without going overboard on calories. Just hold the butter and brown sugar, of course.

How to cook winter squash

Winter squash can be made basically anyway you like it – from soup to baked-potato style. So bake, boil, mash, cube and cook these life-prolonging little veggies until you find the ways you like to eat them best. We recommend making it a two-for-one by combining roasted squash with a high-fiber grain like bulgur or quinoa.