Stuffed Acorn Squash Recipe, Spotlight on Wild Rice and Squash, Benefits of Hydration and Time-Restricted Eating
I like to pack as much flavor into my veggie-based dishes as those I make with meat. And this edition of The Olive Oil Hunter Newsletter has the perfect example of what I mean—wild rice-stuffed acorn squash that’s both a feast for the eyes and the palate. Meanwhile, if you’re like me, you’ll be surprised by the findings from two health studies making news: First, that not being hydrated can age you prematurely, and second, that eating within a set number of hours each day could have significant health benefits.
Stuffed Acorn Squash
- Stuffed Acorn Squash
I love the combination of sweet and savory ingredients in this stuffing. Cooking the wild rice and roasting the squash take some time, but you can work on the components of this dish simultaneously. Any stuffing left over after you fill the squash halves makes a great cold lunch the next day!
- 1/2 cup wild rice, uncooked
- 1/3 cup raisins, preferably golden
- 2 acorn squash
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
- 1 Granny Smith or other tart apple, cored and diced
- 4 fresh sage leaves, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- Coarse salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cook the wild rice as directed on the package. While the rice is cooking, steep the raisins in a cup of boiling water to plump them; set aside. Next, cut each acorn squash in two and use a grapefruit spoon to remove and discard the seeds. Brush the cut sides with a tablespoon of olive oil and place them, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet and, when hot, toss in the pine nuts and cook, stirring constantly, for about two minutes, until fragrant. Lower the heat to medium, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the onions, and celery, and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the diced apple, sage, and thyme, and cook for another 5 minutes. Drain the raisins, reserving the liquid, and add them to the skillet. Drain and fluff the rice and add to the skillet. If the mixture is too dry, add some of the raisin liquid, a tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Take the squash out of the oven, carefully turn over the halves, and fill them with the rice mixture. Drizzle each half with the remaining olive oil and return to the oven for another 25 minutes or until a knife tip easily pierces the squash flesh.
Yields 4 side dishes or 2 main dish servings
Healthy Ingredient Spotlight
Wild Rice: The Rice That Isn’t
Despite its appearance, wild rice isn’t a rice at all. Its long black grains are actually the seeds of a semi-aquatic grass native to North America. Wild rice has a distinctive nutty taste and packs a nutritional wallop: antioxidants, fiber, and more protein than most other whole grains. When cooking, allow 45–60 minutes for it to become tender (it will triple in volume, too). It’s often sold as part of a blend with true rice varieties, but you can find wild rice packaged by itself.
Quick Kitchen Nugget
Squash halves are great stuffed with all kinds of tasty fillings. Because these hard veggies take a long time to cook in the oven, partially baking them before you stuff them means the filling won’t dry out in the time it takes for the squash to get tender. As a rule of thumb, bake them empty for about half the time it would take to fully cook them.
For Your Best Health
Are You Drinking Enough Water?
According to a National Institutes of Health study published in eBioMedicine, adults who stay well-hydrated appear to be healthier, develop fewer chronic conditions (like heart and lung disease), and live longer than those who may not get sufficient fluids.
Using health data gathered from 11,255 adults over a 30-year period, researchers analyzed links between serum sodium levels, which go up when fluid intake goes down, and various indicators of health. They found that adults with serum sodium levels even at the higher end of the normal range, which is between 135–146 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L), may be biologically older than their chronological age and at higher risk for chronic diseases. What’s more, the risk increased along with mEq/L levels.
“The results suggest that proper hydration may slow down aging and prolong a disease-free life,” said Natalia Dmitrieva, PhD, a study author and researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of NIH. “People whose serum sodium is 142 mEq/L or higher would benefit from evaluation of their fluid intake.”
The National Academy of Medicine guidelines are for most women consume around 6 to 9 cups of fluids daily, and men, 8 to 12 cups. But research shows that about half of people worldwide don’t meet these recommendations.
Dr. Dmitrieva noted that most people can safely increase their fluid intake to these levels with water, other fluids, and/or vegetables and fruits with a high water content. These include watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, apples, oranges, grapefruits, cabbage, celery, lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Beyond Weight Loss: More Benefits of Time-restricted Eating
A number of lab studies have shown that intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating—eating only within a set number of hours each day—seems to lead to an increase in life span. Researchers at two of the country’s important institutions are working to better understand its health benefits.
While it was already known that caloric restriction improves inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, Miriam Merad, MD, PhD, director of the Precision Immunology Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and colleagues showed how intermittent fasting reduces the release of pro-inflammatory cells called monocytes in blood circulation. During periods of fasting, these cells go into sleep mode and are less inflammatory than monocytes found in those who were not fasting. As the summary of their 2019 study published in the journal Cell stated, “…caloric intake and liver energy sensors dictate the blood and tissue immune tone and link dietary habits to inflammatory disease outcome.”
Scientists at the Salk Institute have just demonstrated in mice how time-restricted eating influences gene expression across more than 22 regions of the body and brain. (Gene expression is the process through which genes are activated and respond to their environment by creating proteins.) Their findings, published in Cell Metabolism in January 2023, have implications for a wide range of health conditions where time-restricted eating has shown potential benefits, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.
“We found that there is a system-wide, molecular impact of time-restricted eating in mice,” said Professor Satchidananda Panda, PhD, senior author and the Rita and Richard Atkinson chair at Salk. “Our results open the door for looking more closely at how this nutritional intervention activates genes involved in specific diseases, such as cancer.”
For the study, two groups of mice were fed the same high-calorie diet. One group was given free access to food. The other was restricted to eating within a window of nine hours each day. After seven weeks, tissue samples were collected from 22 organ groups and the brain at different times of the day or night and analyzed for genetic changes. The authors found that 70% of mouse genes respond to time-restricted eating. “By changing the timing of food, we were able to change the gene expression not just in the gut or in the liver, but also in thousands of genes in the brain,” said Dr. Panda.
Nearly 40% of genes in the adrenal gland, hypothalamus, and pancreas were affected by time-restricted eating. These organs are important for hormonal regulation. Hormones coordinate functions in different parts of the body and brain, and hormonal imbalance is implicated in many diseases, from diabetes to stress disorders.
Next, the Salk team will look at the effects of time-restricted eating on specific conditions or systems implicated in the study, such as atherosclerosis, often a precursor to heart disease and stroke, as well as chronic kidney disease.Get More Recipes In Your Inbox!