Despite the fact that the U.S. Agriculture Department recommends you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, they are rarely the main attraction. As fall rolls around and squash becomes abundant in grocery stores, maybe it’s time these healthful foods had their moment in the spotlight.

Squash comes in many varieties, including acorn, butternut, delicata, pumpkin and spaghetti. Spaghetti squash is available year-round, with its peak season in early fall through winter.

Inside spaghetti squash is a wonderful surprise: loads of strands of squash that look like spaghetti noodles. Because of this resemblance, it can be easily substituted for noodles — for about a quarter of the calories. Although the mild flavor of spaghetti squash will not replace pasta’s taste, it pairs wonderfully with sauces you would normally put over pasta.

You can get fancy when preparing this vegetable (the USDA counts it as a vegetable, though technically it’s a fruit) or simply drizzle lightly with olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. For an added flavor boost, try topping with a bit of fresh garlic and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

When selecting your spaghetti squash, it should be hard all over and heavy for its size. Inspect the squash to make sure there are no scratches, punctures or blemishes. The freshest spaghetti squash will be bright yellow and without discoloration.

Spaghetti Squash With Ground Turkey and Tomato Sauce. (Deb Lindsey/For the Washington Post)

Health benefits
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating more fruits and vegetables than any other food group, and for good reason. They could reduce your risk of many diseases.

Like many other fruits and vegetables, spaghetti squash offers numerous benefits, including antioxidants and other important nutrients to keep your entire body healthy. Some of its key nutrients include Vitamin A (to keep your eyes and skin healthy and protect against infections) and Vitamin C (to help heal cuts and wounds and keep your teeth and gums healthy).

It also contains a good amount of fiber, which is important for overall heart health and helps to control blood sugar for people with diabetes. Fiber also aids in weight management by making you feel fuller faster. Spaghetti squash offers all of these benefits without lot of calories.

As you work your way toward your daily fruit and vegetable intake, keep in mind that variety is important. In addition to incorporating lots of different types of vegetables into your diet, you should also aim for a variety of colors. If you haven’t tried a yellow vegetable recently, give spaghetti squash a try.

Comforting recipe

Low-carb and low-calorie Italian comfort food is hard to find. Not so with this spin on a traditional Italian pasta dish. With this recipe, you can get your pasta fix by substituting spaghetti squash, which has a look and texture similar to spaghetti’s. By shredding the cooked squash with a fork, you create thin pastalike strands. It is mostly flavorless, like pasta. And it’s a great way to add a couple servings of vegetables to your meal.

Find the recipe here.

This dish also contains tomatoes and mushrooms. You can load it up with more vegetables, such as diced zucchini or peas. And the addition of ground turkey or chicken for protein makes it both filling and nutritious.

Gordon, a master of public health professional and a master certified health education specialist, is creator of the healthful recipe site Find her on Twitter at @EatingbyElaine.