Hippocrates, the father of medicine, stated, “Let your food be your medicine and let your medicine be your food.” No other fruit falls into that category better than apples. Apples have been associated with folklore, mythology and various religions. In the Genesis story, apples are associated with knowledge, immortality and temptation. The Norse believed that apples would keep one youthful forever. Even Sir Isaac Newton was inspired to form his “theory of gravity” based on the falling apple.
So let’s explore the history and the widespread benefits of apples. Apples are members of the rose family (cousins of apricots, plums, pears, raspberries, and almonds). They came to us from the mountain ranges of Kazakhstan. Apples were brought across Europe and Asia and eventually the colonists brought them to the Americas in the 1600s. More than half the apples grown in the US come from Washington state. Today there are over 7,500 varieties and 69 million tons of apples grown worldwide. That comes out to a lot of apples being grown!
Fortunately, the health benefits of apples warrant the abundance of apple production. For starters, apples are very low in calories—just 95 for a medium-sized apple—and have no fat or cholesterol and very little sodium. They contain 17% of our daily value of fiber and are high in potassium. In addition, they contain vitamins C, K, B6, as well as fluoride and important antioxidants. Let’s explore the health benefits of apples a bit more in depth.
- Weight Loss: Due to their high fiber content, apples will create a feeling of fullness, preventing overindulging. Researchers at Penn State have found eating an apple 15 minutes before lunch reduced the number of calories consumed. Make sure to eat the peel as the majority of the fiber is located there. As stated above, because apples are low in calories and fill you up, you will be reducing your caloric consumption.
- Cholesterol and Heart: The soluble fiber in apples has been linked to reduced cholesterol levels. In addition, the important antioxidants in apples are associated with preventing LDL (the bad form of cholesterol) from oxidizing. Studies have shown that eating one apple per day may lower cholesterol levels by up to 11 %. The potassium in apples helps to regulate blood pressure and heart rate by aiding the body in fluid regulation. Sounds pretty heart healthy to me!
- Cancer Prevention: The antioxidants in apples have a protective effect against free radicals and some studies have shown an association with reduced onset of cancers of the lung, breast and colon. In other studies, quercetin, one of the antioxidants in apples, has been associated with slowing the growth of cancer cells as well as supporting the immune system.
- Bone Protection: Another antioxidant found in apples may protect post-menopausal women from osteoporosis. In addition, apples contain trace amounts of boron, which is a component of bone health.
- Blood Sugar Regulation: Even though apples have naturally high sugar content, the fiber in apples will slow down the digestion and absorption of the sugars resulting in more balanced blood sugar levels and more sustained energy for longer periods. In addition, the pectin (soluble fiber) in apples contains a compound that directly affects the release of insulin and the receptivity of the insulin receptors of the cells.
- Lung Function: Not only is quercetin an important compound for cancer prevention, but it has been linked to having powerful effects for pulmonary function. People who eat apples may have lower incidents of asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory ailments. Quercetin may in fact be protecting the lining of the lungs from various free radical attacks.
As you can see, apples offer support throughout your body. You will obtain more antioxidants by consuming a variety of apples since each has different compounds that promote overall wellness. The deeper the skin color, the more antioxidants the fruit contain. The optimal way to enjoy apples is to eat them raw, which allows us to obtain the maximum nutrient benefits. Apples are great eaten whole, sliced into salads, or can even be put into your morning oatmeal. If you do cook them, you will lose some of the vitamins and antioxidant benefits, but you will still obtain the important fiber that is so important for our digestion. For a great fall apple recipe, visit my website at http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/recipe-winter-2011.html.
With a visit to Sigona’s Farmers Market, you can see that apples are now in season. The season runs from the end of summer through early winter. Apples are not as perishable as other fruits. With refrigeration, they can be stored for 3-4 months, which is what our ancestors did during the cold days of winter. Note that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that most conventional apples contain pesticides. To prevent consuming these chemicals, either buy organic or try one of the washing tips at http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/7912-a-peach-a-day.html.
So go enjoy the variety of apples out there. One of my favorite activities with the kids is to go to the farmers market and taste-test the different varieties. Inevitably, I end up buying a few different varieties to satisfy everyone’s taste buds. So whether it is Fuji, Gala, Honey Crisp, or Golden Delicious, incorporate them into your diet. Your taste buds and your body will thank you.
© Geri Wohl, Better Eating Coach