An Apple A Day

The old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” appears to have some truth to it, according to research. Studies have established an association between apple consumption and numerous health benefits. And when it comes to eating apples, they may be commonplace, but are often the ingredient that really sets a recipe apart.

Apples are a nutrient-dense food, high in fiber and phytonutrients. One medium-sized apple contains 4.4 g of dietary fiber and 14% of our daily vitamin C. Apples also contain potassium, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and iron, as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, E, K, folate, and niacin. While not extremely low in calories (about 95), they still seem to be effective for weight loss.

Spikes in blood sugar effect our weight and our health negatively. High levels of blood sugar deter our bodies from breaking down our fat cells for energy, while encouraging the formation of fat stores and causing damage to our tissues. Blood sugar levels that are too low leave us feeling tired, hungry and wanting to eat more foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, which then raises our blood sugar, starting the cycle over again. Phytonutrients, along with the soluble fiber called pectin contained in apples, help to regulate blood sugar. Recent research has shown that the phytonutrient polyphenol contained in apples can help prevent spikes in blood sugar by slowing down the breakdown of carbohydrates, thus lowering the rate of sugar absorption into our blood. An important added benefit of polyphenol is that it stimulates the pancreas to produce more insulin and also makes insulin receptors more effective, so more sugar is moved from the blood into our cells.

Researchers have recently compared intake of whole apples to intake of applesauce and apple juice, with the interesting discovery that people report less hunger and better food satisfaction after eating whole apples than after applesauce or drinking apple juice. They found that healthy adults who consumed one medium-sized apple approximately 15 minutes before a meal reduced their caloric intake at that meal by an average of 15%. Florida State University researchers think that pectin, in combination with antioxidants, is responsible for the results of a recent study where women ate a cup of dried apples daily for a year and by so doing they lost weight and lowered their blood cholesterol levels.

Of the 4.4 g of dietary fiber in a medium apple,  almost 50% is pectin. This relatively modest amount of pectin found in whole apples has now been shown to act in concert with the apple’s phytonutrients to give us the kind of cholesterol-lowering effect that would typically be associated with much higher amounts of soluble fiber intake. Eating apples regularly decreases both total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol.  In some studies, “regular intake” has meant one whole fresh medium apple per day.

In addition, eating an apple before a workout may boost exercise endurance.  Apples contain an antioxidant called quercetin, which increases endurance by making oxygen more available to the lungs.

Not a big apple eater?  I wasn’t either until my friend Kim introduced me to Lime Apples. They’re made by dipping sliced apples in fresh lime juice for a wonderful surprise. Everyone loves them and they are surprised at their delicious simplicity. They are perfect to send in a child’s lunch box, since the lime juice prevents the apple from browning and improves the flavor. Be sure to prepare another apple for yourself with the extra lime juice to eat during the day. Firm sweet apples work best and they are particularly good cold.

Try Overnight Slow Cooker Oatmeal to wake up the whole house to the delicious aroma and taste of apples, or this Oven Apple Pancake for another mouth-watering breakfast. Apples also taste great in salads like my Apple Pear Green Salad or Lime Cucumber Apple Salad.  Roasted apples are the secret ingredient in this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. Also try this simple and tasty Chicken Salad made with apples and cabbage (and without mayo) on Ak-Mak Crackers. Apples can be used to make many healthy desserts, such as baked apples and apple crisps.

If you don’t own an inexpensive apple slicer, it’s time to buy one. Also try to buy organic apples if you can to avoid the high levels of pesticides found in ordinary apples. Leave the skin on the apples whenever possible to improve the fiber content of your dish and to take advantage of the many phytonutrients that are concentrated there. The unique combination of phytonutrients and fiber produce great health benefits from such a widely available and delicious fruit!  Take the “apple a day” Healthy Challenge for September (2012) and eat apples every day.