Apples: Do they live up to the hype?

It’s fall! Apples are in season and I could not be more excited. Although exotic fruits like mango and papaya are fun, and berries are a true delicacy, it is the humble apple that I dearly love.

The variety is awesome (over 7,500 known and more to come!) and each with a unique taste profile. The anticipation of biting into a new variety is always exciting: how juicy is it; is it tart; is it sweet; is it crispy or a little softer; will this be my new favorite apple for the season? I’m not the only one who has strong feelings for certain varieties of apples.

Image of two fuji apples from the US Agricultural Research ServiceRegardless of the apple types, most apples have a similar nutrition profile for a given size with minute changes in polyphenols depending on the color of the skin.

One medium apple (about 3” diameter) is:

  • 95 calories
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 25 grams of carbohydrates
  • 4 grams of fiber

While the simple apple is a good source of vitamin C and fiber, it is not quite the heavy hitter in other vitamins and minerals as other fruits. However, what the apple lacks in one nutrition corner, it excels in another – phytonutrients such as polyphenols and flavonoids.

Will eating an apple a day really keep you healthy? A nutritionist answers Click To Tweet

Health benefits of apples 

Fiber and cholesterol

Apples are relatively high in sugar, yet they remain low on the glycemic index due to their fiber content; making them the perfect snack anytime of the day. Considering their fiber, it is not surprising, then, that human studies suggest that consuming the whole apple, or the apple pomace (the solid remains after pressing), instead of the juice (cloudy or clear) may help to lower total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

Do you eat the whole apple? Here's why you should Click To Tweet

The apple’s soluble and insoluble forms of fiber are thought to be the mechanism behind such benefits and are in line with current research supporting the cholesterol lowering effects of dietary fiber. Moreover, lower LDL cholesterol levels can translate to cardiovascular protection since high levels of blood LDL cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis.

Phytochemicals and phytonutrients

In addition to fiber, apples have an extraordinary number of phytochemicals that confer important antioxidant properties. These phytonutrients work in synergy with the fiber to enhance the apple’s ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.

While laboratory and animal studies implicate that the fiber and phytonutrients pave the way for a healthy gut micro biome, more human studies are needed to see how this translates in reality, but so far, it looks good.

Regarding anticancer benefits, in vitro (i.e. lab) studies show that specific phytonutrients in apples slow the development of cancers in the colon, lung and breast at various stages.

All in all, an apple a day could be the most delicious prescription for health available.

Apples may slow the development of cancers in the colon, lung & breast Click To Tweet

Season, Selection and Storage 

Apples are in season late summer and fall, but can still be found locally through early winter due to low temperature storage environments (i.e. refrigerators or cool basements). And while the global economy of today guarantees their availability year round in supermarkets, their peak freshness and taste are sometimes disappointingly suboptimal (“mealy” comes to mind).

Selecting apples is not difficult as they are ripe upon presentation at the market. Just look for no or minimal bruising as too much bruising signals a decline in the healthy polyphenols. On whether to buy organic vs. non-organic apples is another purchase consideration.

Apples store well in cool climates and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to several months, but 2 – 3 weeks is probably best to minimize change in nutrition content. Do not wash apples before refrigerating, only before use.

Do you need to buy organic apples?

Apples continuously top the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list and so it is recommended to buy organic apples when possible, but don’t let it stop you from eating healthy if they are not available. And do not be afraid to ask your local farmers market supplier about their pest control tactics, as they may be organic in practice and simply not stated as such because of the financial burden to be “certified organic.”

Recipe: An Apple a Day

Ingredients

  • One different apple variety per day for at least two weeks. Suggested variations: Stayman, Winesap, Gala, Kavanaghs, Braeburn, Empire, Cox Orange Pippins, Jonagold, Macoun, Cameo, Black Oxfords.

Directions

1. Seek out different apple varieties from your local farmers market. Don’t worry about buying more than you can eat in a week or two, as apples will keep in the refrigerator for a while.

2. Wash apple and consume whole.

 

Liv Lee is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a Masters degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University.


American Institute for Cancer Research. AICR’s Foods the Fight Cancer. Apples. Accessed on October 20, 2015.

Koutsos, A., Tuohy, K. M., Lovegrove, J. A. (2015). Apples and cardiovascular health – is the gut microbiota a core consideration? Nutrients; 7(6): 3959-3998.

Ravn-Haren, G., Dragsted, L. O., Buch-Anderson, T., Jensen, E. N., Jensen, R. I., Nemeth-Balogh, M., Paulovicsova, B., Berstrom, A., Wilcks, A., Licht, T. R., Markowski, J. Bugel, S. (2013). Intake of whole apples or clear apple juice has contrasting effects on plasma lipids in healthy volunteers. European Journal of Nutrition; 52(8): 1875-1889.

SELF Nutrition Data. Apples, raw, with skin [Includes USDA commodity food A343]. Accessed on October 16, 2015

Wikipedia. Apple. Accessed on October 16, 2015.

World’s Healthiest Foods. Apples. Accessed on October 16, 2015.

Images via Wikipedia, featured image by Paul Gauguin

Liv Lee, MS, RDN

Liv Lee has a Masters degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University and is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>