At this time of year, you may enjoy baking an apple pie or drinking hot apple cider with some fresh, ground cinnamon and nutmeg. But really, you should try to enjoy these seasonal favorites all year long, as research shows eating an apple a day really does help keep the doctor away!
I’ll tell you more about the impressive health benefits of apples in just a moment. But first, let’s talk about the surprisingly distant origins of apples…
Apples aren’t really as American as apple pie
Today, apple trees grow all over the world.
But they actually originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan in Central Asia (formerly part of the U.S.S.R.). They grew wild on the forested hillsides and then spread to Europe over thousands of years.
The crab apple tree is the only apple tree that’s indigenous to North America. Its small apples have a very bitter or sour taste.
But most of the apples we consume today are actually distant relatives of the apples the colonists brought with them to America from Europe. In fact, we know the settlers at Jamestown brought apple seeds and cuttings with them from Europe with the intention of planting orchards in the New World. It turns out, the original varieties they planted weren’t suited for cultivation here. But their seeds began to produce all-new varieties of American apples.
Over the next hundred years or so, most of the apples harvested in the New World were used to make cider, which early Americans drank instead of water. Americans also started growing apple trees as a lucrative commercial endeavor. William Fitzhugh, a southern planter and Virginia statesman, once remarked that the cider made from his orchard of 2,500 trees was more profitable than planting 15,000 pounds of tobacco!
Plus, apples helped establish the American frontier to the West. Compared to fields of corn, grain, and crops, which come and go with the seasons, an orchard renders a sense of permanence.
In fact, starting in 1792, a land company called the Ohio Company of Associates offered 100 acres of wild, undeveloped land to any settler willing to set up a permanent homestead. But the settlers were required to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees in three years to establish the homestead’s permanence. As a result, many different kinds of apple trees were planted in the early part of this country’s history. These trees produced a variety of types of apples, some sweet, some sour, some tart, and some wild-tasting.
During the first half of the 19th century, a pioneer named John Chapman traveled all over the American frontier, planting apple trees. In fact, the legend of Johnny Appleseed is said to be based on his life.
Chapman planted seedlings with the most sought-after characteristics on wild, undeveloped land in the West. He stayed just ahead of the settlers arriving from the East, so he was already “planted,” so to speak, when new farms, towns, and settlements grew around his orchards. He sold his established trees to the pioneers for them to plant on their new land.
So now that we know a little bit about the history of apples, let’s get back to why you should eat them all year long—and not just during the holidays…
5 great reasons to eat apples year-round
Research shows apples (especially their skin) are rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, fiber, B and C vitamins, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. So, it’s really no wonder they offer so many health benefits, including helping to:
1. Prevent constipation
Apples are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, which adds to bulk in your stool. In fact, an old fiber commercial compared the bulk in its product to a certain number of apples. But you’re better off just eating the apples!
2. Regulate blood sugar
The phytonutrients in apples help to naturally regulate your blood sugar in three critical ways. First, they inhibit enzymes involved in the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. Second, they stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. Last, they decrease the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.
3. Lower stroke risk
Eating apples also reduces your risk of suffering a deadly stroke. In fact, in one notable study involving more than 9,000 men and women, researchers found that those who ate the most apples over a 28-year period had a lower risk for thrombotic stroke (a type of ischemic stroke).
4. Boost your energy and tame your hunger
Eating an apple is also a great energy-booster, as it provides a steady supply of glucose to your brain and muscles for at least an hour or so. This steady energy boost also relates to the vitamin C and phenols found in apples, which can help counter oxidative stress and fatigue. In addition, the malic acid in apples is good for muscle energy. Of course, munching on a fiber-rich apple can also help satisfy your hunger and help you feel fuller longer.
5. Support oral health
Eating apples naturally cleans your teeth and helps control food odors and bad breath. It also promotes saliva, which is good for oral health and digestion.
Enjoy the benefits of apples all year long
It seems like there are more varieties of apples than ever at the grocery store nowadays. (I personally enjoy a good, tart Granny Smith.)
But no matter your personal preference, just make sure to opt for organic varieties, as apples often top the list of fruits and vegetables that carry the highest pesticide burden. (I discussed this year’s list in the July 2019 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures [“Summer produce hits and misses—What this year’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ list tells us about the dangerous state of pesticide use”]. Become a subscriber today!)
Also, always make sure to wash your apple first. And don’t forget to eat the peel, which has a higher nutrient concentration than the flesh.
Now, there are a variety of ways to enjoy this nutritious fruit. You can eat them on their own or add them to sandwiches, salads, main dishes, or desserts. I also enjoy eating them with full-fat yogurt or cottage cheese—for an added boost of protein and healthy fats.
Of course, at this time of year, a warm mug of apple cider—or an apple cider hot toddy—sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg, does sound awfully good, too. So, here’s a flavorful, basic recipe…
Traditional Hot Toddy
- 2 ounces of boiling apple cider
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 ½ ounce of whiskey
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 slice of lemon
- 1 pinch of nutmeg
- Pour the boiling cider into a mug with whiskey and honey.
- Add in the cloves, cinnamon stick, and lemon.
- Let steep for five minutes for flavors to mingle.
- Add a pinch of nutmeg before serving.
Next week I’ll tell you more about the amazing health benefits of cinnamon and nutmeg. So be sure to tune back in! And in the meantime, keep munching on those delicious red, yellow, and green apples.
“Johnny Appleseed and the Story of Apples in America.” Wild Abundance, 8/23/19. (wildabundance.net/johnny-appleseed/)
“All about Apples.” History, 8/22/19 (history.com/news/all-about-apples)
“Quercetin intake and the incidence of cerebrovascular disease,” Eur J Clin Nutr. 2000;54:415–417
“The Real Johnny Appleseed Brought Apples—and Booze—to the American Frontier.” Smithsonian Magazine, 11/10/14. (smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/real-johnny-appleseed-brought-applesand-booze-american-frontier-180953263/)