Until recent generations, if you wanted apples at this time of year, you had to drink apple cider, or hope you had some apples left in your root cellar from last fall. Today, we’re fortunate that we can find apples year-round. And that’s a good thing, considering their many health benefits, as I’ll explain in a moment.
People have been consuming apples for about 4,000 years, since they were first cultivated in the area of Central Asia now called Kazakhstan.
Apples have been grown across the U.S. for centuries. But up until about 100 years ago, the varieties grown here were only good for making apple cider. (You may have heard the story of Johnny Appleseed roaming the countryside planting apple seeds. Now historians realize he was probably growing trees to make hard cider from the apples.)
Over the last few decades, apple growers in the U.S. have developed numerous varieties, including Fuji, Gala, Honey crisp, McIntosh, Red or Golden Delicious, Sweet tango, and others. And you can now find these varieties year-round.
Five major health benefits of eating apples
It’s great to eat apples year-round, considering their many health benefits. They’re high in fiber and pectin, as well as vitamin C, beneficial antioxidants, flavonoids, and phytonutrients. In fact, compared to other commonly consumed fruits in the U.S., apples rank second highest in antioxidant activity. They also rank highest in their healthy phenolic compounds.
(I’ll tell you more about the importance of plant phenols in the April issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.)
There are five great reasons to make apples a part of your day:
1. Prevent constipation
Apples are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, which adds to bulk. I remember an old laxative commercial that 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
Apples have metabolic benefits that help regulate blood sugar and reduce the risk of Type II diabetes. The phytonutrients in apples help prevent spikes in blood sugar in three ways. First, they inhibit enzymes involved in the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. Second, they stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. Third, they decrease the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.
3. Lower stroke risk
In one notable study involving 9,208 men and women, researchers found that those who ate the most apples over a 28-year period had a lower risk for thrombotic stroke.
4. Boost your energy
Apples can be good for natural energy. The vitamin C and phenols counter the effects of oxidative stress and the malic acid content is good for muscle energy. And apples also help satisfy your hunger.
5. Support oral health
Eating apples naturally cleans the teeth and helps control food odors and bad breath. It also promotes saliva, which is good for oral health and digestion.
Many Americans find it difficult to get the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables. In fact, only 21 to 37 percent of men and 29 to 45 percent of women over 65 eat five or more daily fruits and vegetables. So — eating an apple a day is great start.
First, make sure to buy only organic varieties, as apples often top the list of fruits and vegetables that carry the highest pesticide burden.
Second, make sure to wash and then eat the peel, which has a higher nutrient concentration than the flesh.
You can cut up your apples and combine them with other healthy ingredients like raisins, cranberries, nuts, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. But skip the apple juice, which is processed and typically mostly just sugar water.
You can also add apples to your favorite dishes. Find ways to incorporate them into foods you normally eat, like yogurt or cottage cheese. Try adding them on your favorite sandwich. And of course, you can throw some crisp, diced or sliced apples into just about any type of salad for a crispy, tasty surprise.
Last, put apples (and other fruits) on the counter top, so you’re likely to see and remember to eat them. (I keep my fruits in a three-tier, hanging basket, with sections for onions, garlic, and ginger and turmeric root, as well as different fruits.) It also keeps them at room temperature, which gives them a better taste and texture than trying to eat them cold. You will also want to eat them sooner after purchasing them, before they get over-ripe, instead of keeping them in “cold storage.”
And remember — you don’t have to save your fruits for regular mealtimes. Enjoy them as a healthy snack anytime, throughout the day.
With all this in mind, I’ll go ahead and say it, once again, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
How sweet the sound.
“Quercetin intake and the incidence of cerebrovascular disease,” Eur J Clin Nutr. 2000;54:415–417