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You already know the old saying: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” If you take it literally, it may be an exaggeration, but at the same time, it’s based on solid advice, because the health benefits of apples are numerous. With plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, apples are a delicious and versatile way to regulate your digestive system and provide a healthy source of energy. They also have numerous positive effects on your cardiovascular system and help decrease the risk of serious diseases.
So, when you need an easy snack to battle that afternoon slump, chop up an apple as a delicious salad topping, or dip a few slices in some peanut butter. Then sit back and review some of the top health benefits of apples.
“A” is for “Apple” and “Antioxidants”
Let’s start with the basics: According to the USDA, a medium raw apple with the skin on contains 95 calories, 0.3 grams of fat, 4 grams of fiber, 25 grams of carbohydrates, and 14 percent of the recommended daily requirement of vitamin C. But what medical experts have recently discovered in apples is a high level of antioxidants (in the form of flavonoids), which can help lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.
QUICK TIPS FOR ENJOYING THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF APPLES
- When you bring your apples home, it’s best to store them at room temperature and serve them with the peel intact for extra fiber and antioxidants.
- The amount of fiber and vitamin C is reduced in applesauce, so choose a variety that has been fortified with vitamin C and avoid ones that contain added sugar.
- Dried apples are also a tasty choice, but keep in mind that while the fiber content is maintained, a small percentage of vitamins and minerals are lost during the dehydration process.
Apples are particularly high in a flavonoid called quercetin, which, according to research conducted by UC Davis Medical Center, can provide significant health benefits. The Center’s 12-week study had 25 healthy men and women adding either 12 ounces of apple juice or two apples into their daily diet. The study measured each participant’s “LDL oxidation lag time,” or the amount of time it takes for LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, to oxidize when exposed to certain chemicals. The longer the lag time is, the lower the risk is for heart disease.
The study showed that after six weeks, the participants’ lag time increased by 20 percent, with more dramatic results in those drinking apple juice vs. those eating apples. (Keep in mind, though, that eating whole, raw apples are healthier overall.) The study also showed a 22 percent increase in dietary fiber and a significant reduction in oxidation indicators.
Quercetin has also been linked to a slower rate of digestion of carbohydrates, which improves blood glucose control.
Research also shows the positive effects of foods rich in flavonoids on cancer prevention. A Finnish study linked a 20 percent lower risk of cancer overall and a 46 percent lower risk of lung cancer to a higher flavonoid consumption that included apples. Another Finnish study found that the participants who ate the most apples over a 28-year period had the lowest risk of stroke.
ARE APPLES GLUTEN-FREE?
If you’re gluten-intolerant, you know that apples are a reliable standby for quick energy and nutrition. As those who live with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity know, however, it’s important to exercise caution when baking or cooking with apples. Here’s a pair of recipes worth trying, both posted at the website of our sister publication, Gluten Free & More. (See also the full recipe for Roasted Beet, Apple, and Lentil Salad with Gluten-Free Maple Dressing, presented below.)
Benefits of Apples for Weight Loss and Improved Energy
If you’re looking to lose weight or increase your energy level, look no further than apples. Foods high in fiber are well-known for improving weight control, but there’s also proof that flavonoids-rich fruits and veggies can do the same. And because apples are low in calories and high in fiber, they keep you satiated for longer periods of time.
And when paired with protein-rich foods, apples are a delicious way to boost your energy. The fiber they contain not only keeps you full, it also helps keep your energy levels steady throughout the day. And when eaten along with a snack like peanut butter—a top source of protein—an apple can keep you powered through the rest of your busy afternoon.
Picking the Best Apples
Apple season is at its peak between early September and late October, depending on the variety. Whether you’re picking apples straight from orchard trees or from the produce section of your grocery store, you can ensure they’re fresh by gently pressing on the skin to check for firmness, looking for bruising or signs of decay, sniffing to detect a pleasant aroma, and looking for varieties with full and bright colors.
If you’re wondering whether the benefits of apples can change depending on their variety, a recent study might have your answer. According to results published by the American Chemical Society, Red Delicious, Northern Spy, Ida Red, Cortland, Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Mutsu, and Empire apples have the highest levels of antioxidants. But don’t avoid other varieties of apples for this reason—you’ll get plenty of nutritional value from any variety you choose.
Because most apples sold in markets are placed in storage to be sold throughout the winter, it was previously believed that they lose most of their nutritional value, but that’s not the case. In cold storage, apples can retain their antioxidant content for up to six months.
Are Organic Apples Better?
When it comes to buying organic vs. conventionally grown apples, according to the USDA, you should go for the organic ones. Apples were #4 on the USDA’s “Dirty Dozen” list for the highest loads of pesticide residues.
Keep in mind, however, that according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, nearly a quarter of organically grown apples were sold as conventional in the U.S. because some farmers who grow organic produce choose not to be certified by the National Organic Board.
Of course, organically grown produce can be more expensive, as any of us who frequent grocery stores can attest. But if going organic isn’t in your budget, don’t let that stop you from eating apples. Just make it a practice to thoroughly wash and dry all produce before eating, and to cut away any damaged or bruised areas to reduce your exposure to pesticides.
5 cups sliced peeled cooking apples (4-5 medium)
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
¼ cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats, uncooked
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbsp frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat an 8-by 8-inch or similar 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.
- Combine apples, cranberries, and granulated sugar in prepared baking dish; toss to mix. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake 35 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl with a fork.
- Combine apple juice concentrate and oil in small bowl; drizzle over flour mixture, stirring with a fork. Continue to work topping with your fingertips until dry ingredients are moistened.
- When crumble has baked 35 minutes, sprinkle flour mixture evenly over fruit. Sprinkle with walnuts.
- Bake, uncovered, until fruit is bubbly and tender, and topping is lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes longer.
- Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 8 (1/2-cup) servings.
Per serving: Calories: 216. Total fat: 5 grams. Saturated fat: 0 grams. Cholesterol: 0 milligrams. Sodium: 6 milligrams. Carbohydrates: 42 grams: Fiber: 4 grams. Protein: 3 grams.
Roasted Beet, Apple & Lentil Salad with Gluten-Free Maple Dressing
3 medium beets, trimmed
4 tablespoons canola oil or grapeseed oil, divided
1 pound parsnips, cut into ¾-inch chunks
4 pinches salt, divided
2 red apples, sliced into ½-inch wedges
¾ cup dry green or black (beluga) lentils
3 cups water
4 cups fresh arugula
3 ounces aged gouda cheese, chopped, optional
¼ cup unsalted roasted sunflower seeds, for garnish
¼ cup dried cherries, for garnish
Gluten Free Maple Dressing
3 tablespoons canola oil or grapeseed oil, divided
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
2 teaspoons coarse-grained Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Place a rimmed baking sheet in oven as it heats.
- Place each beet on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with a little oil and wrap tightly. Toss parsnips with 1 tablespoon oil and 2 pinches salt. Arrange beets on one end of the hot baking sheet and parsnips on the other end. Please in preheated oven and roast 20 minutes. Then add apple slices to parsnips and roast another 10 minutes. Remove parsnips and apples from oven and continue roasting beets until tender, about 20 minutes more. When cool enough to handle, slice beets into ¼-inch wedges. (If desired, rub off the beet skins with a paper towel before slicing.)
- Place lentils, 3 cups water and 2 pinches salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender but not too soft, about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- To assemble salad, divide arugula, cooked lentils, roasted vegetables and apples equally among 6 plates. Scatter gouda cheese over top, if using. Drizzle with sunflower seeds and dried cherries.
- To make Maple Dressing, whisk together 3 tablespoons oil, maple syrup, cider vinegar, shallot, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave 1 minute or until warm. (Alternatively, warm the dressing in a small saucepan on the stovetop.) Drizzle warm dressing over salads and serve.
Yield: 6 servings
Each serving contains 423 calories, 20g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 241mg sodium, 55g carbohydrate, 15g fiber, 23g sugars, 10g protein, 18Est GL.
Each tablespoon of dressing contains 54 calories, 4g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 59mg sodium, 4g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 4g sugars, 0g protein, 2Est GL.
Courtesy of Gluten Free & More
Originally published in 2017, this post is regularly updated.