APPLE SEASON IS HERE! MAKE THE MOST OF IT.
Apple season is here when farms and orchards open their doors and invite the public to “pick-your-own”. Depending on the location, October is the peak season for many favorite apple varieties. For example, Honey Crisp, Red and Yellow Delicious, Rome, and Stayman apples are ready for picking in the Mid-Atlantic. In the northeast, it’s Jonagold, Cortland, and Empire varieties. And in the Pacific Northwest, October is the prime season for Fuji, Braeburn, and Pink Lady apples.
Apples can be incorporated into our diets in a multitude of ways. They can be made into pies, baked into bread, added to salads, blended into smoothies, and of course, eaten raw. They are easy to store and make an easy grab-and-go snack. In addition, apples provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other healthful compounds.
APPLE NUTRITION: VITAMINS, MINERALS, AND FIBER
Apples are an excellent source of:
-Folate: a B vitamin responsible for the production of red and white blood cells in the bone marrow.
-Vitamin C: a vitamin important for cell growth and repair, wound healing, and maintaining a healthy immune system.
-Potassium: an important mineral for cell function and regulating heartbeat.
-Calcium: is necessary for building and maintaining strong bones and helping our heart, muscles, and nerves to function properly.
-Magnesium: is important for regulating blood pressure, and helping with muscle and nerve function.
Apples are also high in fiber, providing about 5 grams in a medium-sized apple. They are low in calories, sodium, and cholesterol and provide about 19 grams of natural sugar in a medium apple.
OTHER HEALTHFUL COMPOUNDS
Apples are a significant source of substances called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are non-nutrient plant compounds that may help in protecting against chronic disease. They act to shield cells from oxidative stress and inflammatory responses caused by the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals are the product of natural and environmental processes that when risen to high levels, can lead to cell damage, and contribute to diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
Apples are also a significant source of flavonoids, a type of phytochemical with antioxidant properties. Flavonoids are concentrated in the skin of apples, and those with the darkest, or reddest color have the highest concentration. Antioxidants also help reduce the effects of free radicals.
PECTINPectin is a gel-like substance found in apples and is a significant source of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is broken down by bacteria in the gut and helps to maintain a healthy digestive system.
APPLES MAY PLAY A ROLE IN DISEASE PREVENTION
The healthful properties of phytochemicals in apples have been linked to lowering the risk of heart disease. A survey of 40,000 women by The Women’s Health Study, found apple intake was associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and related events. Other studies looked at HDL levels. Results found participants who consumed apples showed significantly increased HDL levels compared to a control group. Additionally, the soluble fiber found in pectin may aid in reducing total cholesterol.
Apple consumption may also play a role in reducing blood sugar levels and reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes. The antioxidant property of the phytochemicals in apples is suggested to improve insulin sensitivity and thereby reduce elevations in blood sugar.
In a study of 98 participants known to have type 2 diabetes, those who agreed ate one apple per day. The others in the group served as the control. After 4 weeks, those who consumed the apples saw a significant decrease in FBS as compared to the control group.
In a review of 3 long-term studies, it was found that higher consumption of whole apples, was linked to a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The antidiabetic actions were linked to phytochemicals and improved insulin sensitivity.
Several studies have also linked apple consumption with a reduction in some cancers. The American Institute for Cancer Research cites a study that finds a relationship between the consumption of apples and a lower risk of some types of breast cancer. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of apples are thought to be responsible for inhibiting cancer cell and tumor growth.
PRECAUTIONS WHEN EATING APPLES
Apples are healthy foods and safe to eat, however, caution should be taken when it comes to the seeds. Apple seeds contain a substance called amygdalin, a compound of cyanide and sugar. When coming into contact with our digestive systems, the compound degrades into hydrogen cyanide which is poisonous and in large amounts can be lethal. Amygdalin only degrades when the seeds are chewed or ground. Therefore, if swallowed whole, the seeds pass through our digestive system without harm. Seeds should be removed before processing into smoothies or juice.
Those who are sensitive to birch pollen or the Rosaceae family may experience an apple allergy. Foods in the Rosaceae family include apples, almonds, apricots, peaches, and cherries. Allergy symptoms can vary between individuals and include:
-swollen lips and eyelids,
-itchy sensations in the mouth or throat,
-skin rash or hives
For most, the symptoms are mild and fade quickly. In severe instances, anaphylaxis can occur. This is a serious and sudden-onset of symptoms that require emergency medical attention and can be life-threatening.
APPLE SUPPLEMENTS…FACT OR FICTION?
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
Apple cider vinegar is made from the fermented juice of crushed apples. It is commonly used in recipes and salad dressings and has been very popular for detox diets and weight loss since the 1970s. Some claim it helps lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar, but there is little scientific evidence to support this. Apple cider vinegar contains B vitamins and vitamin C and is largely acetic acid.
Caution should be used when consuming apple cider vinegar, as there is no recommended dose and it may possibly be unsafe when taken in large quantities. Additionally, apple cider vinegar has been found to lower potassium levels which may interact with some medications and diuretics. It is best to check with your health care provider before starting.
APPLE PECTIN SUPPLEMENTS
Pectin’s natural role as a soluble fiber may help to improve gut function and be useful in treating diarrhea or constipation. Some studies have found apple pectin to aid in preventing or treating other conditions such as certain cancers, diabetes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Ulcerative Colitis. Little conclusive evidence is available to support such claims, however, and more research is needed in these areas.
Supplements aren’t strictly regulated, and guidelines for a safe dosage of apple pectin have not been established. While it is considered safe, apple pectin may cause side effects such as stomach aches or gas. Pectin supplements may also interfere with the absorption of certain medications including some statins and antibiotics. Checking with a health care provider before starting any supplement is recommended.
October brings the fall season and the best time to enjoy fresh, crisp apples. Adding apples to our diet provides us with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Apples also contain other healthy compounds such as phytochemicals, flavonoids, and pectin that may improve health and play a role in disease prevention.
There are some precautions to take, however, when it comes to apples. Be aware of the possibility of an apple allergy and learn the signs and symptoms to watch for. Don’t eat or chew on the seeds, as these could be harmful and lead to serious illness.
Products such as apple pectin supplements and apple cider vinegar have not been widely studied for their health benefits and should be used with caution. Checking with a health care provider before starting any supplement is recommended.
Enjoy apples this season as snacks, or in your favorite recipes. They’re healthy and delicious and it may very well be true that an apple a day keeps the doctor away!