Apples are one of the most loved fruits, and with good reason. Among the 2,500 varieties grown in the U.S. we can find crunchy and soft, tart and sweet, red, green, yellow and most anything in between.
From a dietitian's point of view, apples are loaded with health benefits including antioxidants and fiber. Antioxidants occur naturally in most fruits and vegetables and help protect our bodies from inflammation thus reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and some types of cancers.
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A small apple contains just 80 calories -- with no sodium, cholesterol or fat -- and can help prevent obesity and associated conditions like Type 2 diabetes.
So what in an apple makes this fall favorite so unique? Apples contain 4 grams of fiber, making them a great source of both insoluble and soluble fiber. Soluble fiber (pectin) helps prevent cholesterol build up in blood vessels and makes you feel fuller, which is good news if you're watching your weight. Insoluble fiber provides bulk to help prevent constipation.
The antioxidant in apples is called quercetin that has potential positive effects on our immune system and brain health.
A yearlong study conducted on women asked to eat 75 grams of dried apples each day (equivalent to four small raw apples per day) found participants not only experienced a slight weight loss, but also lowered their total cholesterol by 14 percent. The LDL (bad) cholesterol levels decreased and the HDL (good) cholesterol increased.
A Dutch study in 2011 found a 52 percent lower risk of stroke among people who consumed white-fleshed fruits and vegetables like apples. A 9 percent lower risk of stroke was noted for each 25 gram-per-day increase in white fruits and vegetable consumption. An average raw apple is 130 grams.
Apples also are versatile in the kitchen. They can be eaten raw, baked, made into a sauce, dried, or pressed into juice. Some varieties, like Empire, Gala and Red Delicous, are best eaten raw, while others, like Baldwin, Cortland, Jonagold, Jonathan, Northern Spy and Rome Beauty and some are better suited for cooking. Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and McIntosh can do it all.
If you like your apples cooked, peel them and cook them in a microwave. The fiber content of an apple without the skin and microwaved is higher than a raw apple. On the other hand, if you are looking for more vitamin C in your diet, bite into a raw, skin-on apple.
As you plan your meals this fall season, make a point include apples on your menu. The evidence shows great health benefits from this great tasting and versatile food.
Try this recipe: Preparing meals in a crockpot is the way to go when you have busy day and want to come home to dinner. The flavor combination of the whole grain mustard and apples makes for a delicious sweet and savory sauce.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.