Ingredient of the Month: Apples

apples

(photo: Apples in a Box by Andrew Morrell/Flickr Creative Commons)

From Snow White’s poisonous mistake to Mom’s best pie, apples are very much a part of American culture.

Apples come into season starting in August, depending on the variety. Some favorites like Granny Smith don’t start harvest until November, for instance.  Be conscious of the variety you are sinking your teeth into–the fresher the apple, the more satisfying the crunch (at least in my opinion). Speaking of varieties, my personal favorite apples for cooking with are Granny Smith and Fuji apples, because the Granny Smith holds its shape and the Fuji adds some sweetness. My favorite apple for eating out of hand is the Honeycrisp (the season starts in September and goes through mid October)–they aren’t cheap, but if you are eating them by themselves, it’s a justifiable expense I think.

Now, aside from seasonality, why I am recommending apples to you? They are implicated in improving cholesterol levels, preventing cancers (especially lung cancer in women), and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, asthma, and Type II Diabetes. Not only are they tied to improving risk factors, but they are more effective than other fruits and vegetables at doing this. This is thought to be due to the apple’s high concentration of phytochemicals [1]. Phytochemicals are plant-based compounds that “effect health but are not essential nutrients” [2].

Whatever the source of the health benefits apples confer, it is most concentrated in the apple’s skin. Quercetin is one antioxidant found in apple peels and it is known to downregulate the mutant form of p53 in breast cancer cells–basically, p53 is a tumor-suppressor gene that is sometimes called the “Guardian of the Genome” so this is an important finding. Actually, if you read the paper for source 1–which is surprisingly readable–you’ll see that Quercetin is known to stop a lot of cancers [1].

Of course, the  amount of antioxidants varies between apple varieties. Fuji, Gala, and Red Delicious apples are among the varieties with the highest amount of antioxidants. It is good news that the phytochemicals tend to be relatively stable–studies have shown that apples have nearly the same amount of phytochemicals after harvest and after 200 days of storage [1]. That means that all through the winter (even into spring), we can enjoy the phytochemical powers of apples.

Nutritionally, apples are a good source of vitamin C (one medium apple provides, on average, 14% of the daily recommended value), fiber, and water [3]. Vitamin C is essential for producing collagen and thus for beautiful, healthy skin [4]. Apples just keep sounding better and better, right? So, slice one up and eat it with nut butter for a snack with a balance of protein and fats.

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