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An Apple a Day

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Change is in the air. The nights are cooler, daylight hours shorter, and air crisper. The autumn season is upon us and with it, a bountiful harvest of apples. New York is fortunate to be the number two producer of apples in the country. According to the NY State Apple Growers Association, New York State averages 29.5 million bushels of production annually. Americans eat more apples per capita than any other fruit (fresh and processed combined). In 2012-13, Americans ate an average of 15.9 pounds of fresh apples, and 28.4 pounds of processed apples (juice, cider, sauce, etc.), for a combined total of 44.3 pounds. That's a lot of apples! So as I bought a peck of apples at my local farmers market yesterday, I wondered…Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away?

In turns out, apples really do provide significant benefits as part of a balanced, healthy diet. In 2011, California State University conducted a comprehensive review of research to date about apples and their relationship to human health. Overall, they found that research consistently suggests that apples are linked to a reduced risk of several forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and asthma. In addition, apples and apple products such as cider, unfiltered juice, and applesauce, may also have beneficial outcomes related to Alzheimer's disease, cognitive decline of normal aging, diabetes, weight management, bone health, and gastrointestinal protection. Furthermore, a 2015 Nutrition Journal article indicated that apple consumption is associated with a lower prevalence of obesity in children. So what makes the humble apple so special? While the link between diet and disease is complicated, the simple answer is apples contain lots of fiber and antioxidants.

One good size apple contains 4.5 grams of fiber. As a comparison, one cup of plain bran flakes contains 5.0 grams. Individuals should ingest about 25-30 grams of fiber per day, which means one apple provides 20% of the recommended fiber per day. This soluble fiber helps our intestinal tract operate properly and aids in lowering bad cholesterol. In addition, apple fiber slows the release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, providing energy over time without blood sugar spikes. Apples are also a great source of antioxidants, those naturally occurring chemicals in fruits and veggies that reduce inflammation in our system and ward off cancer producing cells. The pectin in apples is also a prebiotic, providing food for friendly gut bacteria which again helps regulate our intestinal system.

What apples don't have is equally important. They don't have a lot of calories, a baseball size apple is about 80 calories and contains no fat. Compare that to a lunch size bag of potato chips which has 160 calories and 10 grams of fat. Apples are definitely the better deal! Apples also contain no additives, preservatives, extra sugar, or sodium. So how can you include more apples and apple products into your healthy diet? The simplest way is to buy a quantity, pour them into your refrigerator fruit bin, and eat one daily as a snack. At this time of year, however, with plentiful, fresh crisp delicious varieties available, consider adding apples the following ways:

1) Make homemade applesauce - if you make it yourself, you can control the sugar amount. Many varieties are so sweet, that little to no sugar is required for this tasty side dish.

2) Add grated or diced apples to muffins and cakes.

3) Slice apples into your standard lettuce salad or make the classic apple and walnut salad, substituting some of the mayonnaise with plain yogurt.

4) Bake apples with walnuts and dried cranberries then top it with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey for a yummy treat.

5) Cook shredded red cabbage and apples together as a side dish for chicken or pork.

6) Enjoy apple cider while in season. Research shows apple cider is healthier than clear apple juice because it contains more fiber.

7) Sauté apple slices with cinnamon to top waffles or pancakes.

8) Make or buy baked apple chips for an easy grab and go snack.

9) And really who can resist, good old fashioned apple pie or cobbler!

Research will continue to look at the apple and its beneficial properties. In the meantime, experts agree that including apples into your diet on a regular basis has the potential to be powerful in the prevention of several chronic diseases. And the good news is that apples are one delicious prescription! Until next week, enjoy the season and the harvest.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.

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