Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spotlight Food - Apples...

Though I love almost all fruit, if there was only one fruit I could eat for the rest of my life it would be apples. There are not words enough anywhere in human language that could accurately or fully describe to you just how much I love apples. I have loved and adored them since I was a child, and though some people may consider the apple to be a rather boring fruit I have never, not once in my life, ever gotten tired of it. I eat them with relish, I always have. You know that old saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away?" well I must have taken that message to heart as a child because I ate an apple every day at lunch or for snack growing up. Not a day went by that I didn’t pack one into my backpack to take to school, and that practice has held over well into my adulthood. I bring 1 and sometimes 2 apples to work each day. Some days I can consume up to 3 apples a day in various ways. One on it’s own, one in a smoothie, and one chopped into a salad for instance, sometimes I even enjoy them for dessert. There is just something magical for me about their cool crisp texture, and tart-sweet juicy flavor. I say tart sweet because while I love apples I only love certain kinds of apples, the tart kind.

By now some of you may have wondered why in my recipes I always specify using Granny Smith apples or Pink Lady apples, and there are two reasons for this. One is that they are my absolute favorite and very rarely do I ever buy any other kind of apple. Secondly they are lower in sugar then other apples, Granny Smith in particular contains less sugar then any other apple, which makes it’s glycemic index lower, and it’s overall glycemic load less of a burden if that’s a concern for you. In short Granny Smith are the healthiest apple to eat on a regular basis, and since I eat them very regularly indeed it’s a good thing for me.

As far as other apples are concerned I absolutely despise red, and golden delicious. I’m not too fond of honey crisp either. However I don’t mind Macintosh, and Gala - both of which remind me greatly of childhood - or Fuji but still they can’t compare to the Smith and the Lady. So I rarely buy them, and eat them rather rarely, and usually only when they’re offered to me by others. My husband on the other hand prefers Gala apples above all others.

Another thing I love about apples is that they’re perfect anytime of year. They’re so universal and can be used in so many ways. They’re perfect to bake into pies in the fall, perfect to poach for dessert in winter, they’re great for eating on their own, or tossing into salads during any season, and they are always, always available no matter what grocery store or market you happen to walk into.

The apple in my opinion is natures most perfect food, but don’t just take my word for it, read on!


Did you know that there are over 7,500 known cultivars of apples available to humans? And that China, The United States, Iran, Turkey and Russia are the top five producers of apples worldwide? Did you also know that the apple has 57,000 genes (that’s 27,000 more then the human genome!!) which is the highest number of any plant genome studied to date? The complete genome of the apple was decoded by an Italian led consortium in 2010, proving that Malus sieversii was in fact the wild ancestor to the domestic apple, an issue that had been long debated within the scientific community, and the interest surrounding apples doesn’t stop there.

The apple is the pomaceous fruit of the apple tree (Malus domestica) a member of the rose family. It originates from Western Asia and is one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits. They have been grown for thousands of years in both Asia and Europe. Alexander the Great is credited with finding dwarfed apples in Kazakhstan in 328 BCE; which he brought back to Macedonia. For millennia the apple has been an important food source in Asia, Europe, Argentina and the United States upon arrival of the Europeans. It was in the 17th century that apples were brought to the New World by colonists, and it’s said that the first apple orchard on the North American continent appeared near Boston in 1625. While the apple has been the subject of many interesting stories throughout history, it also features quite prominently in the mythologies of many diverse cultures around the world.

For example in Norse mythology the goddess Iounn is credited in the 13th century Prose Edda with giving apples to the gods that in turn gave them eternal youthfulness. The apple is mentioned in many Greek Myths from Heracles having to pick the golden apples from the Tree of Life, to the goddess of discord Eris throwing an apple in anger into the wedding party of Peleus and Thetis after being excluded, to inadvertently causing the Trojan War. The apple was also considered to be sacred to the goddess Aphrodite, but that’s not all. The apple is notoriously famous in Christian Mythology, thanks almost entirely to the story of Adam and Eve. Even though the ‘forbidden fruit’ in question, is never identified in the book of Genesis, the apple has become synonymous with the tale. Most likely due to the fact that renaissance painters had a habit of adding elements of Greek Mythology into their biblical depictions. In this case the unnamed fruit of Eden became an apple, and as a result of popular Christian tradition the apple became a symbol of knowledge, immortality, temptation, sex, seduction, the fall of man into sin, and even sin itself.

How one little fruit could become the inspiration for such wild speculation and interpretation, as well as the heated subject of thousands upon thousands of fanciful myths is beyond me, but there is plenty of evidence for why they should regularly be included into a healthful diet.

Health Benefits

No area of apple research has been more concentrated then the study of apple polyphenols. As it turns out the balance of phytonutrients in apples is a lot more unique then previously suspected. The flavonoid quercetin is the primary phytonutrient found in apples and is more concentrated in the skin than in the pulp. Kaempferol and myricetin are also important apple flavonoids, and chlorogenic acid is the apple’s primary phenolic acid which is found both in the skin and the pulp. In terms of catechin polyphenols, epicatechin is the primary nutrient found in apples, while the flavonoid phloridzin accounts for 98% of the flavonoids found in apple seeds. (However Apple Seeds are mildly poisonous, and while they shouldn’t post a threat to humans in small quantities they are a deterrent for birds and other small creatures) The total polyphenol content of an apple ranges from 1-7grams/kilogram of fresh pulp, however the ratio increases in the skin, which underscores the special value of apple skins in deriving optimal polyphenol benefits from the fruit.

There’s a very interesting reason for why apples have such a diverse amount of polyphenols as recent research shows that polyphenols are the apples favorite mechanism used to protect themselves against UV-B radiation. The cells within the skin of the apple that conduct photosynthesis are particularly sensitive to UV-B light from the sun. However many of the polyphenols in the skin can absorb UV-B light, and therefore prevent the UV-B from damaging the photosynthetic cells within the apple skin. Basically polyphenols act as the apples own natural sun block, how cool Is that?

Another interesting fact about the polyphenol content of apples relates directly to why apples brown so quickly/easily when sliced open or bruised. Inside the cells of both the apple skin and the pulp are enzymes called polyphenol oxidases. When the cells of an apple are physically damaged these polyphenol oxidases begin oxidizing, which results in the browning of the damaged portion. Subsequently not only dose the apples turn brown but it also begin releasing large amounts of ethylene gas that can pose a risk to other undamaged apples. This phenomenon is what coined the phrase "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch." So it’s good to remember to be gentle when handling apples, as well as to remove any bruised apples from a bunch before storing in bulk, to help protect the apples polyphenol benefits, and prevent the release of this ethylene gas.

Apples are also quite high in antioxidant activity as most of the polyphenols they contain also function as antioxidants. Particularly strong is the apples ability to decrease oxidation of cell membrane fats, which is especially important for our cardiovascular system. Since oxidation of fat in the membranes of the cells that line our blood vessels is a primary risk factor for atherosclerosis. (Clogged Arteries) as well as other cardiovascular problems. Studies have shown that total cholesterol, and LDL-Cholesterol are both decreased through regular intake of apples. In addition to protecting the oxidation of fat in the blood vessels, they also help prevent oxidation of the fats found in the bloodstream. (Triglycerides) Decreased lipid preoxidation is a key factor in lowering risk of many chronic heart problems. Research also shows that the quercetin content of apples also provides our cardiovascular system with anti-inflammatory benefits. The studies show that our blood levels of C-reactive protein are reduced with regular consumption of apples which leads researchers to believe that the quercetin in apples is the primary reason for the drop.

New research on apples also shows their potential in regulating blood sugar. Studies show that the polyphenols in apples are capable of influencing our digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, and the overall impact of these changes improves regulation of our blood sugar. The impact of apples on our carbohydrate processing includes slowing down carbohydrate digestion. Quercetin as well as other flavonoids found in apples act to inhibit carbohydrate-digesting enzymes like alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase. When these enzymes are inhibited carbohydrates are broken down less readily into simple sugars, which places less of a load on our bloodstream. Polyphenols in apples also work to lower the rate of glucose absorption from our digestive tract, which again in turn lessen’s the sugar load on our bloodstream. Since getting the sugar our of our bloodstream often requires the help of insulin which is produced by the beta cells of our pancreas; by telling the beta cells of the pancreas to produce more insulin, the polyphenols found in apples can help us clear more sugar from our blood and keep our blood sugar levels in better balance. In order for sugar to leave our bloodstream and enter our cells (particularly the muscle cells), insulin receptors on those cells must bind together with the insulin hormones and create cell changes that will allow sugar to pass through the cell membrane and into the cell itself. (Muscle cells for example continuously need this uptake of sugar from the bloodstream in order to function properly) Polyphenols in apples help to activate the muscle cell insulin receptors, and in this way, they help facilitate passage of sugar from our bloodstream up into our cells, which results in better blood sugar regulation in our body.

Numerous studies have also researched the correlation between vegetable/fruit intake and a decreased risk of lung cancer, and while these studies show an impressive ability of overall fruit/vegetable intake to lower lung cancer risk very few individual fruits have been shown to be protective against lung cancer - except apples! Researchers aren’t yet certain why apples prove to be so beneficial at reducing lung cancer risk, though their unique blend of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits certainly play a role. However these things alone don’t fully explain why apples have been such a standout in this area of health, future research will hopefully shed some more light here. Some preliminary results also suggest that apples may have an effect on reducing the risk of colon, prostate and breast cancers as well.

Apples are also surprising researchers because of their anti-asthma benefits. Though further research needs to be conducted multiple studies have already shown that regular apple intake is associated with a decreased risk of asthma. Like it’s anti-cancer benefits it’s thought that apples anti-asthma benefits are related to their blend of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, however it’s suspected that there is another unique component of the fruit at play here, which we do not yet understand.

Preliminary health benefits of apples have also been established for several age-related health problems, including macular degeneration of the eye, and neurodegenerative problems like Alzheimer’s. in animal studies prevention of bone loss has also been an area of investigation, particularly related to the phoridizin content of apples.

Interestingly research shows that apple juice concentrate has been found to increase the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in mice, providing a potential mechanism for the prevention of the decline in cognitive performance that accompanies dietary and genetic deficiencies in aging. Other studies have shown an alleviation of oxidative damage and cognitive decline in mice after administering apple juice. Subsequently researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that fruit flies who were fed and apple extract lived 10% longer then other flies who were fed a normal diet.

Scientists have also recently shown that the important health benefits of apples may stem from their impact on bacteria in the digestive tract. In studies on laboratory animals, intake of apple is known to significantly alter the amounts of two bacteria (Clostridiales and Bacteriodes) in the large intestine. As a result of these bacterial changes metabolism in the large intestine is also changed, and many of these changes appear to provide health benefits. An example is that due to bacterial changes in the large intestine, there appears to be more fuel available in the large intestine cells (in the form of butyric acid) after apple is consumed.

So what should you take away from all this? The fact that there may very well be some truth to that old saying "An Apple a day keeps the doctor away"


In all honesty my absolute favorite way to eat apples is raw, and by themselves. There’s nothing better or more satisfying then taking a big bite out of a juicy, delicious apples, and this is how I eat them the most. However, I also enjoy them in smoothies, where they’re great at adding a bit of sweet and a hint of tart. I love them sliced thin or chopped in salads. They’re great blended into a salad dressing for sweetness rather then using sugar. They’re great baked, or poached, wonderful dried, fantastic in pies, cakes, cobblers, crumbles, and tarts. Perfect for topping oatmeal or cereal and this is going to sound weird but they’re really great chopped and sprinkled overtop of vegan cream of celery root soup. There are a lot of fun and creative ways one can eat apples, so don’t be afraid to try out a few new recipes. Enjoy apples in all their forms and relish the fact that you’re doing something good for your health.

Happy and Healthy Eating to you!


  1. WOW! Who thought there was so much to know about the apple! I used to eat a lot of them, but the past few years I have eaten way fewer, I have several crowns on my teeth , weak teeth ( genetics ). I am so afraid of breaking fillings and popping off a crown! But after reading your blog I now plan to throw them in the blender and enjoy their health benefits once again! Thanks!! S.T.

  2. Also, the story of Johnny Appleseed here in the States. ;)
    Lots of cool info! Man, I know I eat a lot of apples but I need to eat more. haha I can't wait for it to get a bit warmer & I can drink smoothies w/ apples in them again. Thanks for the history & info! - M