You've heard the saying: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away". Is it true?
It may well be. There was a similar old Welch proverb makes a similar point - "An apple on going to bed makes the doctor beg for his bread" (first recorded in 1866). Now mounting research supports the idea.
First, let's look at the general nutritional value of apples.
A typical apple has about 80 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrate, 5 grams of fiber, 0 grams of fat and 0 grams of protein. While the potassium level is relatively low at 170 mg., the sodium level is zero, so the potassium - sodium ration is favorable.
Apples have a relatively low (moderate) glycemic index, meaning eating an apple doesn't shoot your blood sugar sky high.
All of this means that an apple is a good, low-fat source of carbohydrates. But the real benefit may be in the large number of natural compounds contained in apples.
Phytonutrients simply means nutrients derived from plants and fruits. A continual stream of studies demonstrates the value of these nutrients in maintaining health and preventing disease. This research has led to the recommendations for increasing fruits and vegetables in our diets.
Apples are a good source of many of the most effective compounds identified by this research. Flavenoids, phenols and carotenoids are all found in apples.
These plant-based nutrients have been associated with reduced risks of prostate and colon cancer. Flavenoids may reduce the risks of lung cancer.
The fiber and pectin in apples offer another benefit. These lower cholesterol and improve digestion.
In addition, the fiber slows the absorption of the sugars in apples, so apples have a relatively minor effect on blood sugar. It also means that eating an apple satisfies hungry for a longer time. This makes them an excellent candidate for a snack. An apple is especially helpful at controlling hunger if you eat it with a source of healthy fat, like a few almonds, and a glass of water.
However, not all is perfect.
The Problem With Apples
The possible presence of pesticide residual plagues apples. Although integrative pest management techniques reduce the amount of pesticide residual, apples still rank among the top ten fruits likely to have some pesticide in them when they go to market.
As you might expect, the food industry insists that the levels of pesticides present in apples is safe. Despite this reassurance, most of us would prefer to avoid pesticides as a regular part of our diet.
There are several ways to deal with this.
The obvious one is to buy organic apples. The downsides of this approach are availability and price. But if you can find them and afford them, buying organic apples makes the most sense.
Apples (and most fruits and vegetables) from the US typically have lower pesticide residuals than those imported from other countries. Buying US apples is a second level choice.
Most of any pesticide will be on the peel, so peeling the fruit reduces the amount of pesticide consumed. However, many of the phytonutrients reside in the peel as well, so health benefits may be reduced.
Washing apples is a common-sense precaution. Unfortunately, there is little reliable information about just how much good this does.
If nothing else, rinsing with water will reduce surface grime. It's unclear that this reduces pesticide levels.
Many people wash their fruit with a dilute dish detergent or bleach solution. There is little reliable evidence to show this is effective, and most official food authorities don't recommend the practice because neither dish soap nor bleach is approved for human consumption. Do this only at your own discretion.
Commercial food washes are available, but the strongest claims for their benefit come from the manufactures themselves.
Many people use dilute vinegar as a non-toxic wash. An informal study suggests this reduces the bacteria count on food, but didn't look at the effect on pesticides. This is probably safe, so try it if you wish. Either use one part vinegar and four parts water as a soak, or put vinegar in a spray bottle and spray on full strength. Either way, rinse well.
Pesticide concerns aside, apples are a great source of nutrition. They're familiar to everyone and definitely qualify as part of a healthy diet. Aim for nine or so servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and make an apple one of them.
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