You've probably heard the old saying "an apple a day, keeps the doctor away," and may have dismissed it as another archaic old wives' tale. But as scientists are discovering, there may be some truth to it! This popular member of the rose family may help fight cancer and heart disease; protect against sunburn, asthma, and diabetes; and relieve constipation. And a recent study found that eating apples during pregnancy can protect your unborn baby from developing asthma and other lung problems later on in life.
Apples' antioxidant flavonoids may help prevent certain types of cancer. When scientists at University of California at Davis added apple extracts to cultures of human endothelial cells (the cells that line our arteries and are the first defense against cancer), the human cells were protected against the effects of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a compound that triggers cell death and promotes inflammation. The apple extracts actually blocked the signals sent from the tumor that kill cells. The high antioxidant content in apples also helps to eliminate free radicals from the body.
The phenols found in apples may also provide UV-B protection. Studies found that Braeburn apples in particular help protect the skin from sun damage. So eating an apple before going to the beach might be a good way to reduce the risk of sunburn.
Recent studies have discovered apples may have a beneficial affect on lung function in adults and fetuses. One study found that men who ate apples had a lung capacity 138 milliliters greater than those who did not. While another study found that mothers who consumed apples during their pregnancy were less likely to have children who suffer from asthma and wheezing. Scientists believe that the high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory flavonoids, such as quercitin and catechin, are responsible for apples' beneficial affects on lung function, bronchial hypersensitivity and asthma.
Apple season runs from late summer to late fall in the northern hemisphere, although imported apples can be found in stores year-round. Eating whole apples provides the highest nutritional content as much of the fiber is in the peel and juicing drastically reduces polyphenolic phytonutrient concentrations. Organic apples are the best choice because they have not been sprayed with chemicals and coated with wax to preserve them. In addition to favorite recipes such as apple sauce and apple pie, try sautéing apples with pork or vegetables for a tasty main dish, or bake a whole apple in the oven with brown sugar and raisins for a quick dessert.
When choosing apples, look for those with the most vibrant color and that are firm to the touch. Green ones will be on the tart side and are often better for baked desserts while red and yellow varieties tend to be sweeter. Try them all and see which ones you like the best!