Does an apple a day keep the doctor away? There is some evidence that may make the old adage true. Apples have been long known as one of the most nutritious foods in our diets. In this article, we will look into what makes an apple, its nutritious value, and how to choose and prepare apples.
Anatomy of an Apple
Fun fact: apples are in the rose family!
One of the common characteristics seen in that family is groupings of five; roses usually have five or multiples of five in their parts, and apples have five chambers for seeds in their cores. Apples are grown on trees and get their start when bees pollenate their flowers. The “ovary” of the flower becomes the apple core, and a structure called the hypanthium (which connects the petals, stamen, and other structures) becomes the flesh of the apple, which we eat (see Image 1).
Whether we receive our apples from the orchard or the grocery store, they all have the same layers: skin, flesh, and a core. There are a few other layers within the flesh and core, but let’s keep things simple.
Technically, the entire apple is edible; although most of us consume just the skin and flesh. For those of you concerned about consuming seeds, don’t worry! The seeds contain a minute amount of amygdalin, which can release cyanide when chewed. This amount is so small, a 154-pound person would have to consume 143 apple seeds to be exposed to a toxic dose of cyanide (at one time). So, don’t fret: you and your loved ones are safe.
Nutrition Information of an Apple
Now that we have covered the parts, let’s talk about what apples are worth to our nutrition. There are several resources that all give different calorie information about apples, and obviously, it varies based on size and type. The variability is not remarkably different between apple types, and when it comes to size, most of the nutrients are in proportion.
Apples are 95% carbohydrate, 3% fat, and 2% protein. They do contain sugar in the form of fructose, which is a simple sugar that is absorbed directly into the blood stream. Simple sugars are the preferred sugars; our bodies process them easily, and they convert into the energy that we need better than other, more complex sugars.
Among other nutrients, the main benefits of eating apples are fiber and antioxidants (including vitamin C). Apples contain a high percentage of both soluble and insoluble fiber. The soluble fiber pectin helps prevent the buildup of cholesterol in the walls of blood vessels, which can prevent atherosclerosis down the line. Insoluble fiber does not absorb water, meaning that it stays in our digestive system into the large intestine, where it can help provide bulk and keep contents moving. There is also some new research that has found that apple polyphenols can have a direct influence on gut bacteria and stimulate the growth of a bacterial family that provide metabolic benefits to the human digestive system. All this to say, there is a good chance that consuming apples will help our bodies process foods through digestion by contributing helpful bacteria.
Several research studies have been done on the antioxidant effects of apples. The two major effects have been seen on the heart and lungs. It has been shown that the antioxidants in apples (and some other fruits and vegetables) help decrease oxidation, which has ties to decreased blood pressure, and risk of type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It is also possible that these antioxidants can help control the release of free radicals from cells in the airways, thus reducing the risk of asthma. Free radicals are “oxidized” substances, which means that they are unstable and can cause structural damage to the cells around them. Antioxidants re-stabilize these free radicals and thereby prevent damage to other cells.
One important antioxidant, vitamin C, has several important functions, including the formation of collagen, absorption of iron, wound healing, and the maintenance of bones and teeth. While a single apple cannot provide all of our recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, it can make a dent!
A quick note: both the flesh and the skin contain all of these nutrients, the skin simply has a higher density. If we compare the volume of flesh to the volume of skin, some claim that the nutrients are about equal based on the larger proportion of flesh, however there are no current studies to prove or disprove this.
The Colors of Apples: Red, Yellow, Green, Pink…
So, apples are good for us; now which apple is the BEST? All of the above! As I stated earlier, there are no significant nutritional differences between different types of apples. They do, however, follow the same rule as most fruits and vegetables: the darker/richer the color, the higher the density of nutrients. But if you’re feeding cranky kiddos or making grandma’s special pie recipe, do not feel like you need to substitute your golden delicious for the purple-est red apple. The best apple is the one that is eaten.
Consuming and Using Apples
Okay, here it is, the part I have been waiting for: COOKING! You can use apples for every meal of the day, and all of the snacks in between! Everything from oatmeal with apple and cinnamon, to granny smith cole slaw, and apple-stuffed pork loin. I love using apples to make my Gluten-Free Apple Crisp (check out the recipe – perfect for those colder fall temperatures).
One of the nice things about apples is that you can use every part of them! Even if you peel apples, the skins and core can be used to make your own apple cider vinegar.
“How do ya like them apples?” -unknown, WWI
An apple a day may not keep the doctor away, but it can sure help. Without a doubt, apples are an amazing fruit and provide many nutritional benefits. I’d love to hear from you: what are your favorite apple-related recipes?
About the author:
Kara Swanson is a certified nutritionist and founder of Life Well Lived. She is married to her best friend and the proud mother of three. Her passion is to make nutrition simple+easy+delicious!