Fall is on its way bringing colder weather and beautiful colours. And while I enjoy the change of seasons, what I really look forward to is the arrival of Ontario apples. Harvested from September to November, apples make a delicious and healthy snack food. And from all the recent data it appears that the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” has some merit after all.
Apples are a popular and tasty fruit and so it is no wonder that they are in one of the top five fruit crops worldwide along with watermelon, bananas, oranges and grapes. In Ontario there are about 20 varieties including McIntosh, Braeburn, and golden delicious, which all can be eaten raw or cooked. Other varieties include gala, Spartan, and pink lady, best eaten fresh.
Apples provide a wallop of enzymes, vitamins and minerals with each bite. They contain ample potassium and are a source of vitamin C which is a powerful anti-oxidant. Vitamin C also helps to provide needed immunity over the winter months. And if that weren’t enough apples also contain vitamin A and some B vitamins as well.
They are also a great source of fibre. A medium apple on average contains about four grams of fibre including pectin. This soluble fibre become gelatinous when ingested which helps to lower cholesterol levels and assist with digestive health. Most importantly, the fibre in apples helps to create satiety and curb the appetite, all while balancing blood sugar levels.
The many health benefits of apples are not just provided from vitamins and minerals but also from phytonutrients such as flavonoids. Apples contain a few of these beneficial compounds including quercetin. This antioxidant offers many health benefits including relief of allergies, increased heart health, and the ability to boost immunity. Apples also provide carotenoids such as beta-carotene that have cancer fighting components and can help to maintain eye health as well.
Many of these amazing polyphenol chemicals are found in greater concentrations in the coloured pigment of the apple skin. In fact, scientists have discovered there is two to three times more flavonoid activity in the skin than the pulp. Also, darker red apples such as red delicious appear to offer more benefits than some paler varieties.
But unfortunately many apples contain pesticides on the peel. According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2013 Dirty Dozen Shopper’s Guide, apples rank as one of the 12 most heavily sprayed crops. In Ontario many conventional apple farmers spray their crops with organophosphates, which are known to be toxic to the nervous and endocrine systems. So to avoid chemical toxin exposure it is best to buy organic apples when possible.
Apples can be added into the diet in many ways. Easily transported, they can be eaten on the go, chopped, shredded or diced into cereals or salads, blended into smoothies, dried for an afternoon snack or topped onto a dessert for a treat.
The best way to obtain all the vitamins, enzymes and phytochemicals from the apple is to eat it raw, but on a cold winter morning a bowl of cooked spicy apples is sure to satisfy. I have adapted an apple spice bake recipe from fellow nutritionist Eva Cabaca that is simple and easy to make for a nutritious breakfast.
7 medium unpeeled apples (any variety although McIntosh work well), diced
5 tablespoons melted coconut oil
1 ½ cups of large flake rolled oats (not instant)
2 tablespoons of coconut sugar (if needed)
1 tbsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of cloves
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup ground flax
1/2 cup of chopped nuts such as pecans, walnuts or almonds
Preheat oven to 350°F. Quarter and core the unpeeled apples and dice into small pieces. Add to a mixing bowl. Mix in the oil, flax and oats. Add sugar (if using any), spices, and nuts. Combine well and bake in a medium glass casserole dish covered for about 45-55 minutes or until apples are soft. Super healthy toppers include quinoa flakes, organic raisins, goji berries, mulberries, fresh berries, apricots, juice-sweetened cranberries, or chia, sunflower, pumpkin, or hemp seeds. The dish can be stored in the fridge for a few days – if it stays uneaten that long – and will provide a satisfying morning meal or after-school snack for the family.
Sheila Ream, CNP is a certified nutritionist in the Beach ~ firstname.lastname@example.org