I started eating an apple a day last year during my Me Minus 10 weight-loss effort. My breakfast is monotonous but reliable: I slice an apple (usually a Red Delicious) and eat it with some protein-packed peanut butter, and a glass of skim milk on the side. It’s tasty, nutrient-rich and satisfying.
But is that apple a day likely to keep the doctor away?
The federal Dietary Guidelines suggest most people eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit daily; a small apple or half a large apple counts as one cup, as does a cup of 100 percent apple juice or unsweetened applesauce. For optimal nutrition, the guidelines recommend eating a variety of fruits, as each features a different mix of nutrients.
For produce, apples aren’t nutritional powerhouses: A medium-size one provides only modest amounts of the health-boosting nutrients potassium (6 percent of the recommended daily value) and Vitamin C (17 percent).
Another concern is their potential pesticide load. The Environmental Working Group, a D.C.-based environmental watchdog and advocacy organization, moved apples to the top of its list this year of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables most likely to carry high loads of pesticide residue. The group recommends making apples one of the kinds of produce you seek organic versions of when possible. But, says Alex Formuzis, vice president for media relations for the group, the health benefits of eating apples, organic or conventionally grown, outweigh the risks posed by pesticides. If it’s a choice between eating apples and not eating apples, he says, “eat the apples.”
Still, there’s plenty to recommend apples:
1. “The original 100-calorie snack pack.” That’s how Dawn Undurraga, nutritionist for the Environmental Working Group, described apples. A medium one has about 95 calories, no fat and no sodium.
2. Filled with fiber. “The best thing apples have going for them is soluble fiber” in the form of pectin, says Lona Sandon, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. Pectin, like other forms of soluble fiber, can decrease overall cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. A medium apple has four grams of soluble fiber, most of it in the flesh.
3. The peel’s appeal. Apples’ vivid hues come from phytochemicals, plant compounds that act as antioxidants, Sandon explains; most antioxidants are in the peel. Although we don’t know exactly how antioxidants work, they are thought to fight inflammation, cell aging and many chronic diseases. The antioxidant quercetin in the peel is thought to be particularly potent and may fight pancreatic and prostate cancers and help maintain brain health.