I grew up near an apple orchard, so apples always remind me of home, as well as fall, my favorite time of year. But apples have also been adopted by nutritionists around the globe as a symbol of nourishment and health, and as more and more research indicates, apples are indeed a well-chosen wellness icon.
Here are six benefits of making them a staple in your diet, along with easy, delicious ways to enjoy them.
They may reduce cholesterol
A recent study from Florida State University tracked a group of women who volunteered to add two and a half ounces of dried apples to their diets every daily for a year. The womenâs blood workups revealed a dramatic reduction in âbadâ LDL cholesterolâ23%, far beyond the researchersâ expectationsâas well as a 4% boost in âgoodâ HDL cholesterol. The apple eaters also experienced a reduction in markers for inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and disease, and they lost an average of three pounds.
Eat up: For an easy and satisfying snack you can take on the go, fill celery sticks with a mixture of minced dried apples and apple pie spice, folded into almond butter.
They can help with weight control
You may have seen headlines recently about a study concluding that natural compounds in apples, especially Granny Smith, promote the growth of good digestive bacteria linked to weight control. Fascinating research, but apples also aid weight control due to their rich fiber content. A medium apple packs 5 grams of fiber, 20% of the minimum daily target. Research has shown that every gram of fiber we eat essentially cancels out about seven calories, by binding to calories and preventing them from being absorbed. That may be why another study from Brazil found that over a six month period, each additional gram of fiber dieters consumed resulted in an extra quarter pound of weight loss.
Eat up: For a fiber-filled way to start your day, chop an apple, skin on, and whip it into a smoothie, along with 6 ounces of unsweetened coconut milk, a tablespoon of coconut butter, a scoop of protein powder (pea protein is my favorite), a dash of apple pie spice, and a handful of ice.
RELATED: 20 Best Foods for Fiber
They can regulate blood sugar
Since apples contain naturally occurring sugar, it may seem counterintuitive that they would help reduce blood sugar levels, but thatâs exactly what researchers have found. Scientists say a key antioxidant in apples blocks the activity of an enzyme responsible for breaking starch into simple sugar. That means fewer simple sugars are absorbed from the digestive system into the blood stream, which results in a lower blood sugar level and lower corresponding insulin response.
Eat up: To take advantage of the effects, reach for apples as a dessert alternative. Whisk together a tablespoon of water, teaspoon of organic maple syrup, and half teaspoon of apple pie spice. Drizzle mixture over a small cored apple. Bake in a preheated oven at 350Â° F in a small glass container with a tablespoon of water added for about 45 minutes or until apple is tender when pierced with a fork.
They could aid muscle development
While the research is preliminary, a few animal studies have found that a natural substance in apple peels called ursolic acid helped mice gain muscle mass. In one study, scientists gave ursolic acid to one group of junk-food-fed mice, but not another. The supplemented rodents gained muscle, put on less fat than their unsupplemented counterparts, and their blood sugar level remained close to normal. While simply eating whole apples may not have the same effect, the research is intriguing, and applesâ numerous additional benefits make them a worthy fitness food.
Eat up: Try incorporating apples into savory meals. For example, add a minced apple to a veggie stir fry, cabbage-based slaw, or entrÃ©e salad. If youâre a burger fan, add moisture and nutrients by folding shredded apple to your patties, along with a little Dijon and fresh or dried herbs.
They can improve lung health
Several studies have tied eating apples (with the skin) to better lung health, as well as a lower risk of respiratory illnesses, including asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. One study even found that apples helped reduce the risk of asthma more than other fruits and veggies combined. Another found that even after controlling for other factors, people who ate two to five apples a week had a 32% lower risk of asthma than those who ate them less often.
Eat up: One of my favorite ways to enjoy an apple, including the skin, is to chop, toss with a teaspoon of lemon juice, tablespoon of water, and dash of apple pie spice, sautÃ© on the stovetop until soft, then top with a âcrumbleâ made from a quarter cup of rolled oats into two tablespoons of almond butter. Itâs like a healthy version of apple cobbler.
RELATED: 25 Amazing Apple Recipes
They could help you live longer
A recent study in fruit flies concluded that apple consumption extended the lives of the insects by 10% and preserved their ability to remain active. If youâre thinking, "Fruit fliesâwhat the heck does that have to do with my health?â you should know that despite the lack of resemblance, fruit flies are often used as a stand-in for humans in nutrition research, because of their genetically similarities, particularly disease vulnerability. Youâve heard the old adage, âAn apple a day keeps the doctor awayââperhaps one savvy way to protect your health is to simply pick up a fresh apple and bite right in!
Cynthia SassÂ is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with masterâs degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen onÂ national TV, sheâs Healthâs contributing nutrition editor, and privately counselsÂ clientsÂ in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller isÂ S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia onÂ Facebook,Â TwitterÂ andÂ Pinterest.