When Eve offered Adam an apple, she was introducing more than just temptation. She was handing him a nutritious, low calorie snack that was high in vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. No wonder he found it impossible to resist.
As well as getting Adam and Eve evicted from the Garden of Eden, the apple has been associated with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and the Isle of Apples, a mythical Celtic kingdom of the sun, free from old age, sickness, and sorrow.
The apple is also the only fruit with its own folk hero. In the United States, John Chapman, alias Johnny Appleseed, plunked a cooking pot on his head and walked the Ohio Valley for close to fifty years, planting apple seeds everywhere he went. In those days, the apple was valued for its juice, which was drunk au naturel, or fermented into vinegar, hand cider (wine), or applejack (brandy).
Today we know that a medium-sized apple is 84 percent water, and contains approximately 80 calories, 165 ml of potassium, and 1.5 ml of sodium. That is less sodium than is found in a stalk of celery, a carrot, or even a glass of ordinary tap water. The average apple also contains 5.5 mg of vitamin C and is a good source of calcium and vitamin A. Dentists have long recommended the fruit as a wholesome snack that does not contribute to plaque formation on teeth.
Apples are a natural source of fiber containing more of this all-important bulk (4 gm), than a cup of 40 percent bran or granola cereal. And pectin, the primary fiber present in apples, does not reduce the absorption of iron and other minerals, as wheat fibers have been shown to do. Pectin also absorbs more water and remains in the stomach longer than other fibers. In addition to its constipation-preventing properties, the apple creates a sensation of fullness, making it an excellent low-calorie addition to the diet Also, a high fiber diet may have a significant influence on the prevention of certain types of cancer. While it has not been confirmed that an apple a day may reduce the risk of bowel or colon cancer, a major goal in dietary cancer prevention is to reduce fat, and pectin does do this.
Pectin has also been shown to limit the amount of cholesterol the body absorbs. Including the peel, the average apple contains approximately 850 mg of pectin. Studies show that 500 mg of pectin per day, taken over several days, is related to reductions in cholesterol. One theory is that pectin may trap cholesterol before the body absorbs it, thereby reducing cholesterol with no harmful side effects.
Research at the University of Toronto shows that fructose, the natural sugar of apples, though almost twice as sweet as table sugar, causes blood-sugar levels to rise slowly and stay up longer than with other sugars. This gradual rise helps to maintain energy and may prevent a hypoglycemic reaction. Studies by Dr. David Jenkins and Dr. J.W. Anderson, on noninsulin-dependent diabetics (a majority of the diabetic population), indicate that adding apple to a high fiber diet produces a smoother blood-glucose response curve than is otherwise experienced.
Apples are unique in other ways also. Each fruit possesses approximately 10 seeds, with each seed producing a different kind of apple. Little wonder that there are over 3000 varieties, with some dating from the 1700s and 1800s.
Consumers tend to purchase their apples based on crispness, color, juiciness, and size. Sweet and tart apples possess the same amount of calories, with a small-to-medium apple usually providing more flavor than a large apple. The peel and area just underneath contain the most vitamins, but this is also the collection site for pesticide residue. Sprayed apples need to be washed well, with organic produce being the optimum choice.
Traditionally, fall was the time of year to purchase apples, but with the advent of refrigeration and controlled atmosphere storage, the fruit is available year round. Firm varieties such as Cortland, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith are good for baking; crisp apples like Red Delicious, McIntosh, and Winesap make good eating apples; and Beacon, Newton, and Rambos make tasty applesauce.
Apples keep best in a cool place with good air circulation; a root cellar or the refrigerator are ideal. When stored in a refrigerator, apples should be kept in a separate bin, as they produce a ripening hormone that can cause other fruits and vegetables to over ripen.
Rich in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C and low in calories, apples have a lot going for them. So, next time you reach for a snack, take some old English advice, “Ate an apfel avore gwain to bed. Make the doctor beg his bread.”
Reprinted from New Realities – January/February 1991