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Presence of polyphenols move apples up the healthy scale

The history of apples is long and rich, filled with both myth and fact. Some say it goes back to the Garden of Eden, where the apple tempted Adam and Eve to commit the first sin. While there is no scriptural record of the apple being the “forbidden fruit,” it has certainly remained through the years as an irresistible fruit—a favourite around the world for eating out-of-hand and for many other culinary purposes. While gram for gram apples are not as packed with nutrients as some other fruits and vegetables are, recent studies have shown they contain some unique benefits, particularly in the area of cardiovascular health that has considerably elevated their nutritional status.

While apples are known as crisp delicious fruits which flood the markets in fall, adding beautiful red, green and gold colours to the produce section, the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” has never rung quite true—until now. Over the last decade, scientists have pinpointed apples as containing a range of polyphenols which can help regulate blood sugar levels and keep the cardiovascular system healthy. It should be noted that polyphenols are found both in the pulp and the skin, so by eating the whole fruit, maximum benefit is yours.

The primary polyphenol in apples is quercetin which is concentrated in the skin. This particular substance helps prevent spikes in blood sugar by inhibiting certain enzymes involved in the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. When these enzymes are slowed down, there are fewer sugars flooding into the bloodstream all at once.

Help regulate blood sugar

In addition, quercetin and related polyphenols have the ability to stimulate the cells of the pancreas to secrete insulin, as well as increase the uptake of glucose (sugar) from the blood. These mechanisms help regulate blood sugar levels by clearing sugar from the blood to keep levels at normal range.

Since most of the polyphenols found in apples function as antioxidants, it’s not surprising that this tree fruit is receiving acclaim. Especially notable is the ability of polyphenols in apples to decrease oxidation of cell membranes. This is significant for the cardiovascular system since oxidation of fat (known as lipid peroxidation) in the cell membranes of blood vessels is a primary reason for the clogging of arteries which leads to atherosclerosis and other chronic heart problems. It is interesting that the apple also contains vitamin C—an antioxidant—which on its own is not a large amount, but which depends on the presence of polyphenols for circulation through the body.

As a side note—perhaps you have wondered why apples brown so quickly on slicing or bruising. This, too, is due to the presence of polyphenols which are oxidized when the apple cells are damaged by a knife and exposed to oxygen. The beautiful red of apple skins is due to another polyphenol known as anthocyanin.

Fibre content

Another important health benefit of apples is their fibre content, which is ranked by nutrition scales as merely “good.” However, it appears that the fibre in the fruit working together with other nutrients provides benefits that ordinarily would be associated with higher amounts of fibre. These benefits are important in helping to prevent heart disease by lowering blood fats.

Other potential health properties of apples such as anti-asthma benefits and lowering the risk of lung cancer need further study.

We are fortunate to live in a country that produces some of the best apples in the world. Take advantage of their current availability to increase your intake—offer them as healthy snacks to your family, and include them in salads, desserts and meat dishes. Whether you prefer the McIntosh or Gala— all around favourites—or Golden Delicious, Ambrosia or Northern Spy apples—perfect for pies and pork roasts—all contain healthy polyphenols. The good thing is nutritional content of apples does not deteriorate to a large degree if stored in a cool place for three or four months.

Take note that conventionally-grown apples are among fruits that are frequently found to retain pesticide residues. To avoid ingesting these toxins, seek out organically-grown fruit.