Apples loom large on the world’s nutritional, cultural and culinary menu — especially this time of year. Here are some facts about this favorite fruit of fall.The folkloreMany believe the Romans are to thank for cultivating the first wild apple — small, sour, and riddled with seeds — into the crisp, sweet, tart and juicy globes we enjoy today.Historians may not agree whether the apple originated in Southwestern Asia in 6,500 BC or in the Neolithic period in England, but there’s no disputing the apple’s culinary (cider, pie, fritters) or cultural (The Garden of Eden, Johnny Appleseed, Sleeping Beauty’s poison apple) influences.The time-tested adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a nod to its nutritious attributes.The factsApples ( Malus domestica), part of the rose (Rosaceae) family, are among the most widely cultivated fruit trees. Along with pears, quince and loquats, apples are classified as pomes, fruits with many tiny seeds within a central core.There are more than 7,500 varieties of this white-fleshed favorite, with skins of red, yellow and green. Flavor varies significantly by variety.Red and Golden Delicious are subtly sweet and often eaten whole and raw, as are the slightly tart Braeburn and Fuji; but Pippin and Granny Smith offer a very tart bite, with a taste and texture preferred in cooking.No matter the variety, apples have earned their healthy reputation.One medium apple is only 95 calories but packs a plump dose of health-protecting plant chemicals known as polyphenols, a filling 17 percent DV (Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories per day) of dietary fiber, and a healthy 14 percent DV of the powerful antioxidant vitamin C.The findingsComposed of more than 4,000 flavonoids, a category of polyphenols, apples have long been studied for their role in disease prevention, including several cancers — breast, larynx and ovarian. Eating just one apple a day was shown to reduce risk of colorectal cancer by more than one-third, according to a study in a 2010 issue of the European Journal of Cancer Prevention.Several studies show that consuming apples and apple juice may protect against symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and oxidative brain damage that can lead to memory loss.In addition, drinking apple juice was shown to improve dementia-associated behavior and mood in Alzheimer’s patients, according to a study published in the 2010 American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.The finer pointsTry several apple varieties and enjoy those that suit your palate and culinary purposes. Apples are best in season, from the end of summer until early winter, though some varieties may be found year-round. Choose firm apples with deep coloring and store in the refrigerator crisper.Avoid pesticide residue and other contaminants by seeking out organic apples when possible.Eating whole, unpeeled raw apples is most nutritious, but who can resist them sliced and paired with cheese and nuts, starring in a Waldorf salad or crisp slaw, or baked into a warm and comforting muffin or quick cobbler.
Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.