The Amazing Apple

Three new ways to enjoy fall's favorite fruit

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

What fruit can you count on to be fresh, crisp, and wonderful even through the dead of winter? Apples!

While bins of other fruits can look sad and dreary around this time of year, the apple section is alive with color and filled to the brim. It's no coincidence that many favorite fall dishes feature the ever-lovin' apple. Given that I try to get at least a couple of servings of fruit into my family members each day, I depend heavily on apples (and frozen berries) to carry me through until spring.

So that we don't all get too bored with this delightful tree fruit, I try to keep things interesting. One easy way to mix things up a bit is to buy different types of apples, ranging from tart, crisp pippins, and Granny Smiths to mild-tasting, darkly colored Red Delicious.

One daughter has a soft spot for Red Delicious, while I'm a tart, green apple lover myself. But to be honest, any crisp apple will do. That's my only non-negotiable apple characteristic -- that they be crisp! Soft apples in my house end up as one thing and one thing only: applesauce, which isn't the worst thing to happen to an apple.

Another way to keep apples interesting is to slice them and serve them with fruit dips, a drizzle of caramel or peanut butter, or sliced cheese. You can also bake or microwave them with spices and a little sweetener (maybe a pinch of brown sugar or a drizzle of lite pancake syrup) for a side dish or dessert.

Don't be afraid to add them to your main dish, either; apples go well with pork tenderloin and chops as well as chicken and turkey. Apples can also add texture and flavor to your stuffing and rice dishes; just make sure the diced apples you add are cooked through. And of course, there are many great other recipes involving apples -- check out three new ones below.

Apples Pack a Nutritional Punch

I'm not sure who coined the phrase, "an apple a day helps keep the doctor away," but this person was truly inspired. Population studies have linked eating apples with a reduced risk of some cancers, heart disease, asthma, and diabetes. In the lab, apples have been found to have strong antioxidant activity, to inhibit the rapid multiplication of cells, to decrease the oxidation of lipids (fats), and to lower cholesterol -- all good things.

Here are a few more tidbits gleaned from apple research:

  • Don't peel your apples! In lab studies, Cornell University researchers found that apple extract given along with apple skin worked better to prevent the oxidation of free radicals (unstable molecules that are thought to contribute to diseases) than apple extract without the skin.
  • Could an apple (or 3) a day help keep breast cancer away? Breast tumor incidence was reduced by 17% when rats were fed the human equivalent of one apple a day over 24 weeks -- and 39% when they were fed the human equivalent of 3 apples a day, according to a recent Cornell study.
  • Calling all apple phytochemicals! Apples offer a powerful assortment of healthful phytochemicals, including four strong antioxidants: quercetin, catechin, phloridzin, and chlorogenic acid. Procyanidins (oligomeric catechins), which you'll find in high concentrations in apples, are thought to have a protective effect on the vascular system.
  • The healthiest varieties. Storage doesn't seem to affect the amount of phytochemicals in apples, but different apple varieties have different amounts of phytochemicals. When it comes to antioxidant activity, food chemist Chang Y. Lee found Northern Spy, Liberty, Crispin, Delicious, and Fuji to have the highest levels, with Idared, Jonagold, Gala, Freedom, and McIntosh showing medium activity. For one category of phytochemicals -- total phenolics -- the top three apples are Fuji, Red Delicious, and Gala, according to Cornell University researcher Rui Hai Liu. For total flavonoids (another family of phytochemicals), the top three are Fuji, Red Delicious, and Northern Spy.

Now, for those apple recipes ...

Topping:
1/4 cup light or dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup unbleached flour
Pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons less-fat margarine (with 8 grams fat per tablespoon)
2 to 3 tablespoons oats

Muffins:
2 tablespoons less-fat margarine
1/2 cup sugar (or sugar blend with Splenda or Equal)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk (or mix 2 tablespoons fat-free half-and-half with 1/4 teaspoon vinegar and let stand)
2 apples, cored and diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
  • Add the brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, pinch of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon to a large mixing bowl and beat briefly to blend, with mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add the 2 tablespoons margarine and beat on low until crumb mixture forms. Work the oats in with your hands. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.
  • Return mixing bowl to mixer and add the 2 tablespoons margarine, sugar (or sugar blend), and vanilla extract, and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg, and beat to combine, scraping sides of bowl.
  • Add the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a 4-cup measure, and whisk to blend.
  • Add the flour mixture all at once to the mixing bowl, along with the sour cream and buttermilk. Beat on low speed just until blended (scraping down the sides of bowl after 5 seconds). Stir in the apple chunks.
  • Spoon a slightly heaping 1/8 cup of batter into each muffin cup. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of each muffin. Bake for about 20 minutes or until muffins are lightly browned and top springs back after being pushed.


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