Beyond their sweet flesh and excellent nutrition, apples have become a symbol of health. The archetypal deep red apple has the appearance of a heart, making our bond to it both physiological and emotional. It is a beautiful piece of nutrition, no doubt.
They also contain a good amount of vitamins and minerals, and are even more valuable for their portability. Leave a bowl on your table, and toss one in your bag on the way out the door – they make a healthy, refreshing snack between meals.
Apple History and Culture
In Greek mythology, the apple is a symbol of love, most closely associated with Aphrodite, the Goddess of love. To throw an apple at someone, the story goes, was regarded as an act of love, and to accept it was an acceptance of that love. In Christian lore, the apple is a symbol of evil, of that which is forbidden. When Eden took an apple from the tree of knowledge and shared it with Adam, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. It is interesting to note, however, that apples were never specified as the fruit on the tree of knowledge.
Apples originated in Turkey thousands of years ago. Alexander the Great was the first to introduce the apple to Macedonia around 300 BC. It has since spread to most temperate climates around the world, and is exported to regions where apple trees cannot thrive in colder and hotter climates. There are currently 7,000 different varieties of apples in markets around the world.
Currently, China leads world production with 35% of global output, followed by the US with 7.5%. In the US, apples are largely produced in Washington State. Some of the most popular varieties are the Red Delicious, Pink Lady, Gala, Fuji, and McIntosh. Apple varieties are reproduced through the method of grafting, where branches from existing trees are chopped off, secured to another existing apple tree, and eventually incorporated into their tree system. Apple seeds do not produce true genetic replications of their parent trees, so growing from seed is not possible. This is why Johnny Appleseed’s trees he left scattered all over the mid-west were used largely for cider production – nobody could stomach apples grown from seed!
The Health Benefits of Apples
Apples have a wide array of antioxidants that are unique to them. A good number of these are locked up in the skin of apples, so it’s important to eat the skins, as well as the flesh, in order to receive all the health benefits of consuming apples. Apples use these antioxidants to protect themselves from ultraviolet rays and insect damage, which is why most of them reside in the skin.
One role these antioxidants play in the body is to reduce the risk of heart disease. They naturally reduce LDL-cholesterol (the bad kind). They also help prevent fats from building up in our arteries.
New studies have shown that apples can also work wonders in regulating blood sugar levels. Although apples contain a good amount of sugar themselves (19 grams in a medium apple), these are naturally occurring sugars and are not as bad for the body as, say, a Snickers bar. The unique combination of the various polyphenols and antioxidants actually stimulate the pancreas to pump more insulin into to bloodstream. It also makes insulin work more effectively, taking sugars out of the bloodstream, and putting them into our cells. These antioxidants also work to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, so that when they are broken down into sugars, they don’t overpopulate the blood stream. Add to the mix that apples help reduce our level of glucose absorption, and you have quite the natural blood sugar regulator.
Apples have also been shown to reduce the risk of a number of cancers, specifically lung cancer. They also help alleviate some of the symptoms of asthma.
Eating More Apples
Apples are easy to eat, so it shouldn’t be too hard to work more of them into your life. The old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” may be true on some level, but it is not necessary to eat apples everyday to receive their full benefit. Eating an apple every few days, in conjunction with other fruits, is good target to shoot for.
Leave out a fruit bowl. In addition to apples, also have bananas, kiwis, oranges, and whatever other fruits that strike your fancy. Randomly pick one up for your mid-day snack, and you’ll be feeling more energetic and healthful in no time.
When selecting apples, pick ones that are deeply colored, firm, and unblemished. Experiment with the plethora of varieties that are available at any grocery store, and whittle them down to the ones you enjoy best. Apples store well, and if they are kept in proper conditions can last up to four months. Store them in cool, dry, dark areas of the house and keep them in a burlap sack. For even longer storage, and maximum nutrient retention, place them in a bag in the fruit drawer of your refrigerator. Be careful not to mix apples with vegetables, as apples slowly release ethylene gas, which will spoil any vegetables in its immediate vicinity.
And, as stated earlier, remember to eat the skins, too! There are lots of nutrients locked up in the skins just waiting to benefit your health!