Nutrition Column Â?? Apples: Nature’s Healthy Treat

Often chosen as a symbol of nutrition and health by graphic artists, apples are a good source of folic acid and a moderate source of several other nutrients. They’re also relatively low in calories. One average-sized apple supplies around 80 calories.

Apples are especially rich in pectin fiber, which is associated with helping keep blood cholesterol levels in balance. It is this pectin fiber, along with its moisture content and bland flavor, that makes applesauce a good low-fat substitute for some of the fat in cakes, muffins and cookies.  

Apples sometimes have been called "nature’s toothbrush." Although eating an apple doesn’t substitute for proper brushing and flossing, the fibrous texture of apples helps make them a natural detergent for teeth when brushing isn’t possible.  

In the fall when supplies are plentiful, it’s usually more economical to buy apples in large quantities (by the half or full bushel) rather than by the pound – provided you like apples and have refrigeration or suitable storage for your bargain.

A refrigerator is the best place to store apples. A properly harvested apple, kept at room temperature, becomes overripe and mealy within a few days. The same apple held at 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the humidifier compartment of a refrigerator will remain in good condition for four to six months, longer in some cases. If the humidifier compartment is full, store apples in the refrigerator in plastic bags that have a few air holes.

Commercially, apple producers combine low temperatures and a controlled atmosphere – in which oxygen is reduced and carbon dioxide is increased – to help slow down the respiration rate of apples, thereby extending the storage life of apples.

Apples produce their own natural wax coating during growth. This helps them retain moisture after picking. However, many packers wash picked apples with a solvent detergent to remove dirt and pesticide residues that accumulate during growth. This also removes the apple’s natural wax coating, leaving the apple susceptible to loss of moisture and eating quality.

To retard this chain of events, many packers coat washed apples with a commercial wax such as Carnauba. Carnauba is an inert product derived from the leaves and buds of the Brazilian wax palm. It’s been used in foods since 1900 and, according to FDA’s Division of Toxicology, causes no ill effects at levels used. Regardless, many consumers find highly waxed apples unappealing. Luckily, unwaxed apples are usually available and most of the wax on coated apples can be washed or rubbed off.

If you do have extra apples, one way to preserve them for later use as snacks is by drying. Apple slices can be dried in a dehydrator or oven. If you’re drying apples at home, we recommend soaking freshly cut apple slices for 10 minutes in a solution containing 3 teaspoons of ascorbic acid crystals per pint (2 cups) of water, then drying for five to six hours at 140 degrees F. The ascorbic acid pre-treatment helps preserve the color and improves the vitamin C content of the apple slices. Perhaps even more important, it acts as an antimicrobial agent against E. coli and other bacteria that have been found to survive on apple slices dried without any pre-treatment.

by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension