So what benefits do I REALLY get from an 'apple-a-day'?
Apples are so common you've probably forgotten how absolutely delicious they are, so pure and sweet and crunchy. There is something clean about an apple, so elementally uncomplicated and straightforward.
I always buy a big bag of apples once a week at the farmers' market and keep them on my kitchen counter as a centerpiece. Nice to be able to munch on the centerpiece, don't you think?
I keep them there as a reminder to dig in, and also as a counterweight should I get itchy for a sweet snack. If I'm rooting around for something to eat, I'll grab an apple while I'm looking, and usually by the time I'm finished eating it, my hunger has been sidelined.
We've all the heard the old adage "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." But there is evidence that this single daily apple has significant, measurable benefits. A major review published in 2008 out of the German Cancer Research Center found that indeed, compared with those who eat less than an apple a day, those who eat one or more had less risk of oral cancer, cancer of the voice box, breast cancer, and colon, kidney, and ovarian cancer as well.
This makes sense given new research from Cornell University showing that apple peels had potent antioxidant and growth-blocking effects on human breast cancer cells examined in a petri dish, and the higher the apple concentration, the fewer the cancer cells. And apples seem to work best against estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer, which is much harder to treat than the receptor-positive kind.
How do apples do what they do?
There are three stages of tumor formation. Carcinogens cause the initial DNA mutations (the initiation stage), and then oxidation, inflammation, and hormones cause it to grow (the promotion stage); finally, metastasis occurs, in which the cancer spreads throughout the body. Which steps have apples been found to block? All of them. Apples not only have antimutagenic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects, but they may even enhance our immune systems to help clear out any budding tumors before they get their start.
But in addition to boosting your immune system, that apple has other benefits that can help you lose weight.
Surprised? Here we go, back to fiber.
Most Americans don't get enough fiber each day to meet their nutritional requirements. It's recommended that women get at least 25 grams of fiber per day on a 2,000-calorie diet, or to be more precise, 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed.
However, the average American only gets about 15 grams daily. Twenty-five grams is actually at the low end of your optimal fiber intake, so there's no reason not to aim higher. We humans actually evolved eating more than 100 grams of fiber a day, largely from wild greens. So back to that apple: How does an apple measure up in terms of fiber? Eating just one apple a day (skin on) will give you on average 4.4 grams of fiber.
You know by now that eating a high-fiber diet is beneficial for a whole host of physical reasons, including the prevention of many diseases and a clogged-up colon, but you're not alone if you're unsure what exactly to eat to reach that daily fiber goal.
Fortunately, eating enough of the right foods is really rather simple, especially on the Lean plan, since I'll be introducing so many whole grains, beans and lentils, and veggies into your daily routine. And there will be even more space on your plate for high-fiber foods once you cut back on less-nutritious animal protein (which has no fiber at all, zero, zilch), but we'll get to that later.
Related: Using Food As Medicine
If you're uncertain what 25 grams of fiber looks like, or if that sounds like a lot, consider the ease of incorporating the following into your daily diet:
¼ cup of cooked steel-cut oats (4 grams)
½ cup of cooked beans (10 grams)
1 apple with skin (3-5 grams)
½ cup of vegetables (4 grams or more, depending on the vegetable; some are higher in fiber than others)
As you can see, a single apple is an easy and delicious way to get up to a fifth of your recommended 25 grams of fiber daily.
Again, don't rely on apple juice, or any fruit juices in general, to get fiber. You get all the sugar in the juice, but none of the fiber. Chewing is key.
A 2011 study from the school of public health at Harbin Medical University in China shows chewing may help our bodies regulate the amount of food we take in, and in fact, may cause us to consume about 12 percent fewer calories per meal than if we wolf down our food without chewing carefully.
Not only does chewing well slow down our consumption and give our body time to feel full, but it also assists the body in absorbing more nutrients. There are internal sensors in the gut that tell the brain when we have had enough food with enough nutrients, and when we are sated, the hunger message turns off. The scientists who conducted the study wrote in their paper that "mastication apparently plays a role in the gut hormone profile, which consequently influences energy [caloric] intake."
Another study relevant to our discussion on taking your time with chewing was published in 2011 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association; in it, researchers found that people who ate fast were more likely to be overweight than people who ate slowly. Good thing that the high-fiber food featured in the Lean plan encourages us to take longer with every bite!
The feeling of hunger is very much influenced by hormonal signals, and the hormone ghrelin particularly. I think of ghrelin like the hunger gremlin; it pushes and grumbles for more food. Researchers found that when study participants chewed more, their ghrelin levels were reliably lower after meals. So, the longer food is chewed, the less ghrelin is released, and the longer you feel satiated. Now, that's something to chew on!
How many chews, you might ask? In the experiment, participants who chewed 40 times rather than 15 times consumed fewer calories; but I'd rather you not worry about counting your chews. The point is that when you eat high-fiber whole foods, you must chew. By their very nature, the foods require that you masticate well before swallowing.
And before we move on from hormones, a study at the University of California-Davis in 2002 found that eating fiber causes the release of a hormone in the stomach called cholecystokinin, and that hormone plays a direct role in letting your brain know that you are fine, that you got what you need.
In so many ways, fiber is critical for healthy weight loss. It makes us feel full and satiated, turns off the hunger signal, and it also cleans out our bodies like a powerful internal scrub brush. I have a friend who used to be constipated for a week at a time; she thought she ate well and avoided fatty foods, but she never quite got around to eating fruits. She started eating an apple a day (sometimes even two or three) and now her bowels move twice a day. (Once is just fine, by the way; let's call the second time a bonus!) Her tummy flattened out, her skin took on a glow, and she has a lot more energy without that stuffed-up, compacted feeling she used to walk around with.
On top of that, apples are a rich source of a particularly powerful type of fiber called pectin. It's what's used as a gelling agent to make jams and jellies, and in our stomach it can delay stomach emptying through a similar mechanism. Researchers at UCLA showed that by swapping in pectin for regular fiber they could double the time it took subjects' stomachs to empty from about 1 hour to 2 hours, which meant subjects felt full that much longer.
In fact there was even a study entitled "Weight Loss Associated with a Daily Intake of Three Apples or Three Pears among Overweight Women" published in the journal Nutrition. Researchers found that instructing women to eat an apple or pear before each meal resulted in significant weight loss.
Pretty cool, no? They were told, in effect, to eat more food, to add the fruit on top of their regular diets, and what happened was, the fruit crowded out less healthy choices; they ended up eating fewer calories overall and they started shedding pounds.
Other great sources of this superfiber include citrus, peaches, peas, and carrots. So yes, you can have an apple. Or a pear. Or an orange. You can even have two or three. But at the very least, have an apple before the day is done.
Wellness Expert Kathy Freston is author of the book The Lean: A Revolutionary (and Simple!) 30-Day Plan for Healthy, Lasting Weight Loss.
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