Apples are one of the few fruits that you can buy fresh any time of the year, but autumn is the time for apples that are particularly scrumptious and crisp. They are plentiful and inexpensive and a perfect way to start making good on your promise to yourself to eat more fruit.

The Many Health Benefits Of Apples

Apples help protect the body from cancer and heart disease. Animal studies have shown that apple pectin and polyphenols improve the breakdown of fats like lipid and lower the production of molecules that promote inflammation.

It's the fiber and phytochemicals found in apples that probably have the biggest impact on health. Nutritionally speaking, this fat-, sodium-, and cholesterol-free fruit provides small amounts of several important nutrients, including vitamin C (some experts believe that the antioxidant power of a single apple is equal to more than 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C), B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium. And of course, apples are low in calories, at least when eaten without added fat or sugar.

The polyphenols in an apple a day lowered blood levels of oxidized LDL -- low-density lipoprotein, the "bad" cholesterol.

Apples are also good sources of food compounds that act as antioxidants in the body, providing protection from the damaging effects of free radicals. The antioxidant activity of vitamin C and beta-carotene contribute to these protective effects, so do two classes of phytonutrients found in apples: flavonoids and polyphenols. And they offer an extra benefit -- a compound in apples, ursolic acid, can prevent the muscle atrophy that comes from many illnesses and the wasting that accompanies aging.

A study published in October 2012 reports that the polyphenols in an apple a day regimen lowered blood levels of oxidized LDL -- low-density lipoprotein, the "bad" cholesterol. Otherwise when LDL cholesterol interacts with free radicals to become oxidized, this bad cholesterol is more likely to promote inflammation and cause tissue damage.

"When LDL becomes oxidized, it takes on a form that begins atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries," said researcher Robert DiSilvestro, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University in a press release. “We got a tremendous effect against LDL being oxidized with just one apple a day for four weeks.” The consumption of one apple a day lowered the substance linked to hardening of the arteries by 40 percent. The difference was similar to that found between people with normal coronary arteries versus those with coronary artery disease.

What's Inside That Apple

Apples contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to lower blood cholesterol levels, thus reducing the incidence of atherosclerosis and heart disease. There are about four grams of fiber in a medium-sized apple, and most of it is soluble. The insoluble fiber provides bulk in the intestinal tract and binds to cancer-causing chemicals in the colon, protecting the mucous membrane of the colon from exposure to toxic substances.

Apples' contribution to heart health comes in large part from the potassium found in them.

Riboflavin, thiamin, and pyridoxine, the B vitamins present in apples, act as coenzymes in metabolism, helping your body's enzymes work. Folate, another B vitamin in apples, is particularly important for protecting pregnant women from the risk of having a low birth-weight baby and/or an infant with spinal cord defects.

Apples' contribution to heart health comes in large part from the potassium found in them. Potassium is important in maintaining fluids in the body, which in turn helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Diets that are too low in potassium promote high blood pressure, and diets designed to help people control blood pressure, such as the DASH diet , encourage an increased consumption of high potassium foods.

These much-needed nutrients come packaged in a fruit that contains only about 80 calories. Plus, one medium apple counts as a serving of fruit (one cup), so after eating one apple you’re halfway to the recommended two cups of fruits that most adults should eat each day according to the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate daily food plan.

Peel Not

Many of these compounds and nutrients are lost, however, if you peel your apples. Removing the skin takes away much of the fiber and all of the folate. The vitamin C in an apple is located just beneath the skin, so that goes, too. Apples' skin also contains various antioxidant-containing phytochemicals. In fact, apple skin contains more antioxidants than the flesh.

Cardiovascular disease is the largest single cause of death among women, accounting for one third of all deaths worldwide. Research has found that apple consumption reduces the risk of heart disease in women.

In spite of the extra 240 calories per day the women consumed from the dried apples, they lost on average 3.3 pounds. Researchers believe that the pectin in apples, a type of fiber, may have been the reason for the weight loss.

In a study conducted at Florida State University, researchers randomly assigned 160 women age 45 to 65 to two groups. One group ate dried apples daily for one year, and the other group ate dried prunes every day for a year. Six months into the study, the women in the apple-eating group had experienced a 23% decrease in their LDL (bad) cholesterol, and a 4% increase in their HDL (good) cholesterol. Other heart disease markers were lowered, too.

In spite of the extra 240 calories per day the women consumed from the dried apples, they lost on average 3.3 pounds. Researchers believe that the pectin (a type of fiber) in apples may have been the reason for the weight loss because it is known to have a positive effect on satiety, that is it makes you feel as if you’ve eaten enough.

Dried apples were used in the study for the sake of convenience, but the researchers believe that the fresh apples might be even more effective.

Apples were associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease among over 34,000 women that the Iowa Women’s Health Study had been tracking for nearly 20 years. The researchers attributed the results to the presence of various flavonoids in apples.

When researchers at Cornell University conducted a literature review regarding the health benefits of apples and their phytochemicals, they concluded that, "• the potential health benefits of apples are numerous. Regular consumption of fruits and vegetables, including apples, as part of a healthy diet may aid in the prevention of chronic disease and maintenance of good health.”

Buying and Storing Your Apples

Apples are the most purchased fruit in the United States. There are hundreds of varieties of apples available, but most people have only tasted the most popular varieties, such as Red Delicious or Granny Smith. There are plenty of other apple varieties that are even better than these grocery store staples both in flavor and texture. Depending on where you live, these may include Honey Crisp, Fuji, Gala, Braeburn, Jazz, and Cameo. This time of the year is the right time for stepping out of the box and trying some different varieties.

Apples should be kept refrigerated. They become mushy more quickly if they sit out at room temperature. Apples do not need to be washed until you are ready to eat them.

There are many ways to enjoy apples. They make a great snack or dessert whether eaten whole or served in slices. Paired with peanut butter or cheese and crackers, they make a quick and easy snack or light meal. Chop one and add to a salad for a bit of crunch and sweetness - or tartness, depending on the variety chosen. Apples can be baked with cinnamon; usually, no butter or sugar is needed.

There is still much that is not known about how the various components in apples work together to promote health. Scientists suspect that there are probably hundreds of compounds in apples that have yet to be identified, but from what we already know apples are really good for you. Just eat an apple a day - whole and in its natural, unprocessed state - and you will reap the health benefits.