You go to the store to pick up some apples. Seems simple enough — until you’re faced with a dozen different varieties in the produce aisle. You want the healthiest apple, so which one will keep the doctor away?
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Dietitian Mira Ilic, RD, LD, reveals the juicy details about this popular fruit.
Big difference in taste, not nutrition
Apples have slightly different nutrients depending on their type and color. For instance, Red Delicious apples have polyphenols that are exclusively found in dark red fruits. Polyphenols are plant compounds that may help prevent cancer, heart disease and other conditions.
But if the thought of biting into a Red Delicious isn’t appealing, don’t worry. Any apple you buy will deliver a punch of health-boosting nutrients.
“The nutritional differences among apple varieties are small,” says Ilic. “But the taste differences are big. Don’t choose an apple based on a small nutrient difference if you don’t like the taste.”
Choose fresh and local apples
Whatever apple variety you pick, make sure it’s fresh. Old apples aren’t as nutritious, don’t taste as good and could be rotten. “Choose a firm apple with no bruises,” says Ilic. “Look for bright color, keeping in mind that some apple varieties are naturally more colorful. Fresh apples usually have a nice aroma, too.”
Whenever possible, go with local apples. The less your apple had to travel, the more nutritious it is when it gets to you. July through October is prime apple season in the U.S. During these months, local apples are easy to find.
When you choose apples in the off-season, check the sticker for its country of origin. If your apple traveled a long distance, it probably lost some of its nutrition in transport. Try to choose apples that come from a nearby country. “We don’t have the option to eat local apples year-round,” Ilic says. “In the off-season, we have to get apples from other parts of the world. No matter where they come from, wash them thoroughly.”
You don’t need any chemicals or tools to wash your apples. Wash your hands first. Then wash your apple with running water. Gently scrub the skin with a cloth or brush.
Are organic apples healthier?
Some organic fruits may be slightly more nutritious than conventionally grown ones. But you don’t need to buy organic apples. They tend to cost more, which can be a downside if you’re sticking to a grocery budget.
“Growers use different growing practices for organic apples and while pesticides are used on conventionally grown apples, some organic growers may actually use pesticides approved for organic farming,” explains Ilic. “The government has guidelines about what pesticides growers can use. Both types are safe and nutritious. Just wash them well if you’re still concerned about pesticide residue or you can peel your apples, but you’ll lose some nutrients and fiber found in the skin.”
Have fun with apple sampling
With so many apple varieties, you’re bound to find one you like. Hold an apple sampling by picking a few different types. Cut them into bite-sized pieces, put them on a plate and label them. Have your family members try the different apples and choose their favorite.
An apple sampling can be a fun way to get kids to eat more apples, too. Kids often like having some control over the types of foods they eat.
All apples are amazing
Whether your favorite is a sour Granny Smith or a sweet Honeycrisp, you can’t go wrong with apples. “All apples are a good source of fiber, including pectin, which may help lower cholesterol,” Ilic says. “They also contain phytochemicals like polyphenols, which are antioxidants linked to multiple health benefits. Some studies have suggested that apples may also help reduce the risk of some cancers.”
Bottom line: An apple a day is a healthy habit, so don’t stress about picking the right one. “Eat the apples you like because they’re all healthy,” Ilic says.