An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Two might even be better.

February is American Heart Month and I wanted to share these few nutrition facts about apples and heart disease.  And given my family history, I take this information to heart.

My father suffered a heart attack 2 years ago and all 6 of his brothers battle heart disease, as did my grandfather before them.  Certainly diet and lifestyle play a very important role, but genetics are clearly stacked against the Shannon clan.  (And there are a lot of us!  My still living grandmother now boasts 10 kids, 24 grandkids, 26 great-grandkids and 1 great-great grandson.)

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.  Two might even be better.

Research out of UC Davis shows that eating two apples a day or drinking an equivalent amount of apple juice had a significant slowing of LDL oxidation.  In high-cholesterol rats, an apple diet over 3 weeks reduced LDL (bad cholesterol) by 70%.

Fat rats are different from people, though, so Florida State University researchers conducted a 6-month study on women.  An apple-a-day resulted in a 23% reduction in LDL, but equally significant was the 4% increase of HDL (good cholesterol).

Additionally, the polyphenols found in apples positively affect blood vessel dynamics by reducing inflammation, making it harder for blood cells to stick together or to the lining of the blood vessels.  The result is a reduced risk of heart attack because the cells are less likely to choke off the blood supply to the heart.

Fiber also plays a significant role in reducing cholesterol, but the type of fiber is even more important.  Soluble fiber is fiber that dissolves in water.  Pectin, the soluble fiber in apples, is better at reducing cholesterol than any other fiber.  In the body, pectin binds to cholesterol and forms a gluey paste in the digestive track, preventing the cholesterol from being absorbed into the body where it could clog arteries.

Apples are among the best sources of soluble fiber (also found in legumes and oatmeal, by the way.)  If eating two apples a day seems like more work chewing than you want, fresh unpasteurized apple juice is another way to increase the amount of pectin in your daily diet.

Still think fruit is empty calories?  In this same FSU study, participants actually added an extra 240 calories a day to their diet, but lost on average 3.3 pounds.

A word of caution – apples are among the most contaminated produce.  Conventionally grown apples are sprayed on average with 30 different types of pesticides.  In order to avoid harmful pesticide residues, be sure to buy organic apples.  And share them with all of your family members.

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