A Healthy Harvest A daily apple-or other fall fruit-really does help keep the doctor away.


While autumns chill marks the end of lazy summer days, it also signals the fall fruit harvest-a seasonal bounty of fresh nutrition. Apples and pears are among the most familiar of these healthy fruits; although today theyre available year-round, autumn is still the time to find them at their peak of flavor and nutritional benefits. And as you look to get your one and a half to two cups of daily fruit this fall, dont overlook more exotic options such as persimmons and pomegranates.Apples
The apple is one of the most widely recognized and consumed fruits globally. Over 50 million tons of apples are produced worldwide, and the US is the worlds second-largest producer, behind only China. Historically, apples have long been a part of our diets, and were likely one of the first fruits to be cultivated. Alexander the Great even brought apple trees from Central Asia back to Greece. More recently, British colonists introduced the apple to North America; the first apple orchard on the continent was planted near Boston in the early 1600s.The adage An apple a day keeps the doctor away has some truth to it: A meta-analysis conducted in Italy found that consumption of one or more apples a day significantly reduced the risks of many types of cancer compared to consuming less than one apple a day. Similarly, in the Nurses Health Study, a large cohort study based in the US, the number of servings of apples and pears eaten was correlated with a reduced risk for lung cancer.While its been well-established that increased fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with decreased risk of many diseases, research is now exploring the specific mechanisms behind the apples protective effects. Apples are high in phenolic acids and flavonoid compounds- phytonutrients that may protect against cell and DNA damage. Its difficult to extrapolate these data from research studies to an effect on human health, but research into apple phytonutrients is promising. In the laboratory, these compounds have been found to inhibit growth of cancer cells, decrease lipid oxidation and lower cholesterol.Although supplements touting fruit extracts are available, the real thing is still your best bet. To get the full health benefit of fall fruits such as a apples or pears, experts recommend washing produce well and consuming the whole fruit. Apple peels contain the majority of phytonutrients compared to the flesh, and peels add an extra boost of fiber. While storage doesnt affect the levels of most phytonutrients, processing does. If whole fruit isnt an option, cloudy, unsweetened apple cider has significantly higher amounts of phytonutrients than clear apple juice. And, of course, apple-flavored doesnt count.Levels of health-promoting compounds such as quercetin and gallic acid vary from one apple variety to another. In a test of the 10 varieties most commonly consumed in the US, Fuji apples ranked highest in total phenolic and flavonoid compounds. Unlike most other fruits, its also relatively easy to purchase different varieties of apples. Most grocery stores nationwide carry popular varieties like Red Delicious, McIntosh or Golden Delicious.Beyond looking to boost your phytonutrient intake, different varieties of apples have wildly different tastes and culinary applications. Sweet and juicy types like Red Delicious or Honeycrisp are well suited for eating raw, while tart and firm apples like Granny Smith or Cortland bake up perfectly. With over 7,500 apple cultivars grown worldwide, eating an apple a day would take over 20 years to try them all.Pears
Extremely cold hardy, pears have long been grown in climates with harsh winters, such as northern regions of Europe and Asia. In addition to eating pears raw or baking them in treats, traditional applications include preserving pears by pickling or fermenting their juices into fruit liquor.Just as with apples, flavors and textures vary widely between types of pears. Asian pears are crisp, juicy and sweet, but dont hold together as well in baking or poaching as the firmer Bosc or Bartlett varieties.Unlike apples, pears are highly perishable when ripe, so commercially available pears are usually picked slightly unripe. Look for unbruised, firm fruit in the supermarket with only a slight pear smell to them. Avoid mushy, bruised, strongly scented pears, or pears that have loose or dried stems; these are usually overripe and easily damaged. Variation in the skin color of a pear is normal and doesnt represent ripeness.To enjoy pears at the perfect level of ripeness, leave them on a countertop for a few days after bringing them home from the market. You can speed up the process by placing pears in a brown paper bag with a banana, which naturally produces ethylene gas-a compound that hastens ripening.Although pears are lower in phytonutrients and vitamins and minerals than apples, they are similarly high in fiber and low in calories-only about 100 calories for a medium-size pear or apple. Another interesting difference is that apples will float in water, while pears sink. (Which means, while bobbing for apples is a favorite fall activity, pears are probably out of the question.)Persimmons and Pomegranates
Among the lesser-known fall fruits experiencing a boom in popularity are pomegranates and persimmons. Pomegranates in particular are garnering attention, especially as juice, because of their high antioxidant and phytonutrient levels. These unique fruits contain hundreds of juicy edible seeds-called arils-within a thick red skin. Once peeled, the jewel-like arils can be eaten fresh or pressed for juice.Pomegranates are high in ellagic acid, a polyphenol that acts as an antioxidant in the body and may protect against heart disease. In mouse model experiments, supplementing the diet with pomegranate resulted in improvement in heart health and decreased atherosclerosis.But the jurys still out on whether pomegranate supplementation has any effect on humans. A small intervention study of 10 subjects reported improvement in blood pressure, serum lipid peroxidation and arterial-wall thickness. A double-blind, parallel, randomized study of 146 individuals couldnt replicate these results, however, and showed little to no benefit from supplementing subjects diets with pomegranate.Its unclear whether pomegranates really do deliver on claims of improved heart health, but they are certainly a delicious way to boost fruit consumption. Consumers should keep in mind that once the tough skin is conquered, its best to eat pomegranate arils in their whole form. Although pomegranate juice does contain higher amounts of polyphenols, the drinks calories and added sugar add up quickly: One eightounce serving of pomegranate juice contains 160 calories and 34 grams of sugar, so enjoy only in moderation.While persimmons are the lesser known of these two fruits in the US, they are becoming increasingly available at mainstream markets. Like other festively orange fruits and vegetables, persimmons are not only beautiful but high in carotenoids as well. Carotenoids are best known for promoting eye health-as in carrots-but also help to regulate the immune system and fight free radicals in the body.Some types of wild persimmons are native to the American South, but these generally arent cultivated for fruit. The super-sweet fruit varieties are native to China, and there are two major varieties available commercially.The hachiya persimmon is heartshaped and tastes chalky and astringent when unripe. These persimmons should be ripened fully until they are very soft, at which point the fruit becomes sweet and honey-flavored. Hachiya persimmons are excellent for baking, and can be used in a traditional persimmon pudding or in place of pumpkin for a twist on pumpkin pie.Fuyu persimmons are flatter and wider, resembling tomatoes, and can be enjoyed while still firm and crunchy. This type of persimmon is well-suited to slicing and eating raw. Dried persimmons of both varieties are also available year-round and are popular throughout Asia as a snack or for cooking.Fall fruits are high in fiber and low in calories, so theyre a guilt-free way to satisfy your hunger and sweet tooth. But theyre also well-suited to savory applications. Thinly sliced apples or pears add crunch and subtle sweetness to a salad or crudit platter, or can be part of a memorable sandwich. Pomegranate arils can be tossed into a salad, or added for color and a burst of flavor on top of a pizza. Persimmons can be used as a sweeter stand-in for pumpkin or squash in many recipes; try roasted as a side dish, or in place of butternut squash in a savory ravioli filling.Grated apples and asian pears are even key ingredients in the marinade used for traditional Korean barbeque. At home, try combining a grated pear with soy sauce and honey to marinate flank steak, tofu or salmon before baking or grilling.-Victoria Ho.


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