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Get your fill of autumn apples

A nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center regularly provides a guest post. This week, Mindy Athas weighs in on apples.

Finding fresh, local and tasty ripe apples in the fall is easy. May some apple wisdom fall upon your head.

Apple Appeal: Part of the rose family and related to plums, peaches and almonds, apples are one of the oldest and most widely cultivated tree fruits. Originating in Asia and later in Europe, apple trees were brought to North America by colonists in the 17th century (the only native versions are crab apples). After oranges, apples are the second most profitable fruit grown in the U.S.

Adam's Apple: The apple has been documented throughout history and is associated with religion, symbolism and mythology. It was esteemed as a dragon-guarded gift from the gods to make us beautiful and fertile, to heal wounds, and as a symbol for knowledge, immortality, temptation, the fall of man into sin, and sin itself.

Apple Architecture: An average apple contains about 95 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 25 grams of total carbohydrates (1 cup chopped is about 65 calories, 3 grams fiber and 17 grams total carbs.) Apples may help with satiety, or fullness, especially after eating them whole. Satiety can help with portion control and weight management, so think of apples as a weight-control tool. Aim to eat apples in their least-processed state: fresh, whole apples rather than applesauce or apple juice (the most processed and least nutritious version), and keep the nutrient-rich peels in recipes.

Apple Me This: Apples may confer health benefits as part of a plant-based diet, including a decreased risk of chronic disease. Like most fresh fruits, they are free of sodium, fat and cholesterol. Rich in antioxidants, including flavonols (also in red wine and cocoa), polyphenols (which may improve blood sugar) and catechins (also in tea), apples are a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Pectin, part of the soluble fiber in apples, is considered a prebiotic, has anti-inflammatory properties, aids in bulking up the stool and easing digestion, and may lower blood cholesterol. Pectin is also used as a gelling, thickening and stabilizing agent in canning and food preservation. Apples can act as a toothbrush, cleaning teeth and killing bacteria in the mouth, which may reduce the risk of tooth decay. Affordable and readily available, try an apple instead of your usual morning coffee: you'll be surprised at how they energize your a.m.

Apple Arithmetic: There are more than 7,500 varieties of apples; 2,500 are grown in the U.S. (in all 50 states), and 13 are grown in Maryland. See orangepippin.com/apples for a list of all varieties. Go to local orchards to pick them yourself or buy just-picked fruit as well as apple cider and other tasty apple items at: pickyourown.org/MD.htm.

An Apple a Day: The versatility of apples is unmatched. Use them in place of firm vegetables in stir-fries, mash them into casseroles and quiches, or blend them into soups. Eat them as a snack with peanut butter, slices of cheese or a side of caramel dip. To prevent browning, place apple slices in a bowl of cold water and some lemon juice; pat dry and place into baggies for lunch. A medium-size apple or a cup of chopped apples counts toward 50 percent of your daily total of two cups of fruits for most adults.

Bobbing for Apples: There are endless ways to use apples besides the usual pies, tarts, muffins and cakes. Consider apple sangria, salsa, slaw, soup, pizza or chutney. For breakfast, add apples to yogurt, hot or cold cereal, or atop toast, waffles or pancakes; or try baked apple and cinnamon oatmeal (see recipe at http://www.bettycrocker.com). For lunch, slice apples into sandwiches or salads, with cottage cheese or sample curried apple chicken salad (go to http://www.myrecipes.com). For dinner, braise apples and cabbage, chop into stews and sauces, bake into casseroles, or try Hungarian apple soup (www.eatingwell.com). Dessert is easy: Saute apples and cinnamon, make an apple flambée, apple cake or muffins (add nuts for more fiber and protein), fresh apple pie (with the skins on), or simply drizzle them with honey. For more apple recipe and snack ideas: fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/top-10-ways-to-enjoy-apples.

Apple Ante: Other ways to get your apple fix include dried apples, apple crushers or sauce, apple butter or jam. Plan ahead to freeze or can apples now to enjoy all winter. When home canning, use very fresh apples and practice food safety techniques: foodsafety.gov/blog/home_canning.html. To freeze fresh apples: http://www.simplycanning.com/freezing-apples.htmlhttp://www.simplycanning.com/freezing-apples.html. Or dry them with or without a dehydrator.

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