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Good health that's ripe for the picking


Crispy, crunchy, sweet and juicy, apples have long done double duty as the symbol of good health and of temptation. So now that fall is here give in.

The health food status of applies is well earned. Apples are a good source of fiber -- both the soluble kind that helps lower cholesterol, and the insoluble type that keeps bowels working smoothly, reducing cancer risks. Apples are also a good source of elagic acid and octocosanol, two recently discovered "phytochemicals" that give fruits and vegetables their cancer-preventive effects. All apples are naturally low in sodium and fat-free, and come in an edible wrapper.

Through the wonders of controlled atmosphere storage techniques, good apples are usually available throughout the winter. But now, fresh-from-the-tree fruit is bursting with flavor that will never come again.

Check your local grocery store or produce stand, for the "locally grown" signs. You'll find such familiar favorites as Red or Golden Delicious, Stayman, Rome Beauty and Granny Smith. But don't stop there. Explore some more.

My own grocery store is offering Holidays and Galas, supplied by Shaw's Orchards, which straddles the Maryland-Pennsylvania line.

Sunny gold blushed with shades of red from pink to burgundy, this solid little apple is sweet enough for dessert. It's the right size, too: This is the 3-inch diameter apple you read about in all the weight-loss and diabetes management diets.

Holidays come dressed in dull green, and are not so stunning. But don't judge an apple by its peel. Orchard owner Mary Shaw describe the Holiday as "third-generation Macintosh, but juicier, and little more tart." Its texture is light, crisp and crunchy, and it comes in several sizes.

Shaws will supply a steady stream of different varieties as they mature. Lesser-known but equally delicious: Cortlands (ripening now), Mutsu (mid-October) and Fuji (late October).

If your grocery store hasn't caught on to the wonders of local apples, do complain to the manager. Then take the opportunity to get family and friends together for a fall foliage trip. Drive to Weber's Farm on Proctor Lane, Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, Armacost Farms Orchard on Mount Carmel Road, or to Shaw's. (Family quality time is also good for your health.)

Once you've collected your apples, scrub a few, then pile them in a decorative basket. Shamelessly display them right where folks are likely to grab one as they pass by. This is truly fast food.

Or try the slices-for-dessert ruse. Keep everyone around the table after dinner. If you have small children, core and then thinly slice an apple, doling out a section at a time.

Incorporate your apple supply into meals in other creative ways.

* Large Rome Beauty apples have a softer texture and can easily be "baked" in the microwave in just minutes.

* Mellow Golden Delicious apples mixed with raisins, walnuts, celery and low-fat mayonnaise make a great Waldorf salad. Add cooked chicken chunks for a one-dish meal.

* Puree sweet apples in the food processor, then substitute this fresh applesauce, measure for measure, for the fat in your favorite muffin recipe.

* Replace jelly with thinly sliced apples on a peanut butter sandwich.

* Add grated apples and carrots to tuna, chicken or turkey salad sandwiches.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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