antioxidants

Why are apples so fabulous?

An apple a day keeps the doctor away


Photo by  Roberta Sorge  on  Unsplash

 

A cliché, I know, but actually there seems to be a lot of truth in this old saying. A 2011 review of the existing research on apples found that apples have been associated with beneficial effects on risk markers (such as cholesterol) and the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma and Alzheimer’s disease. There is also research to suggest that they may help prevent cognitive decline, diabetes, weight gain, osteoporosis, lung function and gastro-intestinal problems. A recent (2016) study found that apple consumption is inversely associated with all-cause and specific disease mortality in the elderly. In plain English: The more apples elderly people eat, the longer they live. I’m sure it is safe to say that apples are beneficial for younger people as well then. (Note: Association is not causation – just because two things occur together doesn’t mean that one causes the other.)

So what is it about apples that makes them so fabulous?

Different things, not just one.

First of all, they contain lots of antioxidants. Those are nutrients that have the ability to safely disarm free radicals – a normal byproduct of metabolism, but in this day and age increased by environmental and dietary toxins. Free radicals lead to cell damage, so you want to load up on those antioxidants. Apples contain vitamin C and quercetin, but also catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid – some of the lesser known antioxidants, which give apples particularly strong antioxidant power. Apples also contain an unusually high concentration of phenolic compounds, a class of biochemically substances belonging to the flavonoid group, which are really, really good for us.  

The above mentioned quercetin (also contained in onions, black tea, berries, and peppers) is anti-inflammatory and is used to fight cardiovascular disease, allergies and asthma, insulin resistance and diabetes, stomach ulcers, viral infections, cognitive impairment and even chronic fatigue syndrome.  

Apples also contain pectin, a soluble fibre. Soluble fibre develops a gel-like consistency in the gut because it absorbs water. It bulks up stool and allows the muscles of the gut to ‘grab’ on to waste and move it along. It’s ability to absorb water means that pectin can also help reduce the incidence of diarrhoea.  

But here’s the thing: It’s not only through quercetin that apples help reduce inflammation – and remember, inflammation is now thought to be at the root of all chronic disease. Pectin feeds beneficial gut bacteria and they then produce – as a thank you – anti-inflammatory chemicals for us as well. In rats at least, apple-pectin has been found to achieve that, thus suppressing weight and fat gain (2016).

Lastly there’s boron. You may have spotted the mention of osteoporosis above. Boron is a mineral that has bone-building properties and is important for the prevention of osteoporosis (bone loss) and arthritis (joint inflammation). As it happens, apples are one of the best sources of dietary boron. As a mineral, this is not destroyed by heat and unless you boil the apples and throw out the water, it’ll still be there if you prefer your apples cooked.

How about the other nutrients: Yes, you will lose probably all vitamin C and levels of other antioxidants will be reduced, but you’ll still get some. Pectin, however, is heat resistant.

I frequently recommend stewed apples for those of my clients who suffer from intestinal hyperpermeability (‘leaky gut’) and that is due to its pectin. I want my clients to feed their good bacteria so that they can make their contribution in healing the gut. It’s really rare that anyone refuses to eat stewed apples with cinnamon. I mean, why would you?  

This week’s Nutrilicious News will have a delicious recipe for a healthier apple crumble. It’s not too late to sign up!

 


 

 

Coffee - It's not black and white

Do you love your coffee? And if you do, do you feel guilty about it? After all, coffee seems to be bad for you and many health experts discourage its consumption. But as with most things concerning health and nutrition: It’s not black and white. We all know people who can guzzle a “venti” (20 fl oz = 600 ml) and still have a nap afterwards, when others only so much as sniff an espresso and are wired all day long. That’s because how you respond to caffeine - coffee’s most predominant active compound - is governed by your genes, some of which affect the way your liver processes caffeine, others influence how the brain reacts.

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Coffee and Blood Sugar Levels If you are stressed - and who isn’t these days - or are struggling with your weight, you should learn how to control blood sugar levels. You need to avoid sudden spikes, because high blood sugar levels stimulate the release of insulin, which in turn contributes to weight gain. Caffeine, a stimulant, does raise blood sugar levels. However, a Finnish study found that coffee increases insulin sensitivity (that’s a good thing) and lowers the risk for diabetes II. This is effect is attributed not to caffeine, but chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant in coffee. Chlorogenic acid is also responsible for many of the other beneficial properties of coffee.

So, coffee does raise blood sugar levels to some extent. We all love a biscuit or even a slice of cake alongside a cup of coffee, but combining coffee with sugar triples it's effect on blood sugar. Bad news, I know. So on to the good news …

Coffee and cardio-vascular disease Coffee is often thought to adversely affect the heart. However, according to an article published in Current Vascular Pharmacology in 2014, it is actually beneficial when consumed in moderation. Coffee lowers the risk for stroke and it does not even affect blood pressure to any great degree, but patients suffering from arrhythmia should avoid it. A word of warning though: Some people’s genetic make-up causes them to metabolise caffeine more slowly, and for them, there is indeed an increased risk of non-fatal heart attacks. (Fast caffeine metabolisers, on the other hand, actually lowered their risk of heart attack through coffee consumption.) Also, even if blood pressure is not greatly affected in healthy people, you should exercise caution and steer clear of coffee if you know that you suffer from hypertension.

But coffee does hurt the stomach. Doesn't it? It appears that even the most stubborn rumours about the ill effects of coffee are being overturned. A 2013 cross-sectional study in Japan found no correlation between coffee consumption and stomach ulcers, upper intestinal ulcers, or heartburn.

More good news Coffee has been found to protect from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, depression, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Moreover, higher coffee consumption was found to significantly reduce the risk of recurrence of colon cancer, and reduces the overall risk of mortality meaning: Coffee makes you live longer - at least as long as you do not overdo it.

Who should avoid coffee? If your genes have not equipped you to tolerate coffee well, you very likely already noticed. If it makes you feel jittery, wired, causes tremors and gives you palpitations - avoid. You won’t need me to tell you that. Also, coffee is undoubtedly an addictive substance, as anyone who has ever gone through withdrawal will know, and that in itself will put a lot of people off who would rather not go there.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women and those trying for a baby should avoid coffee as it has been linked to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and lower birth weight. If you can’t live without the stuff, do not have ore than one cup a day.

If you are not sure whether or not you are a slow metaboliser - whose risk for heart disease, if you remember, is increased when they drink coffee - and would like to find out, you could do a gene test, which have recently become available at very affordable prices. (Note: The tests look at a number of health genes, not just the way you metabolise coffee.)

How to make your coffee The way you make coffee can change its properties: Boiled and unfiltered coffee may raise cholesterol and triglycerides, and paper-filtered coffee appears to contribute to inflammation. A possible reason for this is that with this method, the beneficial polyphenols in coffee are filtered out.

Consider what you’re adding Much of what gives coffee a bad reputation is not so much the coffee itself, but ingredients we like to add to it: Coffee as such has 0 calories. It may contribute to weight gain by raising blood sugar levels, but all by itself, it won’t do much damage. Consider, however, what you add to it: sugar, including syrups, lead to much greater blood sugar spikes and thus greater insulin excretion. Sugar also has powerful pro-inflammatory properties, and avoiding it is generally a good idea. Milk and cream (and sugar) all increase the calorie content of your coffee. And need I even mention marshmallows?

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On the other hand, you can improve on the properties of coffee by adding either cinnamon or ginger to it. Both substances have been tested in combination with coffee - albeit only in vitro - and were found to have enhanced anti-radical and anti-inflammatory properties. Other spices that go well with coffee are cardamom, cloves, or saffron.

Is decaf a good alternative? No, is the short answer.

First of all, be aware that “decaffeinated” does not mean that the caffeine content is zero. Processing usually removes 97% of the caffeine. Most commercial brands use chemical solvents to remove caffeine from the green coffee beans, and although the industry ensures us that there will be no residues when we drink it, I personally just don’t like the thought, and it will still impact on the environment.

How much coffee is ok? It appears that coffee consumption “in moderation” is not only harmless, but even healthy for most people. But how much is “moderate”? I’ve seen recommendations that say up to 600 mg of caffeine daily is ok, but most are lower, 400 - 500 mg. Translated into cups of coffee this is approx. 4 - 5 cups. That amount of coffee is also associated with the lowest risk of death (meaning: people drinking less than that are at a higher risk of death!).

So, that’s the lowdown on coffee. If you would like to read more on coffee, click here. Or - better still - sign up to my newsletter. Tomorrow morning's edition has more on antioxidants and a recipe for cinnamon almond latte.