Healthy Eating: The key to a healthy new year (Part I)

Find out why Rosh Hashana’s famous apple and honey combination will give you more than just a sweet new year.

Apples! Autumn! _311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Apples! Autumn! _311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Every year on Rosh Hashana we wish each other health and happiness over some apples and honey. And what better way to start off a healthy year than with this food combination – not only is it sweet and delicious, but apples and honey are both packed with essential and beneficial nutrients. Now, most of us have heard that apples are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and that honey acts as a natural antibiotic – but what else can these two foods do for you?
Here is a closer look at how and why incorporating apples and honey into your (daily) diet will help you achieve a healthy, and happy new year:
Part I - Apples
Everyone has heard the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but what exactly are the health benefits of eating this fruit? Aside from the obvious high vitamin C content, what can an apple a day do for you?
Here are the top six ailments that an apple a day will keep at bay: 
1. Allergies: An autumn holiday (for those in the northern hemisphere), Rosh Hashana certainly falls at a beautiful time of the year. The weather is beginning to cool, but it’s still pleasant outside. Unfortunately, for those of us who suffer from seasonal allergies, we’re still suffering at this time of the year. Luckily, apples (particularly red ones) are rich in quercetin – an anti-inflammatory flavonoid that helps to suppress histamine production in the body, thereby helping to prevent allergy symptoms from occurring.
2. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease: Apart from fighting off those dreaded allergies, quercetin may also help to prevent Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Recent studies found that this phytonutrient helps to protect rat's brains from oxidative stress, a contributing factor of these two neurological degenerative diseases.
3. Cancer: As most of us have heard, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will help to decrease the risk of developing cancer. Now when most of us hear this, we typically picture blueberries, broccoli, and other richly colored fruits or vegetables; however, very rarely do apples come to mind. This is a shame, as more and more studies have placed apples at the top of the cancer fighting food list!
While many studies have demonstrated an impressive ability of overall fruit and/or vegetable consumption to reduce the risk of lung cancer, very few individual fruits have proven to be protective against this form of cancer - except for apples! Studies have found that people who eat a lot of apples may reduce their risk of developing lung cancer by up to 50 percent. Researchers believe this is due to the high levels of the flavonoids quercetin and naringin in apples. Make sure not to peel your apples, as the majority of the flavonoids are found in the skin.  Researchers also found that daily consumption of apples may help to decrease the risk of breast cancer, and another study found that rats fed apple skins had a 43% lower risk of developing colon cancer.
4. Asthma: A common diseases of the respiratory system, asthma can be triggered by a multitude of factors including cold air, exercise, certain foods, infection, weather and of course allergies. So how does an apple a day help keep asthma at bay? Well for starters, one study found that those who consumed two or more apples a week reduced their risk of an asthma attack by nearly 33%. At the same time, another study revealed that children with asthma who drank apple juice on a daily basis suffered from less wheezing than children who drank apple juice only once per month. Finally, researchers found that children born to mothers who ate a lot of apples throughout their pregnancy had a significantly lower rate of developing asthma than children whose mothers ate few or no apples while pregnant. Like its anti-cancer properties, an apple’s anti-asthma benefits are believed to be associated with its specific antioxidant and anti-inflammatory content; however researchers still remain puzzled as to whether apples contain something else that reduces the rate of asthma as they are a truly powerful fruit in combating this disease. 
5.  Cardiovascular Disease: Like many other fruits and veggies, apples are packed with fiber, with a medium-sized apple providing nearly 17% of the recommended daily intake. But what does this have to do with cholesterol? In short, fiber reduces cholesterol absorption in the intestine, which in turns lowers the risk of clogged arteries and heart attacks. In fact, according to the American Heart Association adding soluble fiber to your diet reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol levels as well as the risk of cardiovascular disease more so than just following a low-fat diet alone. In addition to the high fiber content, apple peels are loaded with polyphenols - antioxidants that have been shown to fight off free radicals that can cause cardiovascular disease.
6. Weight Gain: While gaining a few pounds here and there will probably only result in your jeans being a bit snug for a while, continuously gaining weight over time (especially around the middle) can leave you more susceptible to numerous diseases, ranging from strokes, to diabetes to heart diseases and even cancer. So how can apples help out? Apart from their high fiber, vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content, apples are low in calories (only 100 per medium size apple) as well as low in sugar (they rank low on the GI scale). By replacing your late afternoon snack or even dessert with this fruit, you will not only be cutting out a few hundred unnecessary calories as well as providing yourself with all sorts of health beneficial nutrients, but you will also not cause your blood sugar levels to spike.  Foods that are high in sugar, give us quite literally “a sugar high” and as good as this may make us feel for an hour or two, what goes up must come down, and a few short hours later, blood glucose levels will come crashing down – leaving you craving for more sweet (and high calorie) foods.  Snacking on an apple will keep your blood sugar levels normal, and will keep you energized and happy until it is time for your next meal.
Stay tuned for Healthy Eating: The key to a healthy new year (Part II) to find out why honey may be your key to a sweet and healthy new year…
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