Over the last three decades, apple consumption in the U.S. has skyrocketed— and with good reason. This immensely varied, sometimes-sweet, sometimes-sour fruit has more health benefits than we can count— like being rich in antioxidants and fiber— while staying relatively low in calories. Say hello to this week’s superfood: apples.

How You Like Them Apples? — The Need-to-Know

Photo by Jordan Shakeshaft

This red delicious (pun intended!) fruit does it all. For starters, a medium-sized apple weighs in at under 100 calories with 0 grams of fat. Plus, upping apple intake has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and asthmaApple phytochemicals and their health benefits. Boyer, J., Liu, R.H. Department of Food Science and Institute of Comparative and Environmental Toxicology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Nutrition Journal, 2004 May 12;3:5.. And while apples are a good source of vitamin C and a few other nutrients, that’s not the whole story— they’re rich in plenty of other antioxidants, nutrients not always tallied on nutrition labels. Antioxidants, also known as phytochemicals, are found in plants (they’re often responsible for fruits’ bright hues) and fight off the damage caused by free radicals, which has been linked to cancer, hardening of the arteries, inflammation, and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’sNeurodegenerative diseases and oxidative stress. Emerit, J., Edeas, M., Bricaire, F. Service des Maladies Infectieuses et Tropicales, Groupe Hospitalier Pitié-Salpêtrière, Paris, France. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, 2004 Jan;58(1):39-46.. And apples just don’t quit. Initial research comparing a variety of fruits and vegetables found that fruits with white flesh, like apples and pears, were associated with a reduced risk of stroke. Not only that, they’re also a stellar source of fiber, which aids digestive track function. And the type of fiber in apples may have some additional benefits. Studies suggest soluble fiber could help lessen inflammation associated with weight-related diseases and even boost immunity.

An Apple a Day… — Your Action Plan

When autumn rolls around, apple season hits full force (though these guys are usually available year-round, too), and grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and fruit stands are saturated with apple options. In fact, there are more than 7,500 different apple varieties. Some are best for baking, others juicing, and some are simply best in their pure unadulterated form. But the real question is, which offer the healthiest bang for the buck? Fuji and red delicious consistently rank highest for their antioxidant content, while Cortland and Empire apples (typically used for cooking and baking) don’t have quite as much nutritional punch. Another tally in apples’ favor: Portion control is hardly an issue when it comes to this fruit, seeing as it comes in its very own, naturally crafted 100-calorie pack. But that doesn’t mean a whole raw apple is the only way to snack on this dietary superstar. Apple slices can be an excellent vehicle for almond butter or cheese for an extra dose of protein. They can also be cooked up in plenty of seasonal recipes. Check out this simple take on a classic baked apple for a perfectly seasonal and just-sweet-enough dessert.

Superfood Recipe: Baked Apples

By Kelly Fitzpatrick

Photo by Kelli Dunn

Serves 2

What You’ll Need:

2 medium-sized apples (Gala, Jonamac, or Fuji work well)

4 tablespoons chopped nuts (try a mixture of almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans!)

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

What to Do:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 and spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Keeping the apple whole, remove the center core by cutting around it vertically and pushing out the center.
  3. Combine nuts, honey, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  4. Fill the center core of the apples with an even amount of the mixture.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!