In the rush to christen new superfoods, it is easy to forget or overlook the typical “plain Jane” foods such as apples, potatoes, and oranges. Well, we’re here to invite you to give these foods a well-deserved second look; what you don’t know will pleasantly surprise you!
Some Exciting Facts About Three Everyday Foods
Many of the beneficial nutrients found in apples are found in their skin; this helps explain why “cloudy” apple juice has been shown to exhibit higher antioxidant activity than clear apple juice. While most of us probably see only a few varieties of apples in the produce section, there are more than 7,000 varieties in the world.
- Loads of phytonutrients that help regulate blood sugar. A whole apple contains various phytonutrients (including quercetin) that work together to stimulate insulin production, slow down the breakdown of starch into simple sugars, and slow down the absorption of glucose into the blood stream. Eating a whole apple has also been shown to keep you satisfied longer than more processed apple products (such as apple juice or applesauce).
- Soluble fibers and polyphenols help lower blood cholesterol. One of the more well-known soluble fibers in apples is pectin. Pectin in combination with apples’ other polyphenols, such as chlorogenic acid, anthocyanin (in the red-skinned varieties), or quercetin, have been shown to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and protect cell membranes against oxidative damage. Interestingly, the cholesterol-lowering effect is not observed when pectin is given alone as a supplement. This means it’s the interaction between pectin and the polyphenols that is important in producing the beneficial health effect.
Potatoes have been a victim of the low-carb craze, and their image as a high-carbohydrate, “guilty” food is due for a serious overhaul.
- A good source of various vitamins and minerals. Potatoes are a good source of Vitamin C, as well as fiber, Vitamin B6, copper, potassium and manganese. A medium-baked Russet potato, for example, will give you 4 g of fiber and 952 mg of potassium (approximately double the potassium content in a large banana).
- Potato skin and flesh contain powerful anti-cancer agents and antioxidants. Recent research has identified potatoes as having various polyphenols (in skin and flesh) that are powerful anti-cancer agents and antioxidants, including chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and patatin. In addition, some potato varieties contain substances called kukoamines, which appear to lower blood pressure and are otherwise found only in another “sexier” superfood – goji berry. Purple-fleshed varieties appear to have higher polyphenol content than yellow-fleshed or white-fleshed varieties, according to a 2011 Colorado State University study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The same study also found that while phenolic content and antioxidant activity increase with longer storage, the anti-cancer activity decreases.
While considered a very common fruit today, oranges used to be expensive and were available only for special occasions. The sweet fruit as we know it does not actually exist in the wild, and is believed to be the result of a hybrid cultivated in ancient times.
- Contains numerous polyphenols that protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. One of the major flavonoids in oranges, hesperidin, has been shown to significantly lower diastolic blood pressure in healthy, middle-aged, moderately overweight men when consumed regularly for a period of 4 weeks, according to a January 2011 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Other polyphenols being studied exhibit anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer properties, such as limonin and beta-cryptoxanthin. Many of these polyphenols exist in the pulp and peel of the orange, which means a significant loss when the fruit is processed into juice.
- More than just Vitamin C. Oranges are also a good source of fiber, folate, Vitamin B1, Vitamin A, and potassium.
The Bottom Line
These wholesome nutritious gems have been unfairly overlooked, or sometimes paired with less nutritious choices (e.g., a baked potato drowning in sour cream and bacon bits). As we learn more about the various phytonutrients that exist (and how they work together) in the foods we thought we knew, the message about eating minimally processed food remains consistent. In this case, stay away from boxed, packaged, highly processed items that proclaim they “contain real fruit” or are “made with real vegetables” and eat the real thing instead.