Thursday, October 15, 2009

Apple of My Eye

UPDATE: Whole Foods has Ceylon Cinnamon sold by Frontier Brand in a shaker bottle for about $6.  I checked New Leaf and Staff of Life, but no go at either store.  

It is apple season!  That means fresh apples abounding and ready to pick!  Growing up on the east coast, apple picking was always an autumn tradition.  I have fond memories of piling the whole family complete with grandparents in the car and eating ourselves sick on apples because, of course, you have to try each variety and "oooh this apple looks perfect for eating..." We all went home with tummy-aches and mom baked and baked for weeks to come with the bounty.  There is nothing like a house filled with the sweet aroma of cinnamon and apples baking in the oven.  THAT is autumn.  But eating paleo-style makes these baked apple goodies a thing of the past--or does it?  Check back for a baked goods recipe I am tinkering with that isn't quite ready for publishing yet.  For now, let's talk apples.  

A couple weekends ago, I went apple picking with my husband and our friends at Swanton Pacific Ranch.  We found an organic U-pick apple orchard complete with cash box for your purchase on the honor system.  The rows and rows of trees were ours for the picking, and we alone were partaking despite it being a sunny, warm mid-Sunday afternoon.  The experience of being out there with the trees, bees, and birds made it so much more special than an orchard complete with hay ride and petting zoo.  Nice that families can partake in picking their own fruit and produce, but we were glad to escape the spectacle it has become.  

An Apple a Day...

Apples are a healthy fruit.  They are low glycemic foods (check back for a post on that topic soon!).  They are also one of Barry Sear's 100 Zone Foods for their control over blood sugar and high fiber content, especially the soluble fiber pectin, which lowers insulin secretion, slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream, and lowers cholesterol levels, according to his book The Top 100 Zone Foods.  Sears also mentions their role in preventing/reducing the risk of cancer.  A thorough summary of studies on the health benefits of apples from the Nutrition Journal shows even more benefits.  

Here are some of the conclusions they make: 
Based on these epidemiological studies, it appears that apples may play a large role in reducing the risk of a wide variety of chronic disease and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in general. Of the papers reviewed, apples were most consistently associated with reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, and type II diabetes when compared to other fruits and vegetables and other sources of flavonoids. Apple consumption was also positively associated with increased lung function and increased weight loss. Partially because of such strong epidemiological evidence supporting the health benefits in apples, there is increasing research using animal and in vitro models that attempts to more clearly explain these health benefits.

Many of the health benefits stem from the fact that apples are high in antioxidants, especially flavonoids, which have strong antioxidant properties.  What does this mean?  

Oxidative reactions are a part of your body's natural biochemistry and vital to many functions, such as the breakdown of glucose for energy.  Despite their importance, they are also implicated in many diseases and cancer due to the production of damaging free radicals (when is anything ever all or none?).  Oxidative chemical reactions take place in your body that pull electrons from one molecule to another and produce free radicals in the process.  Free radicals are molecules, atoms, and ions with a screw loose.  They have unpaired electrons, which makes them unstable, as if they are playing with half a deck.  While some have biological functions, other free radicals wander aimlessly and bump into other substances, which leads to jumpy little electrons being exchanged.  When electron-jumping happens to vital substances like DNA, it creates mutations, which can lead to cancer.  Free radicals are also implicated in the aging process and liver and lung damage in conjunction with alcohol and smoking.  

Antioxidants are the good guys: they hold free radicals so they can't do any damage.  Antioxidants are also martyrs, sacrificing themselves to oxidative reactions so no free radicals are produced.  They are essential to keep those free radicals in check.  Antioxidant-rich foods are vital in your diet to keep you healthy.   So an apple a day really can keep the doctor away, if it is a part of a healthy, balanced paleo-style diet!

Now back to oxidation--that's what is going on when cut apples turn brown.  Exposure to the air oxidizes iron-containing chemicals in apple flesh, turning the color brown.  The enzyme responsible for the reaction is the same that helps create melatonin in our own skin so that we tan when exposed to sunlight.  Go figure!  To prevent browning, you can cut apples underwater (so the enzymes don't get exposed to air).  However, I am not sure if browning is only delayed until they surface and inevitably get exposed to air.  Cooking apples also denatures the enzymes, avoiding browning.  Finally, you can add citrus juice to cut apples, which lowers the pH to slow the enzymes and which contains Vitamin C, an antioxidant.  And so we go full circle--back to antioxidants!  (However, the antioxidants in apples don't stop their apple from browning--anyone know why?)  

What makes cinnamon special...and dangerous?

Historically, cinnamon was a highly valued spice referenced in the Old Testament and sought by Europe when expeditions were sent to find a shortcut to Asia.  Barry Sears, Zone Diet founder, puts cinnamon on his list of The Top 100 Zone Foods, despite it being a spice.  His reasoning?  Cinnamon imparts a sweetness that can substitute for sugar and has a slew of healthy benefits: it stimulates the efficiency of insulin so you need less to get the same effect and it may play a role in lowering blood pressure.  While scientific evidence supporting these claims is a bit spotty, there is promise that future research will uncover more concrete health benefits.  

There are three major types of cinnamon.  True cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, or Ceylon Cinnamon) is the inner bark of small evergreen native to Sri Lanka.  Cinnamon is also the name of spices made from the bark of Cassia trees (Cassia Cinnamon) and Cinnamomum burmannii (Indonesian Cinnamon), both native to areas in Southern Asia, India, and Indonesia.  In many countries only true cinnamon may go by the name cinnamon, but guess where that is NOT the case?  Yes, the good ol' US of A!  Read on.

Cassia Cinnamon may be something to avoid because 1.) it isn't true cinnamon and 2.) it contains a high quantity of a toxic chemical called coumarin, which when taken in high dosages, can lead to liver and kidney damage.  Sounds great, huh?  Luckily, if you exceed the safe dosage infrequently, your body has time to repair the damage.  For example, eating cinnamon buns hasn't killed you yet (although the wheat may certainly be damaging your gut!).  However, in those with an already compromised liver or kidneys or who regularly consume toxic dosages, high dosage of Cassia Cinnamon may be harmful.  What is high dosage?  Just one teaspoon of Cassia Cinnamon contains more of this chemical than deemed safe by tolerable daily intake levels for smaller individuals (say children); thus, moderation in Cassia Cinnamon intake is strongly suggested.  By contrast, Ceylon Cinnamon has very little of this chemical and is deemed safe.  

The bad news: it seems that most of what we call "ground cinnamon" is really Cassia!  The US has NO laws governing this distinction.  The FDA banned using coumarin as a food additive in 1954, so it understands the danger of this chemical, but has NO requirement for cinnamon contents in food.  While Germany has banned Cassia importation because of its coumarin levels, the US continues to use it for its strong cinnamon flavor.  Great!  

What can you do?  Don't freak out (unlike me--finding this out really made me mad!)  If you often use cinnamon often or in high quantity or have kids or anyone with liver/kidney problems in your household, perhaps it is best to switch out your stash now.  Find out what kind of cinnamon is in that ground cinnamon before you buy it.  If you can't tell, don't buy it.  Looks like Whole Foods sells Ceylon Cinnamon in a shaker from Frontier brand (at least on their website).  I will have to check out New Leaf next time I go.  Stick form may be the real thing in some stores, but look for light tan, thin, brittle, inner bark sticks rolled like cigars for true cinnamon, while Cassia uses thicker, harder bark layers and looks like a dark, reddish brown scroll shape (see pictures on wikipedia).  Ground Ceylon Cinnamon looks to be selling at around $20-35 a pound through online spice retailers, who say that lasts up to 2 years in an airtight jar.  Or just buy the sticks or quillings (broken pieces when sticks are cut) and grind them yourself since true cinnamon is brittle enough to be ground in a coffee or spice grinder.    

Okay, enough with the nerdiness and freaking out over cinnamon!  Here is an incredibly simple apple preparation that is a great snack or carb for a balanced meal (i.e. one of my favorite breakfast accompaniments to eggs)!

Ceylon Cinnamon Dusted Apple Slices
Spicy and sweet, these apple slices fragrantly announce autumn.  
Zone Blocks: 1 apple is 2 blocks

one apple
Ceylon Cinnamon (true cinnamon--NOT toxic Cassia!)

Cut the apple into thin slices (I like to leave mine round).  Dust with cinnamon on one side, flip, and dust with cinnamon on the other side--or just toss once you first dust the top to get your desired coating.  


Cinnamon on FoodistaCinnamon
Cinnamon on FoodistaCinnamon

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kristy! I found Ceylon Cinnamon in both powdered and stick form at the New Leaf in Felton. They sell it in the bin aisle.