My grandmother was one of those women — I’m sure you know the kind — warm and smart and full of time-tested truisms. We’ve all heard them, especially, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, not only does it turn out that Grandma Gertrude was right about that — new research shows that apples can actually keep the grim reaper away, too. That’s according to a study conducted at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. The study shows that fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) fed a diet high in apple polyphenols (antioxidant substances) lived 10% longer than fruit flies fed the same diet without the polyphenols. Plus, the polyphenol-fed group retained the ability to walk, climb and move about for longer than the nonpolyphenol group.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Fruit flies? How does that relate to me? The truth is that fruit flies are commonly used as human stand-ins in research because their genes are remarkably similar to ours. And the positive result of this apple polyphenol research simply adds to the loads of evidence that apples do a body good. Previous studies have shown that the chemicals in apples can be beneficial in reducing the risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Apples also promote weight loss and improve pulmonary function (good news for asthma sufferers!).

The trick, of course, is figuring out how many apples you’d need to eat each day to see a benefit.

“We do not know yet the optimum amounts of antioxidants required per person per day,” says Chang Yong Lee, PhD, a professor in the department of food science at Cornell University who specializes in bioactive phytochemicals. “But since there is no known negative effect from consuming large portions of natural fruits and vegetables, I would say that at least one to two apples a day is very reasonable.” And, Dr. Lee points out, a recent USDA report has shown that Americans typically eat only about one-quarter of a raw apple a day, on average, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.

It’s not that hard to eat a few apples a day — for example, you can include one in your breakfast and then eat another after dinner. But if that seems a little monotonous, it’s easy — and fun — to incorporate apples into more of your meals. The rule of thumb: According to Dr. Lee, a raw, unpeeled apple retains the most beneficial chemicals — you can add it to meat salads and garden salads. Cooked apples with the skin still intact are nearly as beneficial and can be added to many dishes, ranging from pork chops to roast chicken to desserts like apple tarts, apple upside-down cake or simple baked apples. And of course, there are processed apple products (applesauce, juice) that have lower amounts of beneficial phytochemicals. With this information in mind, I called David Joachim, chef and author of numerous cookbooks, including Perfect Light Desserts, The Science of Good Food and Fire it Up: More than 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything, to get his thoughts on an interesting apple recipe.

“I’d make an apple-jicama salad, with an orange-lime vinaigrette,” Joachim said. “The salad and dressing are colorful and sweet enough that even kids will gobble it up, and the ingredients pack a load of health-boosting nutrients. Plus it’s easy to make any night of the week.” Here’s how to put it together. Try it tonight — and enjoy those apples!

Apple-Jicama Salad

Core two apples (a firm red variety is best — these include honeycrisp, jazz, empire, jonathan and others — with skin intact) and julienne into matchsticks. Place in a bowl.

  • Julienne one peeled medium-sized (about one pound) jicama (a crisp, slightly sweet root vegetable) and add to bowl.
  • Add a handful of orange segments (cut into smaller pieces if you prefer) and a handful of chopped mint.
  • Mix together with an orange-lime vinaigrette — one to two tablespoons each of orange juice and lime juice with two to three tablespoons of olive oil, plus salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve on a bed of watercress with some toasted pecans scattered on top.

Serves four.

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