Apples! They are a crunchy, portable snack that packs a nutritious punch and gives you that little pop of energy you need to get through the day. Whether diced in a salad, dipped in peanut butter, or eaten whole, the apple has become a staple food in any pantry.

While you may love them for their tastiness, satisfying sweetness, and naturally convenient packaging, there are many other reasons to bite into apples.

As the saying goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This adage has truth. The health benefits of apples are numerous. According to research published in , eating apples has been linked with reduced risk for developing several diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.

The same study finds that eating apples may help to lower cholesterol, and that they have antioxidant properties.

According to the University of Illinois, apples provide both insoluble and soluble fiber. The combination of fat-soluble fiber, such as pectin, and phytonutrients, or plant-based nutrients, found in apples may keep cholesterol from building up in your blood vessel wall lining, helping reduce the potential incidence of heart disease.

When you regularly eat one apple a day, in its whole form including the skin, an apple provides the right combination of nutrients to lower blood fats. It may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.

reports that some of the apple’s ability to protect against heart disease may come from its potential ability to lower cholesterol and reduce oxidation of cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol leads to the formation of free radicals in the body and increases risk of disease. Animal studies have shown cholesterol-lowering effects from apples, pears, and peaches — but of the three fruits, apples showed the greatest ability to lower cholesterol. Research has also shown that eating an apple a day may help reduce “bad” cholesterol damage and protect you from developing heart disease.

reports that apples (particularly the peels) can help inhibit the growth of colon cancer, breast cancer and liver cancer cells, due to its strong antioxidant activity. According to the University of Illinois, two-thirds of the antioxidants found in apples are contained in their peels.

The polyphenols, flavonoids, and vitamin C found in apples make it an excellent source of antioxidant nutrients. The U.S. Apple Associationconfirms that all types of apples contain antioxidants.

It’s best to look for apples that are firm, richly colored, and unbruised. With approximately 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States alone, you have plenty of different colors, textures, and flavors to choose from.

Gravenstein, Pippin, and Granny Smith apples are the most tart. Braeburn and Fuji apples are a bit sweeter. Red, Golden Delicious, and Honeycrisp are among the sweetest varieties.

Another thing to consider when choosing apples is whether pesticide application is a concern. According to the “Shoppers Guide to Pesticides” from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), apples weigh in at number two among the 12 foods with the most pesticide residue.

To avoid pesticides altogether, consider buying certified organic apples. If you decide to buy conventional apples, be sure to rinse them well under running water, and give them a gentle scrub with a vegetable brush to remove any residue and wax.

If kept in cold storage (35 to 40° Fahrenheit or 2 to 4° Celsius), apples can be stored for up to three to four months with minimal loss of nutrients. It’s recommended that apples be kept in the crisper bin of a refrigerator with a bit of moisture provided by a damp cloth.

To maximize the length of time your apples can be stored, be sure to remove any apples that have been bruised.

You maximize the health benefits of apples by eating them whole, but it’s also fun (and tasty!) to cook with them. While you might be familiar with the multitude of apple-centric dessert recipes, there are also lots of savory culinary creations that call for this fruit.

So get creative in your cooking — or just take a bite of a delicious apple today to promote a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition for you and your family.