With fall just around the corner, our minds start drifting towards bonfires and hot apple cider. Apples are a favorite for many people. In fact, Americans consume 44 pounds of apples per person each year.

We are lucky to have so many orchards right here in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For a fun fall activity, visit an orchard and pick your own apples. Whether you purchase them from an orchard, the local farmers market, the grocery store, or have your own trees, apples are a great fall treat that lasts throughout the year.

Apples are very versatile. They are tasty eaten raw, cooked or baked. Apples can be used in countless ways: baked and sliced into pancakes, cubed in fruit salad or on a green salad; served with peanut butter or cheese (great snack); paired with pork or made into apple pie or apple crisp.

There are hundreds of varieties of apples available and each one is unique. Most of us have a favorite, whether it be tart and crunchy, sweet and juicy or something in between. Enjoy them your way.

Apples are very nutritious. A large apple has 115 calories, five grams of fiber and is a good source of vitamin C and contains no fat or sodium. All varieties are a natural source of health-promoting phytonutrients, including antioxidants that have been linked to disease prevention. To get the full nutritional benefits, leave the peel on because it's where two-thirds of the fiber and beneficial antioxidants are found.

Recent research has linked apples to an impressive range of health benefits including:

• Reduced cancer risk. Studies show that apples may provide protection against certain types of cancer such as oral, esophageal, larynx, lung, colon, breast, ovary and prostate. This protective effect may be due to apples being rich in phytonutrients.

• Heart health. In one study, apple consumption reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 19 to 43 percent. In a study by Ohio State University of healthy, middle-aged adults, consumption of one apple a day for four weeks lowered by an average of 40 percent blood levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol.

• Lung health. A study out of London reports people who ate at least two apples a week had a 22 to 32 percent lower risk of developing asthma than people who ate fewer apples. In another study, women who reported eating apples during pregnancy reduced the risk of asthma and wheezing in their child at age 5.

• Brain power. A growing body of evidence suggests eating apples and drinking apple juice can be beneficial when it comes to improving brain health and diminishing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. A study of people with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease found that drinking 8 ounces of apple juice daily resulted in a 27 percent improvement in behavioral and mood-related symptoms.

• Gut health. Apples contain pectin, a fiber-like substance found in the cell walls of plants. "Good" bacteria in our intestines like to feed on apple pectin. which allows them to reproduce and thrive while providing disease protection.

Apples may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, improve immunity and promote weight loss.

Apple Chicken Stir Fry

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed

1 tablespoon canola oil

½ cup onion, vertically sliced

1¾ cups (3-4 medium) carrots, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1 cup fresh or frozen pea pods

1 tablespoon water

1 medium baking apple, cored and thinly sliced

2 cups cooked brown rice

Stir-fry cubed chicken in 1 tablespoon oil in a non-stick skillet until lightly browned and cooked. Remove from skillet. Stir-fry onion, carrots and basil in oil in the same skillet until carrots are tender. Stir in pea pods and water, stir-fry 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in apple. Add chicken and stir to combine. Serve hot over cooked rice.

Nutritional Information: Servings: 4; calories, 330; protein, 30 grams; carbohydrates, 30 grams; total fat, 8 grams; saturated fat, 1 gram; fiber, 5 grams; sodium, 115 milligrams.

Teresa Farrell is registered and licensed dietitian with Essentia Health.