THE WONDERFUL HEALTH BENEFITS OF FRESH APPLES
"Eat an apple on going to bed, and you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread"
- Welsh Proverb
THE ORIGINAL SUPERFOOD
A fresh apple is the quintessential on-the-go snack. It’s convenient - naturally wrapped in a hardy yet nutritious skin. It’s satisfying to eat – juicy and crunchy, sweet and tart all at the same time. And to top it all off, apples just happen to be one of the healthiest foods around.
When we think of a “superfruit” the tendency is to envision some exotic berry from an Indonesian rainforest, but modern science is uncovering plenty of evidence that, when it comes to health benefits, the humble apple may just be the most "super" fruit of all.
In fact, a team of researchers studying the health benefits of apples at Florida State University was so stunned by their results that they dubbed the apple a “miracle fruit” and the director of the research, Dr. Bahram H. Arjmandi says he has since begun eating two apples every day. “I am convinced this is what I should do if I want to remain healthy,” he told the Chicago Herald in April 2012.
Why are apples so healthy? Well, besides being fat, sodium and cholesterol free and an excellent source of dietary fiber, apples are also packed with an extremely wide array of phytonutrients that have powerful antioxidant capacities. (Two-thirds of the fiber and many of the antioxidants are found in the apple skin, so whenever possible, DO NOT peel your apples.)
Our knowledge of how and why apples are so beneficial for human health is constantly expanding, but here’s a list of some of the health benefits that have so far been attributed to apples, followed by more detailed explanations.
Reduces risk of several major cancers (including Breast, Lung, Pancreatic, Colon, Liver, Prostate and Colorectal)
Significantly lowers cholesterol and reduces risk of heart disease and stroke
Protects brain cells against oxidative stress associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Improves lung function and reduces risk of asthma and other respiratory issues
Aids digestion, boosts intestinal health and improves bowel function
Helps reduce body fat levels, aids weight loss and lowers blood pressure
Builds and strengthens muscle
Regulates blood sugar, controls appetite and assists in the management of diabetes
Strengthens the immune system, reduces inflammation and removes toxic metals such as lead and mercury from the body
Apples are rich in antioxidants, especially polyphenols, which have been identified to help inhibit cancer onset and cell proliferation.
In one study, the more apples per day individuals ate, the less likely they were to develop colorectal cancer. The anti-cancer effect was seen even when an individual had a low total consumption of fruits and vegetables but consumed at least an apple a day. In addition, apples are a good source of fiber and a high-fiber diet is known as a risk reducer for colorectal cancer.
A 2001 Mayo Clinic study indicated that quercetin, a flavonoid abundant in apples, inhibited or prevented the growth of human prostate cancer cells by blocking activity of androgen hormones, in an in vitro study. Previous studies had linked androgens to prostate cancer’s growth and development. Apples are the best food source of quercetin.
Quercetin has also been identified as one of the most beneficial flavonoids in preventing and reducing the risk of pancreatic cancer.
A Cornell University study indicated phytochemicals in the skin of an apple inhibited the reproduction of colon cancer cells by 43 percent.
The National Cancer Institute has reported that foods containing flavonoids like those found in apples may reduce the risk of lung cancer by as much as 50 percent.
A series of studies at Cornell University have evaluated the direct effects of apples on breast cancer prevention in animals. The more apples consumed, the greater the reduction in incidence or number of tumors among test animals.
Cornell researchers have identified a dozen compounds -- triterpenoids -- in apple peel that either inhibit or kill cancer cells in laboratory cultures. Three of the compounds have not previously been described in the literature. "We found that several compounds have potent anti-proliferative activities against human liver, colon and breast cancer cells and may be partially responsible for the anti-cancer activities of whole apples," says Rui Hai Liu, Cornell associate professor of food science. "Some compounds were more potent and acted differently against the various cancer cell lines, but they all show very potent anti-cancer activities and should be studied further."
Researchers at Florida State University report that daily consumption of apples and apple juice may help reduce the damage caused by the LDL, the “bad” type of cholesterol, and protect against heart disease. They found that eating two apples a day for six months can reduce artery-blocking LDL by 23 percent and a 3 to 4 percent increase in their HDL "good" cholesterol – “ a boost difficult to achieve with drugs or exercise,” says Dr. Arjmandi, who was surprised how much cholesterol a couple of apples can remove from the body.
Pectin, a soluble fiber found in apples, has been shown to help with a whole slew of problems that can bring about heart disease. Pectin binds to cholesterol in the gut and ferries it out of the body, decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Finnish researchers found an association between apple consumption and a reduced risk of stroke, after studying a large group of 9,208 Finnish men and women for 28 years. Researchers determined that study participants who ate the most apples had the lowest risk for stroke, where a blood clot starves part of the brain of oxygen.
In another study, apples were found to be one of three foods (along with red wine and pears) that decrease the risk of mortality for both coronary heart disease (CHD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) among post-menopausal women.
Researchers from Cornell University found that regularly eating apples protects brain neurons against oxidative damage. Such damage can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The study highlighted the antioxidant quercetin as a principle compound responsible for the protective effect.
A University of Massachusetts-Lowell clinical trial showed that drinking apple juice significantly improved mood and behavior among a group of patients diagnosed with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease. Patients that received daily servings of apple juice showed improved cognitive performance and increased acetylcholine levels, a neurotransmitter that is essential to thought and memory functions. Apples are now thought to keep your brain sharp as you age, enhance memory, and potentially lessen the odds of getting Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s.
Research from the United Kingdom reports children of mothers who eat apples during pregnancy are much less likely to exhibit symptoms of asthma at age five. Apples were the only food found to have a positive association with a reduced risk of asthma among a variety of foods consumed and recorded.
A study of Welsh men indicated that people who ate at least five apples per week experience better lung function.
Researchers at the University of Nottingham reported that those who ate five apples per week also had a lower risk for respiratory disease.
In the Netherlands at the University of Groningen, apples were singled out as a fruit that could cut smokers' risk of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in half.
Once again it seems it is the flavonoid quercetin that is responsible for these benefits. Quercetin also aids endurance by making oxygen more available to the lungs. One study showed that quercetin—when taken in supplement form—helped people bike longer.
University of Denmark researchers discovered apples and apple products could boost intestinal health by increasing the numbers of good gut bacteria. The friendly bacteria in the intestines feed on apple pectin, a fiber found abundantly in apples. Eating apples is now known to significantly increase populations of two bacteria (Clostridiales and Bacteriodes) in the large intestine. As a result of these bacterial increases, metabolism in the large intestine is also changed, and many of these changes appear to provide health benefits.
The high levels of soluble fiber found in apples also helps regulate water absorption in the intestine and improves bowel function, which in turn greatly reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.
Also, the malic and tartaric acids in apples can help soothe indigestion.
Researchers in France found that the flavonoid, phloridzin, (only found in apples) may protect post-menopausal women from osteoporosis. Apples also contain boron, which strengthens bones.
A natural compound found in the apple’s skin, called ursolic acid, may help prevent muscle wasting that can result from aging and illness. In repeated trials, ursolic acid consistently increased skeletal muscle in mice. Interestingly, it also reduced obesity, pre-diabetes and fatty liver disease.
The natural sweetness in apples comes primarily from fructose, a type of sugar that breaks down slowly in the body and helps keep blood sugar levels stable for diabetes sufferers. Steady blood sugar and insulin levels cause you to feel full longer — the opposite of many sugary snacks, which produce a quick rush followed by a hunger-inducing crash.
Additionally, pectin in apples supplies galacturonic acid to the body, lowering the need for insulin and assisting in the management of diabetes.
The phytonutrients in apples can also help you regulate your blood sugar. Recent research has shown that apple polyphenols can help prevent spikes in blood sugar through a variety of mechanisms. Flavonoids like quercetin found in apples can inhibit enzymes like alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase. Since these enzymes are involved in the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars, your blood sugar has fewer simple sugars to deal with when these enzymes are inhibited.
In addition, the polyphenols in apple have been shown to lessen absorption of glucose from the digestive tract; to stimulate the beta cells of the pancreas to secrete insulin; and to increase uptake of glucose from the blood via stimulation of insulin receptors. All of these mechanisms triggered by apple polyphenols help your body to better regulate your blood sugar.
And there is a preventative advantage too. Adults who consume apples, apple juice and apple sauce are likely to have lower blood pressure and trimmer waistlines, resulting in a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health problems related to diabetes and heart disease.
Soluble fiber, like apple pectin, may reduce the inflammation associated with obesity-related diseases and strengthen the immune system, according to a University of Illinois research study.
… and as an added bonus:
Eating a fresh apple is a natural breath freshener.