We’ve all heard the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. But is there any truth to it? Turns out, there is. Apples are some of the healthiest fruits available and there are a lot of reasons why they can contribute to your overall health and well being. And since we are quickly approaching the apple picking time of the year, it seems fitting to dive a little deeper into the sweet juiciness that apples have to offer.
Apples are the fruit of the tree known as Malus domestica. Today, many different types are grown worldwide, but they first originated in Asia thousands of years ago. In fact, they are considered to be perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated by humans.
Apple trees have been improved through selection over thousands of years, and today there are hundreds of varieties in existence. It’s estimated that there are about 2,500 known varieties (cultivars) that are grown in the United States and more than 7,500 varieties grown in the world. Apple skins range in color from bright red to yellow, green, pink or bi- or tri-colored patterns. They also come in a range of different tastes and levels of sweetness. According to researchers, the phytochemical composition of apple nutrition varies greatly between different varieties. Plus, there are also small changes in phytochemicals during the maturation and ripening periods.
Fruit provides carbohydrates and can help enhance physical performance, concentration and stamina. Apples, in particular, are a good source of fiber, particularly the soluble, gelatinous polysaccharide called pectin that binds to cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and slows glucose absorption. They also provide a surprising amount of antioxidants. Apples also provide some vitamin A, vitamin E, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, choline, betaine, calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus.
The health benefits of apples are numerous. Many folklore remedies utilized apples in various ways, including to make vinegar, herbal teas and alcohol. Apples are said to have cooling, astringent properties that can help ease heartburn and a sour stomach. Thanks to their antioxidants and vitamin C, they have traditionally been used to help cleanse the mouth and teeth, prevent vitamin D deficiency and fight constipation. Apples and their leaves have also been traditionally chewed and applied to the skin to treat inflammation, swelling, boils or infected bites.
Here are some other benefits of ingesting apples:
1. Cancer Fighter – Apples are a high-antioxidant food and a very significant source of flavonoids. In the U.S., it’s estimated that 22 percent of the phenolic antioxidants consumed from fruits are from apples, making them the largest single source of these compounds. Apples are ranked second to cranberries among all types of fruit for their total concentration of phenolic compounds.
Research shows that beneficial antioxidants found in apple nutrition include quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid. Because of these special compounds, apples do more than combat free radicals. They also have anti-proliferative and beneficial cell-signaling effects. In studies, anti-inflammatory foods like apples are linked with the prevention of certain cancers, including prostate cancer and breast cancer, because of their supply of quercetin. Other evidence suggests that certain protective phytochemicals in the skin of apples can help inhibit the reproduction of cancer cells within the colon.
2. Inflammation Fighter – Phytochemicals found in colorful fruits, including phenolics, flavonoids and carotenoids, are known to reduce the risk for many chronic diseases that are widespread but largely preventable. This is because phytonutrients keep arteries clear, lower inflammatory responses and prevent high levels of oxidative stress.
Research from California State University suggests that high antioxidant foods are associated with improved outcomes related to cognitive decline of normal aging, type 2 diabetes, weight management, bone health, pulmonary function and gastrointestinal protection.
3. High in Fiber – Eating an apple is a great way to make sure you cover your bases of 25–30 grams daily. The fiber found in apples helps make you feel full and expands in your intestines, taking up volume. It’s also important for detoxification and supporting the digestive system because pectin regulates the body’s use of sugars and cholesterol.
4. Improves Digestive Health – Consuming plenty of fiber plus polyphenols has been shown to fight digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and even cancers of the digestive system. Higher fruit intake is correlated with better general digestive health, especially of the colon, stomach and bladder, because fruit’s nutrients can positively impact gut microbiota, contributing to healthy digestion and immune responses. The phytonutrients found in apples also protect the digestive organs from oxidative stress, alkalize the body and balance pH levels.
When it comes to natural constipation relief, pectin in apples is considered a natural diuretic. It has mild laxative effects, helping combat bloating and water retention. Try either eating raw apples (remember to also eat the skin) or adding them to recipes by blending them first to help stay regular.
5. Rich in Vitamin C – One medium apple supplies about 14 percent of your daily vitamin C. Vitamin C is considered a powerful antioxidant that’s important for skin, eye, immune and brain health. Like other antioxidants we obtain through fresh vegetables and fruits, vitamin C fights free radical damage and helps protect DNA and cells from mutation and malformation.
Research shows that vitamin C is crucial for maintaining a healthy metabolism and repairing tissue, especially in the eyes and skin. Vitamin C rich foods, like apples, have natural anti-aging effects because they promote skin cell renewal, help heal wounds or cuts, guard against infections and harmful bacteria, and also block damage from UV light exposure.
6. Fights Heart Disease – Many studies show that people who consume more fresh plant foods filled with antioxidants experience lower inflammation and, therefore, have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
The specific type of fiber found in apples, pectin, is especially known to be beneficial for lowering cholesterol levels naturally. Research suggests that interactions between fibers and polyphenols in apples together play an important role in markers of heart health and make it one of the top cholesterol-lowering foods. A 2003 study found that when rats were fed a diet high in apple pectin extract and freeze-dried apples, they experienced significantly lower levels of cholesterol absorption and triglycerides than the control group. The group of rats receiving both apple pectin and the dried apples (instead of only one of these) experienced the most benefits in terms of intestine fermentations and lipid metabolism.
One study that followed adults over a 15-year period found that, overall, a greater intake of fruits and vegetables was associated with lower risk of all cause death and cardiovascular disease. There’s also evidence that antioxidant-rich fruits can play a role in preventing strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diverticulosis and hypertension. A 2020 randomized, controlled study uncovered that eating two apples a day helped adults with high cholesterol improve their cardiovascular health markers.
7. Weight Management – Much research has shown that higher fruit and vegetable intake, including of apples, is linked with protection against obesity and weight gain. While apples provide high levels of important nutrients and antioxidants, they’re also low in calories because a high percentage of their volume is made up of water and fiber. Also, since they have a good dose of dietary fiber, which contains zero digestible calories and is useful for sustaining healthy blood sugar levels, apples can satisfy your sweet tooth without weighing you down or adding to food cravings. They’ve even been associated with better diet quality and reduced risk of obesity in children.
8. May Help With Diabetes – Wondering if the sugar in fruit bad for you? Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that eating five or more combined servings of fruits and vegetables daily significantly cut the risk of diabetes formation in adults. Certain flavonoids present in apples are known to improve insulin sensitivity. This is key to preventing both diabetes and long-term weight gain. The other antioxidants and fiber found in apples also play a role in their anti-diabetic effects. One study even concluded that “apple consumption before meals could improve postprandial hyperglycemia in normal subjects and those with impaired glucose tolerance.”
Apples are considered a fruit that’s low on the glycemic index. Compared to refined carbohydrates or sweetened products, they have the ability to unleash sugar into the bloodstream at a slower rate, supporting normal insulin production.
9. Fights Asthma Symptoms – Apples are shown to act like natural remedies for asthma. In fact, they are associated with general pulmonary health and reduced risk for bronchial hypersensitivity. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving 1,600 adults in Australia, apple and pear intake was associated with a decreased risk of asthma and a decrease in bronchial hypersensitivity. The study surveyed nearly 600 individuals with asthma and 900 individuals without asthma about their diets and lifestyles. Total fruit and vegetable intake was found to be only weakly associated with asthma, but apple intake showed a stronger inverse relationship with asthma. The beneficial effect was most clear in subjects who consumed at least two apples per week.
What’s also interesting is that this seems to be uniquely an apple nutrition benefit. Onion, tea and red wine consumption were not related to asthma incidence even though they also contain similar phytochemicals. This suggests that there are special interactions of apple flavonoids that help control asthma symptoms better than other antioxidants and nutrients.
In addition, high consumption of fruits and vegetables was found to be associated with reduced risk of developing asthma in children and adults. This has been noted specifically for apples and oranges.
10. High in Boron – Here’s a little-known fact about apples: They are one of the best natural sources of boron. Boron is a mineral that is important for building strong bones and helping prevent osteoporosis. Boron benefits include helping develop sex hormones, building muscle mass and supporting brain function. Some evidence also shows that low boron intake might be associated with fatigue, arthritis and mood changes.
11. Helps Prevent Arthritis – The polyphenols in apples can be useful in combating arthritis. A 2022 study out of Japan examined the effects of this fruit’s polyphenols on the progression of osteoarthritis on rats. Researchers found that the apple polyphenols enhanced cell proliferation and hyaluronan production. This indicates that apple polyphenols may improve synovial conditions in osteoarthritis and suppress its progression. These effects may be attributed to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of apple polyphenols.
Other research has found that dietary fruit intake, including apples, demonstrates a protective role of fruits and their polyphenols in pre-clinical, clinical and epidemiological studies of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Going back to the original quote and question, it does seem to be true that an apple a day can indeed keep the doctor away. Or at the bare minimum, it can definitely help keep your body functioning at a more optimal level, thus needing to see the doctor less frequently. So get out there to the local orchards this fall and enjoy all the delicious health benefits of the common apple.