Apples are a crisp, white-fleshed fruit with a red, yellow or green skin. The apple is actually a member of the Rose family, which may seem strange until we remember that roses make rose hips, which are fruits similar to the apple.
Apples have a moderately sweet, refreshing flavor and a tartness that is present to greater or lesser degree depending on the variety. For example, Golden and Red Delicious apples are mild and sweet, while Pippins and Granny Smith apples are notably brisk and tart. Tart apples, which best retain their texture during cooking, are often preferred for cooked desserts like apple pie, while delicious apples and other sweeter varieties like Braeburn and Fuji apples are usually eaten raw.
Health Benefits of Apples
Apple polyphenols are standout nutrients in this widely loved fruit. These polyphenols include flavonols (especially quercetin, but also kaempferol and myricetin), catechins (especially epicatechin), anthocyanins (if the apples are red-skinned), chlorogenic acid, phloridzin, and several dozen more health-supportive polyphenol nutrients.
Apple is a good source of fiber, including both soluble and insoluble pectins, and it’s also a good source of vitamin C. Apple nutrients are disproportionately present in the skin, which is a particularly valuable part of the fruit with respect to its nutrient content. The health benefits of apples include the following.
1. Anti-Cancer Benefits
Although some preliminary results show apple benefits for several different cancer types (especially colon cancer and breast cancer), it’s the area of lung cancer benefits that stand out in the apple research. There are numerous studies involving vegetable/fruit intake and risk of lung cancer. The number of subjects in these studies numbers into the high hundreds of thousands.
Although many research studies show an impressive ability of overall fruit and/or vegetable intake to lower lung cancer risk, very few individual fruits show up as protective against lung cancer. Except apples! It’s really quite remarkable how apples have been one of the few fruits to demonstrate this unique relationship with lung cancer risk reduction. Researchers aren’t certain why apples are so closely associated with reduction of lung cancer risk. Their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits are definitely involved here, but they don’t fully explain why apples are such a standout in this health benefit area.
We look forward to future research that will help shed light on this unique capacity in apples.
2. Heart Health Benefits
The Iowa Women’s Health Study reported that, among the 34,000-plus women it’s been tracking for nearly 20 years, apples were associated with a lower risk of death from both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Some years earlier, Finnish researchers studying dietary data collected over 28 years from 9,208 men and women found that frequent apple eaters had the lowest risk of suffering strokes compared with nonapple eaters.
Experts attribute the heart-healthy benefits to antioxidant compounds found in apples, which help prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and inhibit inflammation. Plus, the soluble fiber in apples has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
3. Protect against Parkinson’s
Research has shown that people who eat fruits and other high-fiber foods gain a certain amount of protection against Parkinson’s, a disease characterized by a breakdown of the brain’s dopamine-producing nerve cells. Scientists have linked this to the free radical-fighting power of the antioxidants contained therein.
Apples are useful in treating anemia since apples are a rich source of iron. Anemia is a deficiency of hemoglobin in the blood, which can be fixed by increasing your intake of iron, which is an integral part in the metabolism of red blood cells. By increasing the amount of red blood cells in the body, you not only prevent anemia, but also ensure proper oxygenation of essential organ systems to keep them functioning properly.
5. Weight Loss Benefits
Apples satisfy hunger for few calories so it’s not surprising that they can be part of a healthy diet that promotes weight loss. In a recent study, dried apples also helped participants lose some weight. Women who ate a cup of dried apples daily for a year lost some weight and lowered their cholesterol and heart disease markers. Florida State University researchers think apples’ antioxidants and pectin (a type of fiber) are responsible for the benefits—and think that fresh apples would be even more effective.
6. Prevent Gallstones
Gallstones form when there’s too much cholesterol in your bile for it to remain as a liquid, so it solidifies. They are particularly prevalent in the obese. To prevent gallstones, doctors recommend a diet high in fiber to help you control your weight and cholesterol levels.
7. Antioxidant Benefits
Since most of the polyphenols in apples function as antioxidants, it’s not surprising to see so many health benefit studies focusing on the antioxidant benefits from apple. Particularly strong is the ability of apples to decrease oxidation of cell membrane fats. This benefit is especially important in our cardiovascular system since oxidation of fat in the membranes of cells that line our blood vessels is a primary risk factor for clogging of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and other cardiovascular problems.
Apples’ strong antioxidant benefits are also related to their ability to lower risk of asthma in numerous studies, and their ability to lower risk of lung cancer. In addition to their unusual polyphenol composition, apples also provides us with about 8 milligrams of vitamin C. While that amount is not a lot, it’s still important, especially since the recycling of vitamin C in our body depends on the presence of flavonoids and apples do an amazing job of providing us with those flavonoids.
8. Digestive Benefits
Apples, being rich in fiber, help in the digestive process. Regular consumption of apples ensures smooth bowel movements and helps in preventing constipation and various stomach disorders. Fiber is an important part of any diet. It adds bulk to the stool and helps food pass through the digestive tract smoothly.
Furthermore, it stimulates peristaltic motion so the muscles contract appropriately and move food along. Finally, it stimulates the release of gastric and digestive juices to ensure efficient uptake of nutrients, while simultaneously scraping excess cholesterol out of your veins and arteries to ensure proper heart health and reduce chances of atherosclerosis.
9. Avert Hemorrhoids
Hemorrhoids are a swollen vein in the anal canal and while not life threatening, these veins can be very painful. They are caused by too much pressure in the pelvic and rectal areas. Part and parcel with controlling constipation, fiber can prevent you from straining too much when going to the bathroom and thereby help alleviate hemorrhoids.
10. Skin Care Benefits
Pastes made of apple and honey, and apple and milk increase the shine and glow of the skin when topically applied. This is again due to the powerful antioxidants contained in the skin and flesh of apples. These compounds counteract the damaging effects of free radicals that are directly linked to premature aging, as well as wrinkles, age spots, and other age-related conditions.
11. Regulate Blood Sugar
Since apples contain naturally occurring sugar, it may seem counterintuitive that they would help reduce blood sugar levels, but that’s exactly what researchers have found. Scientists say a key antioxidant in apples blocks the activity of an enzyme responsible for breaking starch into simple sugar. That means fewer simple sugars are absorbed from the digestive system into the blood stream, which results in a lower blood sugar level and lower corresponding insulin response.
12. Apples Lower Cholesterol
One medium-sized apple contains about 4 grams of fiber. Some of that is in the form of pectin, a type of soluble fiber that has been linked to lower levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. That’s because it blocks absorption of cholesterol, which helps the body to use it rather than store it.
13. Improve Lung Health
Several studies have tied eating apples (with the skin) to better lung health, as well as a lower risk of respiratory illnesses, including asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. One study even found that apples helped reduce the risk of asthma more than other fruits and veggies combined.
Another found that even after controlling for other factors, people who ate 2-5 apples a week had a 32% lower risk of asthma than those who ate them less often.
14. Prevent High Blood Pressure
There is overwhelming evidence that one-third of all cancer cases and half the incidences of cardiovascular disease and hypertension can be attributed to diet. Because apples are high in potassium, a mineral that helps control blood pressure, they can help reduce the risk of stroke.
15. Keep You Full
The wealth of fiber an apple provides keep you feeling full for longer without costing you a lot of calories—there are about 95 in a medium-sized piece of fruit. That’s because it takes our bodies longer to digest complex fiber than more simple materials like sugar or refined grains. Anything with at least 3 grams of fiber is a good source of the nutrient; most people should aim to get about 25-40 grams a day.
Risk and Precautions
No serious side effects are linked to apple consumption. Apple seeds contain cyanide, a powerful poison. Eating too many apple seeds can potentially be fatal. Apple seeds should not be consumed.
In addition, because apples are fairly acidic, they could be up to four times more damaging to teeth than carbonated drinks, according to a study led by Professor David Bartlett at the King’s Dental Institute.
Professor Bartlett said that “snacking on acidic foods throughout the day is the most damaging, whilst eating them at meal times is much safer. It’s not what you eat it’s how you eat it – an apple a day is good, but taking all day to eat the apple can damage teeth.”
Selection and Storage
Fresh apples can be readily available in the stores all around the season. Choose fresh, bright, firm textured apples with rich flavor. Avoid fruits with pressure marks over their surface as they indicate underlying mottled pulp.
Fresh apples can be kept at room temperature for few days and stored inside the refrigerator for up to 2-3 weeks. Wash them in clean running cold water before use.