Apples are the most popular fruit among American consumers, according to the US Department of Agriculture. They reign supreme over other popular options, such as oranges, bananas or grapes. Available in many colors and sizes, they are a versatile fruit, perfect for a mid-morning snack or as an ingredient to the iconic apple pie. Apart from these less healthful preparations, apples are also synonymous with good health, which hasn’t gone unnoticed to conventional wisdom. An old proverb, originated in the 18th century, summarizes it fairly well: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. But how true is that?
The following text is based on information by experts at Harvard’s School of Public Health, the US Food Data Central database and other trusted sources. However, it is meant for general purposes only. It does not constitute any form of nutrition advice. You should not rely on it as a substitute for actual medical guidance or diagnosis. Talk to your doctor, registered dietitian or other qualified health professional to address any dietary needs or concerns or if you are planning to make any major changes to your diet, especially if you are considering supplementations.
Apples, a healthy fruit with many benefits
Most of us should probably eat more fruit and veg. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and protein, while being generally fairly low in calories and pernicious fats, so it is only natural that many agencies recommend getting at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. This is a healthy and attainable goal, as virtually all fruits and vegetables count towards it, no matter if they are fresh, frozen, dried or canned.
Apples are available year-round in most parts of the planet, and orchards of the world grow a plethora of varieties — Gala, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Honeycrisp, McIntosh —, each one with its own taste and ideal uses. Because apples can make for much more than just a healthy snack: they are frequently used in baking, cooking and even salads and sauces. As for their nutritional content, they are a good source of carbohydrate, both soluble and insoluble fiber, Vitamin C and important nutrients known as phytochemicals.
According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, apples are best consumed as whole fruits. Some people peel them, but this means losing an important source of nutrients, particularly fiber and flavonoids. It should also be noted that none of the benefits listed here will offset those of less healthful preparations — like sugar loaded apple juices or pies—.
According to FoodData Central, 100 grams of Gala apple — the most popular variety in the US — contain around 2,1g of total fiber. This is an important nutrient that contributes to normal bowel function and is linked to a number of health benefits. For instance, soluble fiber slows digestion, makes you feel fuller — which can be helpful if you are trying to lose weight — and even lowers cholesterol, thus decreasing your risk of heart disease. Apples are a good source of pectin, according to Harvard authors. A type of soluble fiber, pectin prevents constipation and seems to make a “modest” contribution against your LDL levels — Low-density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol” —. Soluble fiber is also beneficial for the microorganisms in your bowels. They ferment pectin and could play a protective role against several chronic diseases, according to some studies.
Despite their carbohydrate and sugar contents (14,8g and 11,8g per serving of 100g, according to FoodData Central), apples are considered a healthy option, even if you live with diabetes or need to watch your blood sugar levels. This is because apples rank low in the Glycaemic Index, and will therefore have a gentler impact on your sugar levels. In fact, apples could even increase your insulin sensitivity, according to some studies. Experts advice following a healthy diet, as many fruits and vegetables are thought to have such an effect.
Apples are also rich in phytochemicals like quercetin, catechin, chlorogenic acid and anthocyanin. Flavonoids like quercetin and anthocyanin are known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Antioxidants are molecules that protect your cells and tissues from damage caused by pernicious substances called free radicals, which are thought to play a role in some conditions like arthritis, heart disease and even cancer.
Apples are no “superfood”, but we should get more fruit and veg anyway
Vitamin C is another important nutrient you can find in apples, especially in the flesh. Although the body is able to store a tiny amount of this nutrient, it is important to get it regularly. Aside from being an antioxidant itself, Vitamin C is important to the development and repair or tissues. It helps your body heal wounds, and maintains bones, teeth and cartilage in good condition. It also helps your body absorb iron, another important mineral.
So, will an apple a day actually keep your doctor away? It all depends on how you interpret this piece of popular wisdom. Technically speaking, no scientific research backs any “superfood” claims about apples — or any other food, for that matter —. Experts agree a healthy diet is one that provides you with nutrients from a variety of food sources, finding an adequate and proportionate balance. This, coupled with physical activity and other healthy lifestyle habits, is the best course of action if you want to stay healthy.
However, we have seen that apples contain many beneficial nutrients that can contribute to ward off infections and repair damage. Fortunately, these can be found in many other fruits and vegetables, so you can easily find that balance. If we are to make the old proverb extensive to the entire food group, which is an excellent source of essential nutrients, it is easy to see how fruit and veg can protect your health.