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Can an apple a day really keep the doctor away?

Can an apple a day really keep the doctor away?

Apples and autumn go together — visits to apple orchards, making caramel apples and drinking delicious apple cider. Apples aren’t meant to be eaten just in the fall though. Research shows that your health would benefit greatly from consuming these sweet and crunchy fruits all year long!

We all know the popular phrase “an apple a day helps keep the doctor away.” Is there any truth to this medieval saying that’s been passed down from generation to generation? Here’s what the research is showing on the health benefits of apples:

  • Apples are very high in antioxidants called flavonoids. In fact, apples have the second highest level of antioxidants of any U.S. fruit. Antioxidants help reduce inflammation and keep cells healthy. This reduces oxidative damage or “rusting” of cells, which can lower your risk of developing many cancers. These same flavonoids have also been shown in large studies to help reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. One tip to keep in mind — be sure to eat the peel of apples. Two-thirds of the antioxidants in apples are found in the peel!
  • Apples are high in heart-protective soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is sticky and gel-like. As it moves through your digestive system, it grabs onto cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed back into the bloodstream. This helps to lower cholesterol levels and reduce risk for heart disease.
  • The soluble fiber in apples also helps with portion control, blood glucose and weight management. When you eat something with fiber, water is attracted to it and fills up the stomach which provides a feeling of fullness. Soluble fiber helps food break down more slowly, leading to smaller peaks in blood glucose and feeling fuller for longer.
  • Eating apples may lead to less hardening of the arteries. A study on healthy, middle-aged adults found that eating an apple a day for four weeks lowered blood levels of oxidized LDL or “lousy” cholesterol by 40%.
  • Apples may also lower levels of C-reactive protein, a key marker of inflammation. Eating an apple a day for six months in one study was found to decrease C-reactive protein by 32%.
  • Over 50? A University of Oxford study found that eating an apple a day may be just as beneficial as taking a statin to prevent death from heart attack, stroke and vascular disease in people over 50 who do not already have heart disease.
Apples are great to eat on their own, but here are some other “a-peel-ing” ideas:
  • Slice apples and dip into a small amount of peanut butter or almond butter.
  • Add chopped apples and cinnamon to oatmeal.
  • Sauté chopped apples in water until softened and mix with sweet spices like cinnamon & nutmeg.
  • Add chopped apples or unsweetened applesauce to smoothies.
  • Make your own applesauce in a slow cooker.
  • Top baguette slices with goat cheese, apple slices and drizzle with honey.

Heather Klug is a registered dietitian at Aurora Health Care

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  1. I always scan the AHHEALTHNEWS Newsletter topics, but to be honest, most articles are not relevant to me or are so much ‘common sense’ as to be a waste of time. But the “Apple-a-day” article by Heather Klug was a true eye-opener for me. I thought I knew everything about apples (eat the peel, high in fiber, fairly high in sugar but less than many fruit). I had no idea about the benefits of lowering cholesterol and risk reduction for type 2 diabetes. Thanks to Heather’s article, I’m adding an apple a day to my diet.

    • Anola, thank you for the very kind comments! I’m glad you learned even more about apples and plan on eating apples more often!

  2. What about dehydrated apples, are those still beneficial

    • Diane, yes dehydrated apples are still beneficial to eat. You’ll get all the same nutrients. I do have two caveats though: 1) If buying store-bought, make sure there isn’t added sugar and 2) With the water removed and dried apples smaller, it may be tempting to eat way too many of them. The water content and chewing of fresh apples helps slow down the pace of eating and reaching a feeling of fullness. You may not get this with dried apples. If dried apples are portioned out and eaten mindfully, then I think it’s fine.

  3. Are there specific types of apples that have the highest nutritional value?

    • Elise, that is a great question! Apples vary somewhat in phytochemical content. All apples are great to eat, but if you really want to get the most bang for your buck, research shows the following apple varieties to be highest in antioxidants: Fuji (highest), Red Delicious, Gala, Northern Spy, Liberty, Golden Delicious, and Rome. Gala is my family’s favorite, but we also like to try other varieties from time-to-time.

  4. Wow! What a great article. I had no idea apples packed such a punch. I’m adding an apple a day starting right now!

  5. I’m going to make it a priority to eat an apple a day from your list of apples. I keep reading about “apples are good for your health”. Goats milk?? Is that an acquired taste or does it actually taste good? Could that milk give a person bad body odor???

    • Debra, glad to hear you are going to prioritize eating apples each day! I haven’t personally tasted goat milk as I am very lactose intolerant, so I cannot comment on the taste. If you are used to cow’s milk, it will taste different and may take some getting used to. I haven’t heard of goat milk leading to bad body odor, and it may actually do the opposite . In fact, goat milk is often used in natural deodorant because it’s considered antibacterial and odor-neutralizing. Goat cheese used in one of the suggestions in the article is creamy and has a more tangy taste compared to cheddar cheese. Goat cheese pairs well with sweet-tasting foods such as apples or a dab of jam.

  6. Excellent article. I just started including apples into my daily diet plan today. Awesome to know the benefits I’m going to receive from it. Thank you!!!

  7. Thank you for this informative piece. My little guy is obsessed with apples and cannot go 1 day without me slicing him one, usually right before bed 🙂 Good to know it is so good for him.

  8. Wow! Thank you, Heather, for this great article. Learned a lot about apples today. I generally go for the crunchier apples like Honey Crisp or Pink Lady. Can you comment on if these would have almost similar benefits otherwise, I would have to try to adapt to the others you suggested. I had given up eating apples for a long time after having a few mushy ones but then recently have started eating apples again, but am probably going to make it a daily routine. Thnaks again.

    • Hi Lavinia. All apples are excellent sources of antioxidants as well as high in heart-healthy soluble fiber. A University of Western Australia study from 2011 found that Pink Lady apples are one of the highest in antioxidants, so eat away! While honeycrisp apples aren’t one of the highest in antioxidants, they still contain a good amount and are also high in soluble fiber. Any apple, of course, will be much healthier than eating cookies or other sweets high in added sugars. So I wouldn’t worry about small differences in antioxidants or other substances across varieties of apples. Eat whichever ones you like because they are all healthy for your heart! I hear you on the mushy apples. Right now though is the best time for apples because they are at their peak! Happy apple eating (whichever ones you choose 🙂

  9. I am unable to eat the peel/skin of most fruits. Would I still get enough benefit from a peeled apple per day?

    • Hi Mary. While removing the peel means fewer antioxidants and less fiber, vitamins, and minerals, it’s still very beneficial to eat apples without the peel because the flesh part also contains nutrients. On average, you’ll still get about 2 grams of fiber along with some potassium, vitamin C, and some antioxidants. I say eat away!

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About the Author

Heather Klug
Heather Klug

Heather Klug, MEd RD is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women's Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.