Most of us will have heard of the expression ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, but just how true is it really? Turns out, these cherubic little balls of fruit are packed with goodness. Let’s take a look at some of the incredible potential health benefits of apples in our diet.
Health Benefits Of Eating Apples
Neuron Creation & Brain Function
Apples contain high concentrations of compounds called phytonutrients. These natural compounds stimulate the neurogenesis process, which essentially means the making of neurons. Neurons are vital cells that transmit all sorts of information to various parts of the body by way of electric signals, supporting our ability to remember and to learn.
Apples contain two particularly interesting compounds: dihydroxybezoic acid (DHBA) is in the flesh of the apple, and quercetin is in the apple peel.
In research conducted by German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany, both of these compounds were found to help generate greater neuron development during lab tests using mice. In mouse brains, it was found that lab-grown stem cells didn’t just generate more neurons, they were also better protected from cell death following either DHBA or quercetin being added to the cultures.
Further testing discovered that parts of the brain associated with memory and learning saw stem cells be multiplied and more neurons created when the mice received high DHBA or quercetin doses.
The research indicated that high doses of natural components like quercetin and DHBA in fruits can behave harmoniously in encouraging brain function and neurogenesis. It’s likely other compounds are also involved. Such results could have implications for conditions like Alzheimer’s, which we’ll get to shortly.
Interestingly, research didn’t find apple juice to significantly impact neurogenesis because of it containing inadequate photochemical concentrations for this particular process. meaning you’re better off eating a whole apple.
Weight Loss Or Maintenance
Flavonoids (a type of polyphenol or natural plant chemical) are found in many fruits and vegetables, including apples, strawberries, radishes and pears. They’re known for antioxidant properties but some research suggests such compounds could reduce the amount of energy absorbed from foods, especially sugar.
Research conducted by the Harvard Medical School and the University of East Anglia hinted at the ability of flavonoids to help with maintaining or perhaps even losing a little weight. Their results were consistent across different ages of both women and men, whereby increased flavonoid consumption was associated with the maintenance of weight. The researchers noted that many adults typically gain weight with age, which could then increase the knock-on risk of conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. Such findings could therefore be helpful for adults needing to maintain a healthy weight.
The more robust associations were found with foods that contain anthocyanin, such as grapes, strawberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, radishes and cherries. Flavonoid polymers were also particularly beneficial, which are those found in apples and tea, along with flavonoid, found in onions and tea.
Furthermore, eating more fibre (‘roughage’) can help us to feel fuller, which might help those trying to lose or maintain weight.
Fibre For Digestion
A medium-sized (referred to here as roughly 1.2g) apple will provide approximately 13.6g of fibre.
Fibre is important for supporting the digestive system and helping to prevent constipation. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble: Soluble helps with slowing digestion and making you feel full. It also slows glucose digestion, which can help in controlling blood sugar levels. Insoluble fibre helps encourage regularity by stimulating the movement of food through the digestive system.
It’s worth keeping in mind that while fibre may help the majority of individuals, some people find either or both types of fibre can make bowel issues worse, particularly those with conditions like IBS.
Lowering Cholesterol Plus Reduced Risk Of Diabetes & Cardiovascular Disease
Fibre is also associated with cholesterol-lowering benefits and thus a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. For instance, a piece of research by Griep et al found a 52% low risk of stroke when eating apples (or even pears) on a regular basis. A more recent 2019 study discovered that 2 apples a day were able to lower the triglyceride levels and “bad” LDL cholesterol in participants.
Lowering Blood Pressure
Those with hypertension (high blood pressure) are typically advised to first try diet and lifestyle changes to lower their BP; if these are ineffective, medication may be considered.
A 2016 study discovered that individuals eating over 4 servings of fruit and veg daily had a reduced risk of developing hypertension.
Apples may be particularly good in this regard as potassium is thought to help control blood pressure. The caveat here is that potassium for those kidney disease or any condition affecting the body’s management of potassium, could be harmful. Always speak to your doctor before changing your diet if you’re unsure.
Apples also contain something called pectin, which acts like a prebiotic by feeding the gut’s good bacteria. Fibre is predominantly digested in the colon rather than the small intestine, where it can modulate microbial composition and encourage the growth of this good bacterial. Studies suggest an association between consuming apples and a lower risk of long-term diseases, like cardiovascular disease. More research is needed, but the potential here is for a link between the apples and gut microbiota, and resultant cardiovascular health.
A Diabetic-Friendly Fruit
While the general assumption may be that fruits are out for diabetics, many with type 2 diabetes may find apples to be suitable for their diets given their low glycemic index (GI). This is because the soluble fibre can slow the absorption of glucose going into the bloodstream, helping to manage blood sugar levels. A 2016 study suggests that regular soluble fibre consumption could help in not just improving triglyceride and blood sugar levels, but in reducing insulin resistance, too. A diet inclusive of soluble fibre can also help in reducing the risk of first developing diabetes.
Antioxidants became particularly trendy a few years ago, but the true benefits may still be under appreciated. Apples have high levels of antioxidants and studies suggest a few potential benefits as a result, especially when it comes to limiting the growth of cancer cells.
For instance, Fabiani et al’s systematic review and meta-analysis found regular apple consumption to be associated with a lower risk for particular cancers, like oesophageal, colorectal and breast cancer.
Lowers Alzheimer’s Risk
In a review of existing research, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals age 50 and above who had only a low level of flavonoid-rich foods in their diet were 2 to 4 times more likely over 20 years to go on to develop types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those who consumed greater amounts of flavonoid-rich foods. In studies of elderly rats, those fed whole apples were found to have an improved memory comparable to that of the younger rats.
Furthermore, the Biomolecules journal in 2020 added that the flavonoid quercetin has anti-Alzheimer’s properties, such as by helping to protect neurons from damage. More research is needed in this field but increasing our intake of apples, which are a good source of quercetin, might just help in reducing the risk of such conditions.
Another comprehensive review indicates that apple juice could help in the preservation of acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter typically declined with age and lower levels are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Now, while I don’t think apples, even daily ones for years, will prevent Alzheimer’s, the research is an interesting starting point.
Boost Your Immune System
The same medium-size apple mentioned earlier can also provide around 8.4 milligrams of immune-boosting vitamin C, as well as quantities of DV and other minerals and vitamins like Vitamin K, Vitamin A, B6, magnesium and potassium. These can support your body’s vital functions and your immune system, the latter of which is important for the body’s defence against invaders like foreign bodies, bacteria and viruses.
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How Do You Eat Your Apples?
Apples can be eaten in various ways, not just directly from the fruit bowl and bitten in to. You could add chopped apples to salads, pop them in with chicken in the slow cooker, bake them for a tasty but healthy dessert, or have a mini buffet of apple and cheese slices.
Apples can provide a range of possible benefits, especially if you’re able to eat the skin and the flesh. Even apple juice can provide some potential perks.
While I don’t believe apples are magic that will instantly prevent the likes of Alzheimer’s or heart disease, the research suggests these bad boys can play an important role in a healthy diet. If it can’t hurt and your body tolerates apples, then building them into your diet a good way to proactively support your own health and wellness.
Are you an apple fan? Did you know they could offer so much potential goodness?