Does eating an apple a day really keep your doctor away?

Emeh Joy

There is nothing like biting into a fleshy, flavorful, fresh apple. Yummy. Right? It must be a fantastic feeling. But aside from its delicious taste, what does researches say about apple's health benefits? 

A woman carrying apples

You must have heard the common English proverb, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. This proverb was first coined in the 19th century. It was a way of encouraging people to eat lots of apples because of their health benefits.

By extension, the proverb says that if you eat fruits like apples that are healthy, you won’t fall sick and won’t have to see your doctor. 

In the ‘world’ of fruits, apples have been revered because of their vast diversity, myriad uses and nutritional constituents. With more than 7,000 varieties grown across the United States and various parts of the world, apples are one of the most commonly consumed fruits. 

A study showed that daily apple eaters (people who typically consume at least one apple daily), were less likely to smoke and also appear to use fewer prescription medications.2

Eating apples has been linked to positive outcomes for different health conditions such as dementia, diabetes, osteoporosis and even cancer!

The fibre from apples is good for you, and according to an article on the University of Illinois website, it is best to eat your apples with their skin on as this part of the fruit is densely packed with about one-third of its total fibre content. 

Below are some effects of apples on your body when you consume them every day. 

Reduces cholesterol levels

A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that eating two apples daily helps lower the blood cholesterol level.4

The study’s researchers attributed this health benefit to pectin, a soluble fibre that is one of the main constituents of apple. About 15-20% of apple pulp consists of this cholesterol-lowering fibre.

Since pectin is a soluble fibre, it can be absorbed in water. The fibre helps lower cholesterol levels by preventing the build-up of cholesterol in the lining of blood vessels. 

Pectin dissolves into a gel-like substance that sticks to cholesterol, eliminating it from the body. This way, it reduces the risk of atherosclerosis (the build-up of plaques in the arterial walls).

Weight loss

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Apples are among the best fruits for weight loss. Eating them daily may support healthy weight loss. A study published in the Nutrition Journal showed that consuming three apples per day helped overweight women lose weight.1

Pectin, the insoluble fibre, makes you feel more satisfied after your meal and can slow down digestion. Various studies have shown that people who eat fruits like apples feel fuller thus, reducing subsequent food intake. 

Another study showed that people who ate apples before their meals consumed about 200 calories less than those who did not eat any apple.3 The research concluded that eating a whole piece of fruit (instead of fruit juice) at the start of a meal can be an effective weight-loss strategy.

Lowers diabetes risk

Apples are classified as low-glycemic. This means that after digestion, they are slowly released into the bloodstream as glucose. Hence, they are a good choice for people with diabetes.

High glycemic foods are foods that are quickly digested and absorbed. They cause a rapid release of glucose into the bloodstream, thus causing a spike in blood glucose.

Consuming apples regularly can help stabilize energy and blood glucose levels thus, significantly reducing the risk of diabetes. 

A 2011 study review highlighted research that found that eating an apple daily did an excellent job at preventing type 2 diabetes. People who consumed an apple daily had a 28% lower chance of developing diabetes than those who didn't eat the fruit regularly. 

This benefit was attributed to the high antioxidant effects of flavonoids in apples. Flavonoids have been found to protect against cell damage in the pancreas (an organ responsible for secreting insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar uptake).

Reduces risk of heart diseases

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Regular consumption of apples can reduce your risk of developing heart diseases. According to research published by the American Heart Association, eating apples regularly is associated with up 52% reduced risk of stroke.5

Apples contain nutrients that are healthy for the heart, such as flavonoids. The phytonutrients contained in apples have many benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Flavanols, a class of flavonoids, occur naturally in apples. They are linked with reduced blood pressure in men and women, thus preventing cardiovascular diseases.

A 2020 study showed that eating two apples daily can help prevent stroke and heart attack.4 The researchers found that the participants gained those benefits only when they consumed the apples whole rather than taking apple juice.

Healthy gut health

Because they are an excellent source of fibre, apples can help regulate and clean out your digestive system. 

Insoluble fibre promotes food movement through the gastrointestinal tract, increasing stool bulk and regularity while relieving constipation. To support this, a study found that daily apple consumers experienced fewer symptoms of constipation and diarrhoea.

The pectin in apples is considered a prebiotic as it aids the growth of the beneficial bacterial flora in the guts, which help to break down food and improves nutrient absorption. 

A study published in BMC Gastroenterology also suggested that pectin may reduce the severity and frequency of acid reflux symptoms.  

Boosts immunity and reduces inflammation

Apples help boost the body's immune system

Another important way that eating an apple a day can keep your doctor away is by building up your body’s immune system. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of apples are believed to play significant roles in immunity.

Also, apples contain a high amount of vitamin C, an immune-boosting vitamin. Vitamin C protects the body from pathogens and infections while reducing oxidative stress caused by factors like radiation and pollution.

A diet rich in apples can change immune cells from ‘pro-inflammatory’ to ‘anti-inflammatory’, boosting the overall immune health. 

According to a study, the soluble fibre in apples is a major interleukin-4 producer. Interleukin-4 is a protein that has a direct impact on inflammation, reducing it and at the same time strengthening the immune system.6

Eating apples daily reduces your susceptibility to infections, boosts your immune system, reduces your risk of developing chronic health conditions, and eventually, helps keep the doctor away from you!

References

  1. Conceição de Oliveira, Maria et al. “Weight loss associated with a daily intake of three apples or three pears among overweight women.” Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.) vol. 19,3 (2003): 253-6. doi:10.1016/s0899-9007(02)00850-x 
  2. Davis, Matthew A et al. “Association between apple consumption and physician visits: appealing the conventional wisdom that an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” JAMA internal medicine vol. 175,5 (2015): 777-83. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.5466 
  3. Flood-Obbagy, Julie E, and Barbara J Rolls. “The effect of fruit in different forms on energy intake and satiety at a meal.” Appetite vol. 52,2 (2009): 416-22. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2008.12.001 
  4. Koutsos, Athanasios et al. “Two apples a day lower serum cholesterol and improve cardiometabolic biomarkers in mildly hypercholesterolemic adults: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 111,2 (2020): 307-318. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz282 
  5. Oude Griep, Linda M et al. “Colors of fruit and vegetables and 10-year incidence of stroke.” Stroke vol. 42,11 (2011): 3190-5. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.110.611152 
  6. Sherry, Christina L et al. “Sickness behaviour induced by endotoxin can be mitigated by the dietary soluble fibre, pectin, through up-regulation of IL-4 and Th2 polarization.” Brain, behaviour, and immunity vol. 24,4 (2010): 631-40. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.01.015 
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