Nutrition

An Apple A Day Really Does Keep The Doctor Away – And Might Make You Live Longer, Too

Posted on 22 June 2022

If you’re looking for superfoods to incorporate into your diet, you might at first think of the likes of beetroot, blueberries or ginger. However, research suggests you might want to consider the age-old adage about eating an apple every day.

New research is showing that eating apples (and particularly the skin) can have a significant impact on health. This is largely down to their flavonoid content. These are anti-oxidants found in apple skins that have been shown to have a variety of benefits. Apples are rich in triterpenoids, which can suppress inflammation and may even suppress cancer, and also contain probiotic fibre, which feeds the good bacteria in the gut.

These benefits aren’t just theoretical: numerous studies have found that regular apple consumption is associated with real health benefits and even increased life expectancy:

  • A study in Western Australia followed over 1400 women over the age of 70 for 15 years. Those who ate one apple a day or more on average had a 35% reduced risk of dying compared to those eating less than half an apple a day on average.
  • In participants randomised to eat apples daily either with or without the skin, those who ate the skin had reduced blood pressure and improved blood vessel function compared to those who did not.
  • Similar results were found in people with at least one risk factor for heart disease when eating two apples a day for four weeks.
  • A study in 160 women, aged 45 to 65, found that participants randomised to eat 240 calories of dried apples every day for a year experienced a 23% reduction in LDL cholesterol compared to those eating the same number of calories in prunes. They also experienced a significant reduction in CRP, a marker of inflammation.
  • A systematic review and meta analysis of observational studies concluded that apple consumption was associated with significant reductions in the incidence of certain cancers.

Some of these studies are observational in nature, which means that scientists observed the health of people who were already eating apples on a regular basis. This means we have to take them with a grain of salt, because people who choose to eat apples every day are likely to be making other healthy choices too, and might also be wealthier or better educated, which are all factors that are difficult to control for. Nevertheless, the combined evidence from large observational studies, small clinical trials and what we know about the health effects of flavonoids seems to point to apple consumption as an effective way to improve health and longevity.

The Wonders Of Flavonoids

Flavonoids and their place within the tree of phytochemicals (chemicals produced by plants, usually those with an effect on human health).
Source

Flavonoids are polyphenols, a type of chemical compound that can be found in a variety of plants. They’re particularly abundant in apple skin, and there are many different types. Plants produce flavonoids to protect themselves against cellular stress caused by sunlight and disease, and flavonoids appear to have similar protective properties when we eat them. Research also suggests that flavonoids can increase the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that is essential for keeping blood vessels healthy. This may explain the apparent effects of apple skin consumption on blood pressure.

Are All Apples Created Equal?

Not all apple varieties have the same flavonoid content. According to research, Fuji apples have the highest known flavonoid content, though varieties like Red Delicious and Northern Spy come close. There’s also good news for fans of apple pie: cooking the apples does not appear to alter or destroy their flavonoids, so long as you keep the skin of course. Apple juice is a different story: though dependent on exactly how the juice is made, juicing of apples generally results in a decrease in flavonoid content.

So, the take home message is that fitting an apple a day into your diet could be an effective and enjoyable small step towards improving health and lifespan. Whatever you do, just don’t peel it!


References

Why apples keep the doctor away: https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/sites/gateway/files/Why%20apples%20keep%20the%20doctor%20away.pdf

'Apple a day' advice rooted in science: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/711266

Apple intake and cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies: https://doi.org/10.1017/s136898001600032x

Comparison of the Effects of Blending and Juicing on the Phytochemicals Contents and Antioxidant Capacity of Typical Korean Kernel Fruit Juices: https://doi.org/10.3746%2Fpnf.2014.19.2.108

An Apple a Day: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0018gqq

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