Health Benefits of Apples

A favorite fruit of the ancient Greeks and Romans, apples came to America with the early settlers. The colonies already had one variety of apple, the crabapple, but sweeter varieties quickly became popular. Today apples are the United States' second most valuable fruit crop, second only to oranges. 

In the United States, apples were once grown mainly for cider. Today they are mostly eaten fresh, although some of the crop becomes apple juice, applesauce, apple butter, and other products. As a fresh fruit, they have an impressive array of health benefits. It's no wonder that an old English adage stated, " To eat an apple before going to bed, will make the doctor beg his bread".

Health Benefits

Nutritionists and other scientists get excited about apples because of their phytochemical content. Phytochemicals are substances found in plants that may be good for human health. They go by many different names, such as phytonutrients, polyphenols, antioxidants, and flavonoids. Apples contain 16 different phytochemicals. You shouldn't peel your apples, as most of the phytochemicals are in the skin. These substances, plus a healthy fiber content, help apples to provide these health benefits: 

Lower Cancer Risk

Cancer researchers believe that phytochemicals act in several ways to reduce the risk of cancer. They prevent damage to DNA, help the body repair DNA, and keep damaged cells from reproducing. They may also slow tumor growth.

Gut Health

Some research suggests that apples may act as a prebiotic, encouraging the growth of helpful bacteria in the gut. Researchers found that organically grown apples had more beneficial bacteria and fewer pathogens than commercially grown apples.

Heart Health

Those who eat apples can reap many health benefits related to cardiovascular health, such as lower blood pressure, better lipid panels, and less inflammation. Researchers believe that these benefits are primarily due to the polyphenols in the apples.

Blood Sugar Control

In one study, women who ate at least one apple a day had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who ate none. Researchers believe that the phytochemicals in apples may protect cells in the pancreas from damage.

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Nutrition

Apples don't contain a lot of vitamins and minerals. Most of their benefits come from fiber and phytochemicals. They contain fair amounts of these two micronutrients:  

Nutrients per Serving

A medium-sized apple is one serving. It contains these nutrients:   

  • Calories: 95
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Carbohydrates: 25 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Sugar: 19 g

Things to Watch Out For

Some apples are coated with wax to protect them during handling and storage. Even organic apples may have such a coating, although the waxes used in the organic industry are plant-based. It can be hard to tell whether an apple has been waxed, since apples naturally have a somewhat waxy skin. Your best bet for avoiding wax is buying local fruit. 

Apples also appear frequently on the Dirty Dozen list of produce most likely to be contaminated by pesticides. In 2020 apples were fifth on this list compiled by the Environmental Working Group. You may find pesticides even on organic apples. Organic growers spray their trees an average of 32 times in one season. 

Pesticides are necessary because apples are susceptible to many insects and diseases. You can remove most pesticide residue by washing your fruit, especially if you use a baking soda solution. Although the peel contains most of the pesticide, experts say the benefits of the skin outweigh the risks.

How to Use Apples

Apples are healthiest when eaten fresh and unpeeled. Cut apples turn brown quickly because of a process called enzymatic browning. The darkened fruit isn't harmful, but it may look less appealing. To prevent enzymatic browning, dip the apples in a lemon juice solution or use a commercial product. 

Try these simple but healthy ways to eat more apples:

  • Add chopped apples and cranberries to a classic stuffing recipe.
  • Make a classic Waldorf salad by mixing apples, celery, grapes, and walnuts. Add a dab of mayo and serve on lettuce.
  • Add chopped apples to pancake batter for extra crunch and nutrition. 
  • Fill the cavity of cored apples with nuts and spice for delicious baked apples.  
  • Add chopped apples to your favorite tuna salad recipe. 
  • Combine spinach with raisins and apples for a nutritious salad. Use apple cider vinegar for an ultra low-calorie dressing.
  • Eat sliced apples with peanut butter or sun butter. 
  • Play around with apple and cheese pairings. Try blue cheese with Granny Smiths or cheddar with Galas. 
  • Add chopped apple to cereal or oatmeal.
  • Bake apples with winter squash and spices for a unique side dish.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 07, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Encyclopedia Britannica: "Why Do Sliced Apples Turn Brown?"

Environmental Working Group: "Dirty Dozen: EWG's 2020 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce."

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: "Apples, fresh, med."

Frontiers in Microbiology: "An Apple a Day: Which Bacteria Do We Eat With Organic and Conventional Apples?"

Genetic Literacy Project: "Why organic apple farmers spray their trees with insecticides 32 times on average during each growing season."

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: "The Nutrition Source: Apples."

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: "Phytochemicals and cancer: What you should know."

Trends in Food Science and Technology: "The cardiovascular health benefits of apples: Whole fruit vs. isolated compounds."

University of Illinois Extension: "Apples and More."

World's Healthiest Foods: "Apples."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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