Apples

Healing Foods: The Proverbial Apple a Day

by Deep, Radi, and Mithu on September 29, 2009

in Natural Health Foods

As a powerful and time-tested symbol of health, vitality, fertility, and eternal youth, we have chosen the apple as the leitmotif of our site. Its symbolic richness attests to its unique properties and the many health benefits that it confers. We are firmly convinced of the truth of the famous nineteenth century Welsh proverb as we hope you will be after crunching through this article. An apple a day does indeed help to keep the doctor away by playing a protective role in safeguarding our health. To put this more empirically, regular consumption  of apples – even just two or three a week  – has been found to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and even some kinds of cancer.

Description:

Said to originate in Central Asia, the apple is one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits in the world. While there are three main varieties of apples – red-skinned, yellow-skinned, and green-skinned – more than 7500 cultivars now exist across the globe. Their different tastes, which range in degrees of sweetness and tartness, and characteristics such as the retention of texture when cooked, determine how they are used – raw, cooked, or processed, for example, as sauces or juices.

History and Mythology:

Historically, apples have been an important food in Asia and Europe for millennia. They have traveled widely across the world and were brought to America in the seventeenth century by European settlers.

The apple’s place in Christian tradition is well known due to its conventional portrayal as a forbidden fruit that tempted Adam and Eve away from the Garden of Eden. However,  there is another way of viewing it as a key to knowledge which is potentially empowering. From a feminist perspective, that is one up for Eve!

The apple also features in Norse mythology as a food of the gods and a life-giving fruit associated with eternal youth and fertility.

Nutritional Profile:

Apples contain the two varieties of dietary fiber – soluble(e.g. pectin) and insoluble (e.g. cellulose) both of which have important health benefits. They are also a rich source of phytochemicals, including phenolics and flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants. The unique synergetic combination of these various compounds in apples are unmatched in most other fruits and play a key role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases as well as of certain forms of cancer.

A medium-sized apple with provide you with 14.9 percent of the daily value (DV) of dietary fiber and 13.1 percent of the DV of Vitamin C. Other important minerals and vitamins contained in apples are calcium, phosphorus, iron, Vitamin A, as well as small amounts of potassium, Vitamin E, Vitamin H, and the B-complex vitamins.

Some of the many important phytochemicals found in apples include quercetin, catechin, phloridzin, chlorogenic acid, procyanidin, and gallic acid, all of which are strong antioxidants. Studies of commonly consumed fruit in the U.S. have revealed that apples ranked second for antioxidant levels and for the total concentration of phenolic compounds. They are one of the main sources of dietary flavonoids in the U.S. as well as in Europe.

The peel of the apple contains more of its antioxidant compounds, especially quercetin, and in much higher concentrations than the flesh. The peel also contains much of its valuable fiber. Another point to consider is that the phenolic and flavonoid content varies in different apple varieties. For example, researches have found that Rome Beauty has the highest total phenolic content among common varieties used for apple sauce while amongst commonly consumed apples in the U.S. Fuji apples had the highest total phenolic and flavonoid content, though Red Delicious also ranked high. Another study conducted by USDA scientists of the antioxidant levels of a hundred foods ranked Red Delicious and Granny Smith 12th and 13th, respectively.

How to Use Apples:

Since the skin and pulp of apples contain most of their vital nutrients, it is best to consume the whole fruit, bearing in mind the cautions that we describe at the end of this article. The ripest apples are also the healthiest since they contain higher concentrations of antioxidants that progressively replace chlorophyll during the maturing process. It is advisable to eat apples before meals to reduce cholesterol and aid weight loss.

Raw apples make a delightful addition to a variety of salads. They can also be made into apple sauce or baked in a variety of mouthwatering desserts which Radi for one is incapable of resisting!

Juice is another popular way of consuming apples. However, research has shown that commercial juicing processes drastically reduce the polyphenol content found in the unprocessed fruit. This finding further supports the view that whole fresh apples are the best health choice.

For apple juice fans, there is some good news. Studies in mice have shown that apple juice concentrate can increase the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which can help prevent oxidative damage and a decline in cognitive performance associated with the aging process. While further tests with humans are needed, drinking apple juice regularly may help to keep diseases like Alzheimer’s, along with doctors, at bay!

You should bear in mind, though, that darker, cloudier, and less processed varieties of apple juice are a better choice than the clearer varieties which do not contain pulp and are therefore missing most of the antioxidant and fiber content. Juices also differ in their polyphenol content – for example, those extracted from Champion apples rank much higher than juices extracted from Idaho apples.

Lastly, dried apples, though lower in vitamin C and citric acid content, retain high levels of soluble fiber.

Important Health Benefits of Apples:

Cardiovascular Health and Cholesterol Reduction:

Apple consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, especially in women. This property is strongly linked to the phytonutrients contained in apples such as catechin and epicatchin. Many of the flavonoids found in the skin and pulp of apples provide antioxidant protection and help with a number of functions related to heart health including prevention of unwanted inflammation, regulation of blood pressure, and prevention of excessive clumping of blood platelets. All of these functions help to lower the risk of heart ailments and improve associated problems once it has set in. In addition, the insoluble and  soluble fiber content of apples, for example, pectin, binds with fats in the intestines, helping to lower cholesterol levels, especially LDL (bad cholesterol).

Cancer Protection:

Several studies suggest that apples can lower risks of cancer of several kinds, notably breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, prostrate cancer, and pancreatic cancer. In fact, they stand out among fruits in studies associated with cancer risk reduction. Due to their particular flavonoid content, apples are the only fruits that demonstrate a beneficial association with lung cancer, curiously, with a particular focus on women. Several laboratory studies and animal studies suggest that they may be helpful in reducing the cancer risk, demonstrating the potent anti-growth activities of apples against cancer cells in the colon, liver, and breast . They have revealed that apples have potent anti-growth activities against colon, liver, and breast cancer cells.

Lung Support and Asthma Protection:

Several studies have shown that regular consumption of apples significantly reduces the risk of asthma. Due to their high flavonoid content, especially phloridzin, which is unique to apples, as well as quercetin, apples have been associated not just with a lower risk of asthma, but also more generally with improved pulmonary function and health.

Brain Health:

Research has shown that people who eat antioxidant-rich fruits such as apples whose dietary fiber content is high gain a certain amount of protection against Parkinson’s Disease. As mentioned earlier, the acetylcholine content found in apple juice may fight the effects of aging on the brain and help to keep Alzheimer’s away.

Diabetes Protection:

Research suggests that people who eat one apple a day are 28 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The soluble fiber content of apples also helps to control mood swings caused by blood sugar fluctuations.

Immune System Booster:

As an antioxidant-rich food, apples provide valuable immune support. Specifically, their quercetin levels have been shown to boost and strengthen the immune system.

Aiding Digestion:

A natural and soothing remedy for stomach disorders consists of whole apples (without the seeds and stem) which are slightly mashed, sprinkled with cinnamon and honey, and  eaten several times between meals. Shredded apple can also be mixed with a tablespoon of honey and a sprinkling of sesame seeds to provide an excellent stomach tonic and appetizer. Due to their high dietary fiber content, raw apples are also helpful in treating constipation and associated symptoms such as hemorrhoids as well as irritable bowel syndrome. When cooked or baked, they can help in the treatment of diarrhea, providing bulk to the stools. Ripe and sweet apples when crushed into pulp have been found useful in acute and chronic dysentery among children and are advocated for treating this condition by the American Medical Association.

Urinary Health:

Pectin as well as other phytochemicals contained in apples help to normalize the urine and reduce frequent urination

Weight Control and Management:

As a low calorie food that is rich in fiber, apples are often recommended by doctors as part of a weight management program.

Detox Effects:

Apple pectin found in the peel contains galacturonic acid which can help to remove toxic substances from the body. In fact, a valuable cleansing and detoxification program consists of eating just six to ten apples a day.

Headache Remedy:

Naturopaths advocate the use of apples to treat all kinds of headaches, including chronic cases.

Control Excessive Bleeding:

A useful tip for hemophiliacs is that apple pectin has the ability to cause the blood to congeal and can therefore help to control excessive bleeding.

Anemia:

According to the naturopath, H.K. Bakhru, the iron content of apples, in combination with therapeutic levels of arsenic and phosphorus, make it a valuable food that can help to treat anemia.

A Gout Remedy:

Apples are considered to be an excellent food for conditions such as gout, which are caused by excess uric acid. This is believed to be neutralized by the malic acid in apples. A jelly made from boiled apples also makes a good liniment for rheumatic pains.

Bone Protection:

According to French researchers, phloridzin, a flavonoid found only in apples may help to protect against osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and may also increase bone density. Another ingredient in apples, boron, also helps to strengthen bones.

Improving Dental Hygiene:

Apples are powerful mouth cleansers. Their regular consumption helps to prevent tooth decay since their acidic content promotes the flow of saliva in the mouth and exerts an antiseptic influence on the mouth and teeth when thoroughly chewed. Apples can therefore play a valuable role in the prevention of halitosis and pyorrhea.

Eye Care:

Apple peel water is a very soothing remedy for eye inflammation both when drunk and used as an eye wash. It can be prepared by placing the peel in water, bringing this to boiling point and simmering gently for a few minutes. The concoction is then allowed to cool after straining and adding some honey. Recent studies also suggest that people who regularly consume antioxidant-rich foods such as apples are 10 to 15 percent less likely to develop cataracts.

Selecting and Storing Apples:

It is best to select apples with a rich coloring that, as discussed earlier, are fully ripened. Fortunately, the phytonutrient content of apples is not greatly affected by storage. Even after 200 days in cold storage, their total amount has been found to be similar to levels at harvesting time. More generally, apples should be kept in the refrigerator to preserve these valuable nutrients prior to consumption. Sliced apples also freeze well.

Cautions:

Since the peel of apples contains much of their valuable phytonutrients – pectin, favonoids, fiber, and antioxidants – it is best to consume organically grown, raw, and unpeeled apples. This avoids the likelihood of pesticides and other toxic residues such as petroleum-based waxes on the skin. If you use non-organic apples, you could try asking your grocer about the particular kind of wax used to protect the apple. Certain kinds such as beeswax, shellac (from the lac beetle), and Carnauba (from the carnauba palm tree) are preferable to petroleum-based waxes.

A second caution concerns apple seeds which are mildly poisonous. Though unlikely to do much harm, they should be consumed only in moderation. Bearing these cautions in mind, all that is left to add is happy crunching!

Key Reference Sources:

  • Bakhru. H.K. 1991. Foods That Heal. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks.
  • Best Health Magazine. 15 Health Benefits of Eating Apples 68 (http://besthealthmag.ca)
  • Boyer Jeanelle, and Rui Hai Liu. 2004. Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits. Nutrition Journal 3:5
  • Dewan. A.P. 2000. Food for Health. New Delhi: A.C. Specialist Publishers
  • HubPages. Health Benefits of Apples (http://hubpages.com)
  • The George Mateljan Foundation: The World’s Healthiest Foods. Apples (http://whfoods.org)
  • Wikipedia. Apple (http://en.wikipedia.org)
  • Wise Geek. What are the Health Benefits of Apples?(http://www.wisegeek.com)

This article was researched and compiled by Radi.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is only intended to educate and inform our readers. It is in no way intended to provide medical advice or to diagnose or treat any disease. If you have a health problem, you should consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any substances for medicinal purposes.

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6 Comments

  • At 2009.09.29 13:21, Tom Humes said:

    Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

    • At 2009.09.29 17:09, Tom Humes said:

      Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

      Tom Humes
      P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

      • At 2009.09.30 00:18, Deep, Radi, and Mithu said:

        Thanks, Tom, for your positive feedback! We hope to have more posts up and running soon.

        • At 2009.10.30 06:25, Meera said:

          Thank you very much. If apples are peeled and then steamed for about 15 minutes, will there be any nutritive value in them left, especially antioxidant quercetin? My patient does not like peeled and cant eat hard food. Please reply soon!

          • At 2009.10.30 11:17, Deep, Radi, and Mithu said:

            Hi Meera,

            If apples are peeled and then steamed, they will definitely lose valuable nutrients, including quercetin which is concentrated in the peel. One option for your patient might be to air dry the peel and then grind it into a powder since the total phenolic and flavonoid contents of the dried peel powder are similar to those of fresh apple peel. Hope this helps!

            • […] aged 6, leads me to think of apples in our everyday diet. Were you aware the old saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor way, has its roots in truth. I know many of you out there are fabulous cooks so this opportunistic look […]

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