Apple Nutrition — The Ultimate Gut & Heart-Friendly Fruit

June 21, 2017
Apple nutrition - Dr. Axe

The old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” might just turn out to be a pretty true cliché. Apple nutrition benefits include the ability to improve your digestion — thanks to being one of best high-fiber foods — lower disease-causing inflammation, improve heart health and help you better manage your weight. Plus, apples make a great, portable post- or pre-workout snack thanks to their quick-releasing natural sugars than can raise your energy.

While berries usually get most of the credit when it comes to supplying antioxidants, apples are a close runner-up. With a diverse family of phytonutrients present in apple pulp and skin, some studies have linked the consumption of apples with a reduced risk of certain forms of cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and even diabetes.

According to Department of Food Science at Cornell University, “In the laboratory, apples have been found to have very strong antioxidant activity, inhibit cancer cell proliferation, decrease lipid oxidation, and lower cholesterol.” Not too bad for one of the most widely available, easy-to-use fruits there is!


Apple Nutrition Facts

Apples are the fruit of the tree known as Malus domestica. Today, many different types of apples trees are grown worldwide, but they first originated in Asia thousands of years ago.

One medium apple has about:

  • 95 calories
  • 4 grams fiber
  • 19 grams sugar
  • 0 grams of protein or fat
  • 4 milligrams vitamin C (14 percent DV)
  • 196 milligrams potassium (6 percent DV)
  • 4 milligrams vitamin K (5 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligrams vitamin B6 (4 percent DV)
  • 1 milligrams manganese (3 percent DV)
An apple a day graphic - Dr. Axe

 


10 Health Benefits of Apples

1. Great Source of Cancer-Fighting Antioxidants

Apples are a high-antioxidant food and a very significant source of flavonoids in people’s diets in the U.S. and in Europe. In the United States, 22 percent of the phenolic antioxidants consumed from fruits are from apples, making them the largest single source of these compounds.

Apples are ranked second among all types of fruit for their total concentration of phenolic compounds, a class of bioactive substances that includes flavonoids, second to cranberries. And compared to all other types of fruit, apples have the highest portion of free phenolic compounds, which means these molecules are not bound to other compounds in the fruit that can slow down their beneficial activity in the body.

Research shows that beneficial antioxidants found in apples include quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid. Because of these special compounds, apples do more than combat free radicals — they also have anti-proliferative and beneficial cell-signaling effects.

In studies, anti-inflammatory foods like apples are linked with the prevention of prostate cancer because of their supply of quercetin. Other evidence suggests that certain protective phytochemicals in the skin of apples can help inhibit the reproduction of cancer cells within the colon. Since both cardiovascular disease and cancer are thought to be highly related to a condition called oxidative stress — which happens over time as damage to cells and DNA form — the ability to fight off free radical damage and oxidation is what gives apples their healing power (hence, it’s a part of my healing diet).

One thing to note here is that you want to eat the whole apple to get the most benefits, including the skin. When researchers studied the antioxidant capacity of pears and apples, they found that diets that included the fruit peels had a significantly higher level of healthy fatty acids (higher plasma lipid levels) and antioxidant activity than diets that discarded the peels and only ate the fruit’s pulp.

2. Help Prevent Inflammation

Phytochemicals found in colorful fruits, including phenolics, flavonoids and carotenoids, are known to reduce the risk for many chronic diseases that are widespread but largely preventable. This is because phytochemicals keep arteries clear, lower inflammatory responses and prevent high levels of oxidative stress.

Recent work from California State University suggests that high-antioxidant foods including apples are associated with “improved outcomes related to cognitive decline of normal aging, diabetes, weight management, bone health, pulmonary function, and gastrointestinal protection.”

3. Fight Heart Disease

There’s strong existing evidence that a diet that includes plenty of high-fiber foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, can help decrease the risk of numerous chronic diseases, including the number one killer in the U.S.: heart disease. Many studies have shown that people who consume more fresh plant foods filled with antioxidants experience lower inflammation and, therefore, have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

The specific type of fiber found in apples, called pectin, is especially known to be beneficial for lowering cholesterol levels naturally. One 2003 study found that when rats were fed a diet high in apple pectin extract and freeze-dried apples, they experienced significantly lower levels of cholesterol absorption and triglycerides than the control group. The group of rats receiving both apple pectin and the dried apples (instead of only one of these) experienced the most benefits in terms of intestine fermentations and lipid metabolism. This suggests that interactions between fibers and polyphenols in apples together play an important role in markers of heart health.

One study carried out by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health followed adults over a 15-year period and found that, overall, greater intake of fruits and vegetables was associated with lower risk of all-cause death and cardiovascular disease. There’s also evidence that antioxidant-rich fruits can play a role in preventing strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diverticulosis and hypertension.

4. High in Fiber

With over four grams of fiber in every one, apples are an ultimate high-fiber food and a great way to make sure you’re covering your bases of 25–30 grams daily. Apples are especially known for providing pectin, a type of soluble fiber that works by binding to fatty substances in the digestive tract — including cholesterol and toxins — and promoting their elimination.

The fiber found in apples helps make you feel full, since it expands in your intestines and takes up volume, but it’s also important for detoxification. Apple nutrition benefits the working of the digestive system because pectin regulates the body’s use of sugars and cholesterol while also helping to cleanse the blood and digestive tract.

5. Improve Digestive Health

Following a high fiber diet has been shown to fight digestive issues like IBS and even cancers of the digestive system. Higher fruit intake is correlated with better general digestive health, especially of the colon, stomach and bladder. The phytonutrients found in apples can help protect the digestive organs from oxidative stress, alkalize the body and balance pH levels.

When it comes to natural constipation relief, consuming plenty of high-fiber foods is a great way to prevent or treat this issue. Pectin in apples is also considered a natural diuretic and has a mild laxative effect, so this can help combat bloating and uncomfortable water retention. Try either eating raw apples (remember to also eat the skin) or adding them to recipes by blending them first. You can also obtain benefits by juicing apples, although you’ll want to avoid the types of high-sugar juices found in most grocery stores.

6. Good Source of Vitamin C

One apple supplies about 14 percent of your daily vitamin C, which is considered a powerful antioxidant that’s important for skin, eye, immune and brain health. Like other antioxidants we obtain through fresh vegetables and fruits, vitamin C fights free radical damage and helps protect DNA and cells from mutation and malformation.

Research shows that vitamin C is crucial for maintaining a healthy metabolism and repairing tissue, especially in the eyes and skin. Vitamin C-rich foods like apples have natural anti-aging effects because they promote skin cell renewal, help heal wounds or cuts, guard against infections and harmful bacteria, and also block damage from UV light exposure.

7. Can Help You Manage Your Weight

Much research has shown that higher fruit and vegetable intake is linked with protection against obesity. While apples provide high levels of important nutrients and antioxidants, they’re also low in calories since a high percentage of their volume is water and fiber.

Because they have a good dose of dietary fiber, which contains zero digestible calories and is useful for sustaining healthy blood sugar levels, apples can satisfy your sweet tooth without weighing your down or adding to food cravings. Indeed, when added to other smart ways to shed pounds, you can lose weight fast with the help of apples.

8. Can Help Fight Diabetes

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that eating five or more combined servings of fruits and vegetables daily significantly cut the risk of diabetes formation in adults. It might seem counterintuitive that fruits and vegetables, which naturally contain some sugar, would be inversely associated with diabetes incidence, but this has been shown time and time again in studies.

Certain flavonoids present in apples and other fruits are known to improve insulin sensitivity, which is key to preventing both diabetes and long-term weight gain. The other antioxidants and fiber found in apples also play a role in their anti-diabetic effects, since we know that a diet high in fiber and phytonutrients acts like a natural diabetes treatment.

Because apples are high in fiber, they’re considered a fruit that’s low on the glycemic index. Compared to refined carbohydrates or sweetened products, apples have the ability to unleash sugar into the bloodstream at a slower rate. This means they keep blood sugar levels more stable and prevent fluctuations in blood glucose that can potentially lead to insulin resistance.

9. Can Help Fight Asthma Symptoms

Interestingly, apples have been shown to act like a natural asthma remedy and are associated with general pulmonary health. In a 2003 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving 1,600 adults in Australia, apple and pear intake was associated with a decreased risk of asthma and a decrease in bronchial hypersensitivity.

The study surveyed nearly 600 individuals with asthma and 900 individuals without asthma about their diets and lifestyles. Total fruit and vegetable intake was found to be only weakly associated with asthma, but apple intake showed a stronger inverse relationship with asthma. The beneficial effect was most clear in subjects who consumed at least two apples per week.

What’s also interesting is that this seems to be uniquely an apple nutrition benefit; onion, tea and red wine consumption were not related to asthma incidence even though they also contain similar phytochemicals. This suggests that there are special interactions of apple flavonoids that help control asthma symptoms better than other antioxidants and nutrients.

10. High Source of Boron

A little known fact about apples nutrition? They’re one of the best natural sources of boron, a mineral that is important for building strong bones and helping to prevent osteoporosis. Boron uses and benefits include helping to develop sex hormones, building muscle mass and supporting brain function. Some evidence also shows that low boron intake might be associated with fatigue, arthritis and mood changes.


History of Apples and Interesting Facts

Apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. They first grew in Turkey and are considered to be perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated by humans! The fruit of the apple tree has been improved through selection over thousands of years, resulting in the many varieties and tastes we have available today.

They were originally brought to North America by European colonists during the 17th century and have been a staple of the American diet ever since (think: apple pie!). Throughout history, they have had special religious and mythological significance in many cultures, for example being mentioned in the Bible in the story of Genesis about Adam and Eve. They have also had symbolic meaning in ancient Greek, European and various Christian traditions.

About 69 million tons of apples are grown worldwide every year! China produces almost half of this total each year on average, followed by the United States (the second-leading producer), Turkey, Italy, India and Poland. Hundreds of varieties of apples are in existence today, with skins that range in color from brought red to yellow, green, pink, or bi- or tri-colored patterns. They also come in a range of different tastes and levels of sweetness.

Apple trees are prone to a number of fungal, bacterial and pest problems, which are controlled by a number of organic and non-organic means. This is why apples are often heavily sprayed with chemicals, pesticides and herbicides (but more on that issue later). The skin of apples is also commonly covered in a protective layer of epicuticular wax to seal in their freshness, but ideally you’ll find a kind that is unwaxed (and organic).

One thing that can’t be overlooked is the use of apples to make one of my favorite fermented health-promoting foods: apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar benefits the body in so many ways: improving immunity, healing the gut, fighting cravings and blood sugar spikes, in addition to so much more.


How to Buy and Use Apples

According to researchers, the phytochemical composition of apples varies greatly between different varieties of apples, plus there are also small changes in phytochemicals during the maturation and ripening periods. While also other types of apples are good choices, good-old Red Delicious seems to be the highest in antioxidants according to some sources. Even though it’s believed that storing apples has little to no effect on their phytochemical levels, the way that they’re cooked and processed can also really affect their availability of nutrients.

Many of the antioxidants found in apples are considered delicate and are preserved best when the apples are eaten raw or lightly cooked. High temperatures can negatively impact an apple’s nutrients, so try avoiding any packaged foods made with apples and instead use them in your own kitchen in a variety of ways that require little or no cooking.

When it comes to picking out apples at the grocery store or farmer’s market, definitely try to buy organic apples. Unfortunately the Environmental Working Group has listed apples on the “Dirty Dozen” list of most chemically sprayed fruits and veggies for the past five years in a row! As of February 2015, apples are considered the fruit or veggie with the highest number of pesticides among 48 different kinds that were studied.

Does this really matter? Yes! A recent study shows people who buy organic produce have lower levels of organophosphate insecticides measured in their bodies even though they eat more produce than people who buy mostly conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

Store apples in the refrigerator to keep them fresh for longer. They have a pretty long shelf life and will last for several weeks on average, which means they’re a good thing to pick up at the grocery store whether you need them right away or not.


Healthy Apple Recipes

One of the best times to enjoy apples, and all fruit for that matter, is before or after a workout. Apples can provide you with a quick boost of energy before a workout because they’re a natural source of fructose and glucose sugar molecules. Apples can help enhance physical performance, concentration and stamina if you have one as a snack prior to hitting the gym. The body uses sugar best around the time of exercise because we need glucose to replenish depleted glycogen reserves and help promote muscle recovery. So consider throwing an apple into your work or gym bag or having one as part of balanced, healthy snack following exercise.

Of course, apples can be used in all types of ways regardless of the time of day. Try adding some to salads or sauces, making low-sugar apple sauce, simmering or baking them with some cinnamon, or making juices and smoothies using fresh apples.

Remember that while it’s always preferable to eat the whole apple, homemade apple juice is definitely a cut above the store-bought kinds. The real thing when homemade contains natural enzymes, vitamins and phytonutrients that are usually missing or destroyed during large manufacturing processes. Just keep your juice portion small to limit sugar, with about 8–10 ounces per day.

Raw Apple Crisp Recipe

Total Time: 10 minutes

Serves: 8

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup raisins, soaked and drained
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 1 cup medjool dates
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place 2 apples, raisins, one teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg in a food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Toss remaining chopped apples with lemon juice in a large bowl. Pour apple raisin puree over apples and mix well. Spoon mixture into a medium-sized baking dish and set aside.
  3. Pulse walnuts, dates, one teaspoon cinnamon and sea salt in a food processor until coarsely ground. Be careful not to over-mix. Sprinkle mixture over apples and press down lightly with your hands. Serve immediately or let sit for a few hours for the flavor to marinate.
Raw-Apple-Crisp

Interactions of Apples

Apples are one of the fruits that have a higher potential to cause allergic reactions, along with peaches and kiwis. Fruit allergies are frequently observed as reactions in the mouth, lungs, face, nose and stomach. These can occur only minutes after consuming the trigger food and show up in itching and swelling of the mouth, lips and throat. If you or your children experience these reactions after eating apples, considering having an allergy test done before consuming them again.

Apples might also cause digestive problems for some people, since they contain FODMAP carbohydrates (specifically, a group of small carbohydrate molecules found in everyday foods) that some people have difficulty breaking down. Apples, along with pears and some other types of fruits and veggies, can potentially ferment in the gut and cause IBS, bloating and digestive discomfort. So if you have these issues and can’t seem to figure out why, you might want to experiment with following a low FODMAP diet for a period of time.

Read Next: Benefits of Cherries — Weight Loss, Gout Healing & Less Inflammation

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