Their crisp, delicious taste and versatility have made apples one of the most popular fruits in the world. Whether it’s Granny Smith or Fuji, apples can be added to just about any meal, and they make for a simple and delicious snack. But what about the health benefits of apples? We may have grown up hearing that an apple a day can keep the doctor away, but is this fact or fantasy? Read on to find out.
Apple Nutrition Facts
Apples are good sources of several important nutrients. In fact, just one medium apple contains:
- 17% of the RDA of dietary fiber
- 2% of the RDA of vitamin A
- 14% of the RDA of vitamin C
- 5% of the RDA of vitamin K
- 4% of the RDA of vitamin B6
- 3% of the RDA of riboflavin
- 6% of the RDA of potassium
- 3% of the RDA of manganese
But the majority of apples’ health benefits are related to their fiber content and levels of beneficial phytochemicals.
Over 80% of the fiber in apples is soluble fiber, most of it in the form of a polysaccharide called pectin. As the name suggests, soluble fiber is soluble in water, with which it mixes to form a gel-like substance that helps you feel fuller longer. Not only can soluble fiber aid in weight loss, but it can also help lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugar, which may reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. In addition, pectin has been found in studies to cause cell death in a number of different types of cancer, including prostate and colon cancers.
What’s more, the many phytonutrients in apples have been found in various studies to strengthen the immune system, regulate hormones, and act as antioxidants, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, which are linked to a greater risk of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Now let’s take a closer look at some of the health benefits of apples, apple juice, and apple cider vinegar.
Health Benefits of Apples
Apples contain a number of phytochemicals called polyphenols, or phenolic compounds. These include:
- Quercetin: This polyphenol is a type of flavonoid that’s concentrated in apple skin and is known to reduce allergy symptoms and inflammation by blocking histamine. Quercetin has also been found to inhibit various types of cancer and increase the effectiveness of traditional cancer treatment.
- Anthocyanins: These flavonoids have been found in studies to possess powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-cancer, and hepatoprotective properties. Like quercetin, anthocyanins are concentrated in apple skin.
- Catechins: This class of flavonoids possesses significant anti-inflammatory properties and is known to protect the body from oxidative damage. Like quercetin and anthocyanins, catechins are concentrated in the apple peel.
- Chlorogenic acid: This polyphenol—which is also the most prominent polyphenol in coffee—acts as a potent antioxidant and anxiolytic and has been found in some studies to aid weight loss. Chlorogenic acid is concentrated in the apple seeds and core, with lower levels in the flesh and skin.
- Phloridzin: This flavonoid is a powerful scavenger of free radicals and has been found in studies to prevent blood sugar spikes and problems with lipid metabolism. Phloridzin is concentrated in the apple seeds, with lower levels found in both the skin and flesh.
Studies have linked the phytochemicals in apples not only to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes but also to a reduced risk of both asthma and cancer cell proliferation, along with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
In addition, the phytonutrients in apples have been found to decrease lipid oxidation—a process in which lipids degrade via interaction with free radicals. This is significant because when LDL becomes oxidized it leads to the buildup of plaque on the walls of blood vessels, and this is associated with a greater risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Health Benefits of Apple Juice
While apple juice retains many of the benefits of whole apples, including the ability to boost levels of acetylcholine—a neurotransmitter associated with improved memory—there are some differences.
As noted earlier, many of the beneficial phytonutrients in apples are found in the skin, so these beneficial plant chemicals are lost when fresh apples are turned into juice. In addition, many commercially available juices have been filtered to remove the apple solids, but these solids are where most of the beneficial phytochemicals reside.
What’s more, the enzyme pectinase is used to aid in the juice extraction process, and use of this enzyme has been shown in studies to destroy much of the remaining phytonutrients.
So if you’re in the market for apple juice, be sure to steer away from clear juice—which is basically pure sugar—and look instead for cloudy, unfiltered juice. And be sure to look for organic apple juice as well, as conventional varieties may contain harmful pesticide residue.
However, it’s also important to be aware that a recent study by Consumer Reports found that both conventional and organic juices may contain potentially toxic levels of heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium, and lead. So we recommend doing your research before making a purchase.
Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar
When yeast and bacteria are added to apple juice, fermentation takes place and apple cider vinegar is born. Like other types of vinegar, apple cider vinegar is sour because of the presence of acetic acid. But unfiltered apple cider vinegar is also known for a specific component called the mother—cloudy strands that can be seen floating in the vinegar.
While many manufacturers remove these strands because their cloudy appearance is off-putting to some consumers, the mother is perhaps one of the healthiest parts of apple cider vinegar. This is because it’s composed of acetic acid bacteria, which act as probiotics and can actually help replenish gut bacteria.
In fact, we have the mother to thank for all types of vinegar, which gives you an idea of how aptly named this term is. And if you want more proof, here’s a short list of more of the many benefits associated with the mother:
- It’s high in iron
- It’s an excellent source of polyphenols
- It contains prebiotics, or food for good bacteria
- It’s a good source of B vitamins
In addition, the polyphenols in apple cider vinegar have been found in studies to help keep blood sugar in the normal range. In fact, a study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that participants given apple cider vinegar immediately prior to a test meal experienced a significant increase in postprandial insulin sensitivity.
Apple cider vinegar has also been found in studies to have significant antimicrobial properties and to demonstrate activity against a number of bacteria, including Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Candida albicans, and Salmonella typhimurium.
A cursory online review will also result in countless sites proclaiming apple cider vinegar a cure for whatever ails you. And, as we’ve seen, it does have documented health benefits. But everything else is anecdotal.
However, apple cider vinegar certainly won’t hurt you—though it’s possible to overdo just about anything—so feel free to experiment. But due to its strong, acidic taste, most people interested in adding a little extra apple cider vinegar to their diet usually include it in homemade salad dressings or dilute it in water in amounts ranging from 1 or 2 teaspoons to 1 or 2 tablespoons.
Unlike fresh apples and apple juice, apple cider vinegar can also be used externally—and it makes a great hair rinse too!
When it comes to all things apples, it really is hard to go wrong. And by choosing organic apple products—and those found to be free of heavy metal contamination—you can ensure you’re getting all the health benefits apples have to offer.