In the early days of Insiders’ Cures, I wrote about a rather tongue-in-cheek study that found that people who ate an apple a day didn’t go to the doctor any less than non-apple eaters.
But the researchers did find that the apple eaters used fewer prescription drugs.1
In my view, that’s the whole point. And it leads to the bigger picture: People who regularly eat apples have been shown to have a lower risk of numerous chronic diseases.
Apples are high in fiber, vitamins B and C, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. Plus, compared with other commonly consumed fruits in the U.S., apples rank second highest in antioxidant activity. They also rank highest in healthy phenolic compounds.2
And now, groundbreaking science shows exactly why and how apples work in so many different ways to benefit your health.
So, in honor of apple harvest season, let’s take a look at what Eve’s forbidden fruit can do for five key aspects of your health.
Five ways apples help keep the doctor away
A growing body of evidence reveals the following five health-boosting benefits of apples…
1.) Combat constipation. Because they’re an excellent dietary source of natural fiber, apples are a great way to go, so to speak.
Just make sure to eat the skin of the apple as well. The skin contains the highest concentration of nutrients. It also contains insoluble fiber, which helps bulk up your stools and pushes the waste through your intestines in a timely manner. (Of course, you also want to drink plenty of water to help lubricate this whole process.)
Some health practitioners recommend taking fiber supplements for constipation. But, as I explained in the very first issue of Insiders’ Cures, fiber is a complicated and misunderstood nutrient. And the wrong fibers can actually increase your risk of chronic diseases.
In other words, fiddling with fiber powders and pills is a dangerous game. That’s why I recommend allowing Nature to take out the guesswork by eating apples—as part of your healthy, balanced diet—instead.
(I can also remember the old commercials for ridiculous, useless laxatives for constipation that claimed to have as much “bulk” as so many apples. Which always made me wonder: Why not skip the laxative pills and just eat apples instead? Apples are certainly a tastier option—not to mention, healthier.)
2.) Nourish your gut. As I’ve written before, a healthy microbiome equals a healthy body and brain. And a recent study found that organic apples contain natural probiotics that nourish your gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome. Which may have been what the “apple a day” saying meant all along.
Researchers in Austria analyzed how much probiotic (“good”) bacteria apples contain, and whether the amount varies between organic and conventional varieties.3 They found that a typical apple—organic or conventional—has about the same amounts of probiotic bacteria. (Most of the bacteria are in the seeds, but even if you toss out the core, you still get about 10 million bacteria.)
The difference, however, is that organic apples have a more balanced, diverse, and evenly distributed population of probiotic bacteria, compared to conventionally grown apples.
Organically grown apples (like all organic produce) legally can’t be sprayed with pesticides. These chemicals are harmful to plants in many ways—including killing their naturally occurring probiotic bacteria. Plus, foods contaminated with pesticides harm the beneficial probiotics in your GI microbiome.
The researchers also found that organic apples didn’t contain E. coli and other bacteria that are known pathogens—but conventional apples did. And as an added bonus, they discovered that the probiotic bacteria found in organic apples help them taste better, too.
I should also note that the researchers explained how the probiotics on fruits are affected by cooking.
Consequently, organic apples and other fruits should be eaten fresh and raw (in contrast to many vegetables, which are richer, nutritionally, when cooked).
3.) Make your mouth happy. The mouth and teeth are a key part of the GI system—in fact, the mouth is where it all begins. That’s why it’s good news that in addition to keeping the doctor away, apples can also help keep the dentist away!
Eating apples naturally cleans the teeth and helps control food odors and bad breath. It also promotes saliva, which is good for oral health and digestion. And of course, your taste buds always appreciate a sweet, juicy apple!
4.) Stave off blood sugar spikes. Studies show that apples have metabolic benefits that help regulate blood sugar and reduce the risk of Type II diabetes. And that the phytonutrients in apples help prevent spikes in blood sugar in three main ways…
First, they inhibit enzymes involved in the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. Second, they naturally stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. And third, they decrease the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream by slowing digestion and trapping sugars and carbs in their complex food biomatrix.
All of this means that apples can be a good source for natural energy. In addition to providing that healthy energy boost (which is far better than consuming sugary candy bars or “energy drinks”), the vitamin C and phenols in apples counter the effects of oxidative stress—which you want to reduce for healthy aging. Plus, apples’ natural malic acid content is good for muscle energy and function.
Finally, apples also help satisfy your hunger and register high on the satiety index that determines how much foods contribute to caloric intake, high blood sugar, and obesity.
5.) Slash your risk of cardiovascular disease. According to a recent British study, eating an apple a day could prevent nearly 8,500 deaths from cardiovascular disease per year.4 And that’s just in the U.K.! Imagine what the numbers would look like in the U.S., which has almost five times as many people. (This always makes me wonder why studies like this aren’t conducted in the U.S.?!)
The researchers used a risk-assessment model to calculate what would happen if 70 percent of people in the U.K. over the age of 50 ate an apple a day. Using this model, everyone’s total calorie intake would stay the same; they would just need to replace another food with an apple.
The researchers found that eating an apple a day would prevent almost as many deaths as taking 40 mg of simvastatin (Zocor®)—a statin. (Of course, newer studies have discredited old drug company data about the benefits of statins. Meaning the benefits of eating an apple a day to help protect your heart health would be even more influential—and without the known side effects of statin drugs.)
The researchers also estimated that prescribing statins to all of those people would lead to 1,200 cases of cardiomyopathy, which involves serious damage to the heart muscle. In addition, statins would lead to 200 cases of rhabdomyolysis (destruction of skeletal muscles). And they would cause 12,300 new cases of diabetes—which, ironically, is a leading cause of heart attacks.
On the other hand, according to this study, you could simply eat an apple a day and potentially avoid all of these statins and their related complications—while also lowering your risk of heart disease…plus much more.
In fact, in one notable study involving 9,208 men and women, researchers found that those who ate the most apples over a 28-year period had a lower risk for thrombotic stroke, too (which is caused by blood clots).5
But aren’t apples problematic because of the sugar?
Now, for years, many nutritionists, health practitioners, and even chemists told us that all types of sugar are the same. They said whether you eat an apple or a cookie, you metabolize it the same way.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The “meat” (or white) of the apple does contain some natural fructose (the sugar found in fruit). But your body digests and metabolizes this natural sugar differently than it does sucrose (table sugar)—particularly when you eat the whole fruit. So, it’s really another medical myth that eating apples or other fruit contributes to blood sugar-related diseases like diabetes or heart disease.
In fact, I recently reported on the results of a new study that eating fruit is not a metabolic problem for people with high blood sugar and diabetes.6 The researchers found that people who ate two servings of whole fruit a day actually had a whopping 36 percent lower risk of developing Type II diabetes than people who consumed half a serving of fruit or less.
Why? It has to do with fruit consumption and insulin sensitivity. The researchers found that people who consumed more fruit had to produce less insulin to lower their blood sugar levels. This is important because high insulin levels not only lead to diabetes, but are also associated with obesity and heart disease.
And that’s not the only new study showing the health benefits of just two servings of fruit a day…
New, breakthrough research on the general benefits of eating fresh produce convincingly demonstrates that consuming just three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day appears to be optimal for your diet.
This is substantially less than the six to eight servings of fruits and veggies that some so-called nutritionists continue to push. And yet, many Americans don’t even eat just one serving of fruit a day, let alone two. If that sounds like you, why not start with eating an apple a day, and then work your way up to another serving of fruit as well? Apples are easy to find year-round, and can be added to your diet in many ways.
You can cut them up and combine them with other healthy ingredients like raisins or cranberries (in moderation), nuts, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
You can also add fresh apples to your favorite dishes. A simple tip is to find ways to incorporate them into healthy foods you normally eat, like yogurt or cottage cheese. Try adding them on your favorite sandwich. Or throw diced or sliced apples into just about any type of salad for a crispy, tasty surprise.
(Just remember to skip the apple juice, which is processed and tends to be mostly sugar water.)
I suggest keeping a few apples (and other fruits) on the countertop so you’re more likely to see them and remember to eat them. (I keep my fruits in a three-tier, hanging basket in the kitchen, with sections for onions, garlic, and ginger and turmeric root, as well as different fruits.) This also keeps your fruit at room temperature, which I believe gives it a better taste and texture than the refrigerator does—and makes it easier to eat.
And remember—you don’t have to save your fruits for regular mealtimes. Enjoy them as a healthy snack anytime, throughout the day.
So, when you’re out and about on your daily walk or weekend outing this fall, pick a crisp, organic apple from a bountiful tree, or buy a bushel at your local farmer’s market. After all, it’s just what the doctor ordered, and what science shows can keep you healthy, naturally.
SIDEBAR: Forgotten fruits: “The lost apples”
Apples originated on the hillsides in what was temporarily known as Soviet Central Asia. Early apples looked more like crabapples than the big, round fruits we’re familiar with today. That may explain why, after Russian apples migrated to Europe and North America, the fruits were primarily used to make apple cider (especially since water in urban areas wasn’t safe to drink).
But during the 20th century, as municipal water sources became less dangerous to drink, apples began to be cultivated more for taste than for their ability to be made into cider. So, we need to consider whether the old admonition about a daily apple was also about the safety of drinking cider rather than eating the whole fruit.
Today, there are about 4,000 varieties of apples. That seems like a lot…until you consider that there were once 17,000!7 The ban on hard cider during Prohibition—coupled with the rise of industrialized agriculture and increased demand for more reliably blemish-free fruit—culled thousands of varieties of apples in the U.S.
About a decade ago, a retired FBI agent and a Vietnam veteran began hearing about hidden apple orchards in the Pacific Northwest. Many of these orchards were planted by pioneers who traveled west due to the Homestead Act of 1862, but had long since been abandoned.
Using old maps, county fair records, newspaper clippings, and nursery records, the two men began identifying the likely locations of these old, overgrown orchards. Then they used GPS tracking to find them.
So far, these fruit sleuths have discovered about 30 apple varieties that were thought to be extinct. A team of volunteers grafts the historic stock onto new trees and sells them through the Whitman County (Washington) Historical Society’s Lost Apple Project.8 You can learn more via their Facebook page, The Lost Apple Project.
1“Association Between Apple Consumption and Physician Visits: Appealing the Conventional Wisdom That an Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.” JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(5):777–783.
3“An Apple a Day: Which Bacteria Do We East With Organic and Conventional Apples?” Front Microbiol. 2019 Jul 24;10:1629.