Ahh, the chill is in the air and the scent of warm fresh-baked apple pie gracefully swirls through our dreams if not our own kitchens. Hot apple cider is festive and warming. Apples are in – and we say, indulge!

There once was a man who loved apples so much he became a legend. John Chapman (1774 – 1845) made it his mission to spread apple seeds throughout the Midwest to help supply the frontier with food. “Johnny Appleseed” was an orchardist. Around 1800, Johnny Appleseed began to collect a variety of apple seeds from cider presses in Pennsylvania to plant in more western locations, making this nutritious-delicious fruit more readily available.

Today, in the U.S. alone, there are approximately 2,500 apple varieties with the Red Delicious being the most abundantly grown, and typically symbolic (along with the green Granny Smith).

Other compelling facts about apples (which, by the way, are members of the rose family):

  • Don't peel your apple – eat it. The peel contains up to two-thirds of the entire apple’s fiber content plus a host of antioxidants.
  • According to archeological evidence, humans have been eating apples since at least 6500 B.C.
  • Flushing, New York was home to the first apple nursery, opening in 1730.
  • Apples ripen six to ten times faster at room temperature than if they were refrigerated Apples ripen six to ten times faster at room temperature than if they were refrigerated
  • One gallon of apple cider is made from approximately 36 apples.

The old saying, “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away” stems from an old English adage, “To eat an apple before going to bed, will make the doctor beg his bread.”

And there’s good reasons why – research has shown many benefits of enjoying apples.

Nutritionally, one average sized apple has approximately 95 calories, 4 grams, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 14% RDI vitamin C, and 6% RDI potassium. There are lesser but good amounts of RDI for manganese, copper and vitamins A, E, B1, B2 and B6. Red-colored apples are high in anthocyanins and other carotenoids. Other antioxidants found in apples include quercetin, chlorogenic acid, catechin and phloridzin. 

Health Benefits

Authors of one comprehensive review of studies using apple and apple product consumption in numerous health outcomes write, “Exposure to apples and apple products has been associated with beneficial effects on risk, markers, and etiology of cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease. Recent work suggests that these products may also be associated with improved outcomes related to cognitive decline of normal aging, diabetes, weight management, bone health, pulmonary function, and gastrointestinal protection.”

Apples are said to help the heart. According to one review, consuming apples regularly is associated with a reduced risk of developing heart disease. The Women's Health Study surveyed nearly 39,000 women with a follow-up after six years and nine months. Women ingesting the highest amounts of flavonoids had a 35% reduction in risk of cardiovascular events. Both apple and broccoli consumption were associated with reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease and events. Women who tended to eat apples exhibited a 13–22% decrease in cardiovascular disease risk. 

In another large-population study of nearly 35,000 post-menopausal women, apple (and wine) consumption was inversely associated with death from coronary heart disease; the effects were ascribed to the amount of catechins and epicatechins contained in apples.

A prospective, population-based study of nearly 20,100 men and women aged 20 to 65 years free of cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the 10-year study showed that For every 25 grams of white product — about 1/5 cup of apple slices — consumed, the risk of stroke decreased by 9%. Meanwhile, a meta-analysis of flavonol consumption in approximately 111,000 individuals suggested that these phytocompounds (found abundantly in apples) “may reduce stroke risk.”

Pulmonary function is not a primary area we tend to consider – we don’t notice issues with our lungs until, frankly, it’s hard to breathe, usually from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 9COPD). In one study, eating apples and pears regularly was associated with support of pulmonary function.

Apples and other fruits and vegetables are always suggested as healthy food to load up on when trying to lose weight. One five-week study tested how consuming pre-loads (eating a little before a meal) of apples in different forms (applesauce, fruit, apple juice with and without added fiber) affects satiety and calories consumed at mealtime in 58 adults. This was done once a week for five weeks; the form chosen was consumed 15 minutes prior to the meal. showed that eating the apple reduced lunch calorie intake by 15% compared to control and also more so than applesauce and both juices. The authors wrote that “These results suggest that solid fruit affects satiety more than pureed fruit or juice, and that eating fruit at the start of a meal can reduce energy intake.”

In a study of how consuming apples and pears compared to oats affected calorie intake in 49 overweight women, results showed that the energy density of the fruits – independent of fiber amount – was responsible for the satiety and lowered calorie consumption. 

Apples are known to be more tart than sweet, although some varieties are indeed sweeter than others. People tend to enjoy apples for their inimitable flavor more so than for satisfying the sweet tastebuds. Apples also may help regulate blood sugar levels. In one study, those individuals who literally ate an apple a day had a 28% lower risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to those who didn’t eat apples.

Another review found that those individuals who ate more of whole fruits, particularly blueberries, grapes, and apples, had a significantly associated lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, whereas greater consumption of fruit juices is associated with a higher risk.

Apples, particularly, are high in pectin, which is a fiber that acts as a prebiotic. Authors of one study describe the mechanism as follows: “A major proportion of apple polyphenols escape absorption in the small intestine and together with non-digestible polysaccharides reach the colon, where they can serve as substrates for bacterial fermentation.”

In the in vitro study, the researchers looked at three apple varieties – Golden Delicious, Renetta Canada and Pink Lady.  Each was found to “induce substantial changes in microbiota composition…which could be associated with potential benefits to human health.”

Conclusion

It’s the season for apples, and thankfully, numerous varieties are available all year long. Also going on all year long is continued research into how apple consumption impacts health. For one example, this past May, an epidemiological study of 2,800 adults aged 50 and older showed that those who consumed lower amounts of apples as well as berries and/or tea were two to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and related dementias than those who consumed more. They authors ascribed the lower rate with the flavonoids found in the fruits and tea.

Perhaps an apple a day may not keep the doctor away – but at bay, at least.

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