Putting the Apple-a-day Adage To the Test
By Robert H. Shmerling, M.D Harvard Health Publications and submitted by Krystyna A.
Okay, so maybe you’ve heard this one before: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I wouldn’t have considered this a myth because everyone knows its not true, right?
Well not so fast. A number of studies have actually put this adage to the test, at least indirectly.
A look at the evidence: Consider the following studies published over the years:
- In 2007, researchers from Pennsylvania state University found that study subjects who ate an apple before lunch – about 125 calories – consumed 187 fewer calories overall than subjects who didn’t eat an apple at all. Apple juice and apple sauce on the other hand, had no such effect. The researchers suggested that the work of eating the apple or the time it took to eat it somehow made study subjects think they’d eaten more than they had.
- Researchers from Cornell University published a study in 2004 in the journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showing that the flavonoid, quercetin (found primarily in apples, berries and onions) protected the nerve tissue of rats from hydrogen peroxide, a standard oxidative stressor in laboratory preparations. Based on these findings, they theorized that apple consumption might reduce the risk of brain-damaging illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
- In a 2007 study, researchers in the United Kingdom found that people who ate five apples a week had better lung function and a lower risk of asthma than people who did not eat apples. A prior study suggested the same thing and also linked the beneficial effects of apples to their high concentration of quercetin. Two additional studies have linked apple intake with a lower risk of lung cancer.
- A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked the high intake of flavonoids (a plant based nutrient) with lower death rates from cardiovascular disease among postmenopausal women. Of course, apples weren’t the only source of flavonoids associated with dodging cardiovascular death. Bran, pears, wine, grapefruit, strawberries and chocolate are high-flavonoid foods whose intakes were associated with lower cardiovascular disease and/or death rates in this study.
So should we get aboard the apple bandwagon?
Considering the findings of these studies, is it time to make apples a bigger part of our diet? Sure, if you like apples. But I don’t think we have enough hard evidence to completely buy into the “apple cure” just yet. Some of this research is based on animals, which we know does not always apply directly to humans. And it’s notoriously difficult to perform studies of dietary intake and link them to specific health outcomes when there are so many variables to consider. For example, when compared with people who don’t like apples, maybe apples-eaters have other healthy behaviours, such as exercise, that lower their risk of heart or lung disease.
The Bottom Line:
Apples may be even better for you than previously appreciated. They are a healthy food choice, especially if eaten instead of less nutritious snacks. But even if apples can’t keep the doctor away , eating more apples are unlikely to cause you harm. Regardless of how you feel about apples, this is a good example of how some “myths” are just waiting to be transformed into fact. Good research and an open mind is all that lies between the apple-a-day myth and “the next big thing” in healthy diets.
- Adding apples to the diet is a healthy option that increases weight loss. Just three apples a day (one before each meal) not only helped women lose weight but improved their overall health profile.
- Make sure you always include the skin of apples- in 2007 researchers discovered a dozen compounds in apple peel that inhibit or kill cancer cells in the laboratory, which may help explain the anti-cancer activity of whole apples.
- Red Delicious apple has almost four times the antioxidant content of brewed tea.
- After harvest, apples continue to be a living entity and maintain the vital processes of each living cell, with some studies actually showing an increase in antioxidant activity and phytochemical levels after storage.
- In addition to being antioxidant rich, apples are rich in nutrients such as fibre, potassium, Vitamin C, B vitamins and have a low GI.