While the health benefits of fruit are widely known and accepted, can an apple each day truly keep the doctor away? Is there something about the “forbidden fruit”—above and beyond other types of fruit and healthful foods—that is ideal for lowering your risk of poor health?
As part of a healthful diet and lifestyle, apples really can fight a number of diseases and help keep you healthy and away from the doctor.
Evidence for the Health Claim
Studies have long shown that diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of numerous chronic conditions. But more detailed studies show that apples, in particular, may be particularly protective of good health.
Apples, particularly their skins, are an excellent source of antioxidants . Antioxidants are believed to prevent damage to cells and tissues and help defend the body from cancer , cardiovascular disease, and possibly Alzheimer's disease . Apple varieties vary in their antioxidant content, with Red Delicious having one of the highest levels. In addition, the flavonoids in apples, which possess antioxidant properties, are believed to protect the body against allergens and viral infections. Apples may also improve lung function.
In a study conducted in Finland, researchers investigated the relationship between apple consumption and the risk of stroke in over 9,200 men and women. Those individuals who consumed the highest number of apples showed a lower risk of stroke over a 28-year period compared to those who consumed the least number of apples. The researchers suggest that this benefit may come from the "phytonutrients" contained in apples, possibly including flavonoids. Two other Finnish studies showed that apple consumption may also reduce the risk of heart disease and lung cancer .
Evidence Against the Health Claim
There are many other foods—including other fruits—that contain the same antioxidants and offer the same benefits as apples. Beverages like coffee and black tea, and fruits including blueberries, cranberries, red grapes, strawberries, and bananas, are all rich in antioxidant flavonoids. Cranberries, studies show, are even higher in antioxidants than apples.
Of note, most of the nutritional benefit of apples appears to come from their skin, so peeled apples, apple juice, and applesauce lack the rich levels of antioxidants that the whole fruit contains.
Apples alone can't keep anyone healthy, as no single food can, and apples can't be expected to reverse previous damage caused by poor diet and lifestyle. Diets rich in trans fats, salt, and sugar—even with an apple a day—don't lead to good health. Regular apple consumption, of course, is only beneficial as part of an overall healthful diet and exercise regimen .
Apples are a great choice for a healthful, low-fat, low-calorie snack. They're rich in fiber and antioxidants, both of which may be protective against a variety of chronic diseases. To receive the maximum health benefits from apples, eating the whole fruit—including the skin—is recommended.
But remember, apples are no substitute for a balanced diet and regular exercise. And, even this is no guarantee. People who live impeccable lifestyles still suffer from heart disease and cancer, and keeping your doctor completely away makes it difficult to receive preventive services, like screening tests. Seeing your doctor regularly (but not too often) will allow him to possibly uncover conditions that can harm you in the future, even if you feel perfectly well while munching on that Red Delicious.