When it comes to versatile fruits, apple sits near the top of the list. You can use apples to make juice for drinking, eating, and making dessert. Best of all, there are tons of varieties out there, so you're sure to find one that has a great taste.
Fortunately, apples aren't just delicious - they're packed full of nutrients and vitamins. Today we want to take a closer look at the apple to see why it's so good for you and how you can incorporate more apples into your diet.
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A Brief History of Apple Fruit
If you're familiar with biblical stories at all, you know that apple was the fruit that got Adam and Eve banished from the garden of Eden. Its presence in the bible indicates just how old the fruit is - ancient civilizations were munching on apples about as much as we do today. However, there were not quite as many varieties back then; we've been breeding new flavors and colors for hundreds of years. The Greeks and Romans loved apples and believed them to be signs of fertility and love. Since apples are a relatively hardy fruit (meaning that they can survive in most temperate climates), Roman conquerors brought apple seeds with them to the lands they invaded.
As far as America is concerned, the first apples were imported in the 1600s. Before this, the only apple tree varieties in the "New World" were crabapples. If you've ever had a crabapple before, you know why the colonists insisted on bringing varieties from Europe instead. Over the centuries, apples flourished in North America, due in part to the legendary apple planter, Johnny Appleseed (aka John Chapman).
Today, over 100 different apple flavors are grown and cultivated in the United States, but there are around 8,000 unique apple varieties worldwide, including red apples, Fuji apples, Granny Smith, and more. So, technically, if you followed the phrase "an apple a day keeps the doctor away," you could eat a different apple every day of the year for about 20 years.
Top Health Benefits of Apples
There's a reason why the doctor/apple phrase exists - it's because apples are so full of nutrients that it's hard to keep track. As new studies come out, we discover more and more reasons to love this fruit. We're sure that we'll have to update this list every few years, but here are the top health benefits you can get from regular apple consumption.
If you bite into an apple, you'll notice its thick, starchy flesh. An apple's flesh is rigid mainly because of lots of fiber. On average, an apple has around four grams of soluble fiber, called pectin. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it is when talking about digestion and nutrition. Apples also have insoluble fiber, which moves through your system faster than soluble fiber.
Fiber is helpful for many reasons, including the fact that it can help with weight loss. Fiber's secret is that it enables you to feel fuller for longer. So, the more fiber you eat, the less food you need to consume overall. Even better, since your body can't digest fiber, it will push other waste through your system on its way out. Think of dietary fiber as a scrub brush for your intestines.
Interestingly, it's not just the fiber that helps you lose weight and avoid overeating. According to one study, a group of overweight women consuming apples lost more weight and ate fewer calories than a second group that ate cookies with similar fiber and calorie contents. So, all things being equal, the apple still wins. Scientists believe that the reason for the disparity is that apples are not as energy-dense, so you don't have to burn as many calories as you do with other foods.
It seems fitting that apples can help your heart, considering that the Romans believed the fruit to be a sign of love. Apples can deliver some potent benefits against cardiovascular disease, including:
- Lower Blood Pressure - The apple skin has quite a few polyphenols and flavonoids, which have been shown to help mitigate high blood pressure. One flavonoid is called quercetin, and it helps with heart health and cancer prevention. Flavonoids and polyphenols can also help mitigate Alzheimer's disease.
- Lower Cholesterol - Here, fiber strikes again. Apples have soluble fiber, which helps draw fat and water out of your blood vessels. Since bad cholesterol is simply a buildup of bad fats, an increase in soluble fiber consumption can help manage your cholesterol level.
- Reduce Heart Disease - Overall, the nutrient mixture in apples can make your heart work more efficiently and prevent a buildup of toxins that can lead to heart disease.
Reduced Risk of Diabetes
Since type 2 diabetes is such a growing health concern in the United States, individuals need all the protection they can get to avoid a lifetime of insulin shots. Fortunately, apples seem to work wonders in preventing the chronic disease by as much as 28 percent. Three studies illustrated the potency of apple fruit and showed that eating a few a week can yield these benefits. As far as why it happens, researchers believe that the secret is in the polyphenols. These compounds help protect beta cells in the pancreas, which are responsible for producing the body's insulin.
Aid Digestion and Gut Health
When looking at your body's health, you can't pay attention to individual pieces as if they exist in a vacuum. Your body is a cohesive unit, meaning that each part works together to keep the whole system running smoothly. When it comes to apples, the reason they're so healthy stems from how they interact with your digestive system. Once again, it all comes back to fiber.
As you may know, your stomach contains trillions of bacteria, which exist to help your body break down foods. Without these bacteria, you wouldn't be able to digest as efficiently, which can lead to illness, cramps, and bloating. The fiber in apples helps stimulate bacterial growth, which keeps your stomach in check. Once the fiber reaches your colon, it helps your system create other bacteria that can recirculate back into your body.
Reduced Risk of Cancer
One reason cancer is so scary is that it can occur in virtually every part of the body. Your internal systems help remove cancerous cells all the time, but sometimes those systems break down, leading to cancerous growth.
Apples help improve your body's cancer-fighting abilities by containing lots of antioxidants. Oxidants are also called free radicals, and they damage cells, which can make them cancerous. So, antioxidants help prevent this destruction so that your body doesn't have to work as hard. One study found a direct correlation between apple consumption and lower mortality rates from cancer.
Aids in Asthma Prevention
Oxidants aren't only responsible for cancer - they can lead to asthma as well. When lung cells get damaged, they don't work as efficiently, which can lead to inflammation and trouble breathing. Another cause of asthma attacks is when your immune system triggers a violent response to various environmental particles (i.e., dust) as you breathe them into your lungs.
Apples help fight asthma in two ways. First, they can help prevent oxidative damage to the cells. This benefit is the most potent, according to a study of over 68,000 women. Interestingly, the study discovered that individuals only had to eat part of an apple to yield up to 10 percent protection. So, eating a whole apple delivers even more robust results.
The second way apples mitigate asthma attacks is by regulating your immune system so that it doesn't go haywire. The fruit also has anti-inflammatory properties, so attacks are not as severe.
Promotes Bone Density
As you get older, your bones start to become more brittle. This natural process is called osteoporosis, and it happens to everyone. When you're young, your body produces a ton of calcium phosphate and collagen, which are the two ingredients that make bone. Over time, your body makes less and less of these compounds, so your bones don't regenerate as quickly.
To help prevent this loss, you can do two things. First, you can eat more protein and calcium so that they can go to your bones. Second, you can prevent bone cell loss by eating fruits and vegetables. While apples are not exclusive to bone health, the antioxidants and other nutrients help your body keep the cells it has for longer.
Potential Downsides of Apples
Although apples are one of the most nutritious fruits available, you shouldn't go all-in on them either. Everything works well in moderation, and apples are no different. Keep these potential drawbacks in mind before adding an apple to every meal:
- Added Sugar Content - Most of the calories in apples come from sugar. Although an apple's vitamins and dietary fiber can help mitigate diabetes, you need to pay attention to the sugar content. This problem is more pronounced when juicing apples since you remove much of the fiber in the process.
- Soft Stools or Diarrhea - While some fiber is good for your system, too much can be problematic. If you're eating multiple apples per day, you could wind up with a slip n' slide in your digestive tract. Ironically, this problem is mitigated with juicing, again, because most of the fiber is missing.
How to Consume Apples for Maximum Nutrition
Knowing that apples are healthy is just the first step - now you have to start eating them regularly. While the easiest method is to just munch on the fruit whenever you feel snackish, you can also incorporate apples into juices and smoothies. Here's a quick breakdown of how to maximize your apple intake without going overboard.
As we've mentioned, juicing your apples removes most of the fiber, so you don't want to use this method exclusively. However, if you're in a rush and prefer to drink your fruits and vegetables, juicing is a healthy way to do it. If you're worried about losing out on all of that tasty soluble fiber, you can add the pulp back into your beverage. It may take a little while to get used to the thickness of your juice, but the pulp does a body good.
For apple juice, we recommend a masticating juicer since that will provide a much higher juice yield. Keep in mind that the apple peel also has plenty of nutrients, so you might want to snack on that after drinking your juice.
Apples in Smoothies
As far as drinking apples goes, adding them to a smoothie is an excellent option. Since you can just toss whole pieces into your blender, you're not removing as much fiber or nutrients from the final product. That said, whipping a solid into a liquid does break down the fiber a little, so it's still not as good as eating a raw apple. However, you still get the skin, so it's mostly a win. Best of all, you can use all apple varieties, including red and green apples, dried apples, or even apple cider vinegar for a more tart concoction.
Bottom Line: An Apple a Day CAN Keep the Doctor Away
As you can see, apples are a potent mix of healthy nutrients and dietary fiber. Best of all, you only need to add a few apples to your diet every week to get the full benefits, making it much easier to follow through. Whether you decide to blend your apples, juice them, or eat them raw, they're sure to help you feel your best.