Keep the Doctor Away: Proof is in the Apple

“And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart:
Your seeds shall live in my body,
And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart,
And your fragrance shall be my breath,
And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”
Kahlil Gibran

It’s been said for generations, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”   Memorably catchy, this quip-ish phrase rolls off our tongues as easily as the taste of a sweet-tart apple goes down.  At one time or another, everyone has dished out the ol’ adage as advice absolute. It has endured time and is baked into our health beliefs.  But, is it true?

What validity is there in lore and antidotal medicine?  Years ago, I toured the Museum of Quackery in St. Louis, Missouri and read that one of the early forms of birth control was for a woman to strap a live salamander to her upper thigh…I think, point made.  (Closed in 1986, the Museum of Quackery gave their exhibits to the St. Louis Science Museum.)

“And when you crush an apple with your teeth,…”

All you have to do is hear is the  “cruuuunch” of that first bite into a crisp fall apple – it doesn’t matter what kind.  The crunch, crunching of the fibery apple flesh that follows is like a natural scrubbing of the teeth and gums.   But also at work, the slightly tart flavor denoting the acidity and astringency cleans and brightens the chompers.  Look moms, an apple a day may bring elated reports of no cavities.

“say to it in your heart:…”

But, what did grandma know besides turning this delectable fall fruit into a staple of apple sauce, comforting pies, moist breads and keeping loved ones healthy?

Now smile wider when you say “apple,” because scientific research is validating that an apple a day is like a dose of good health.  From keeping individual cells healthy, protecting our heart, lowering the risk of cancer and ensuring the thoughtless ease of our breath, research is supporting what we’ve been saying all along.  For grandma it was all in the flavor, but in the body it’s about the flavonoids…and a few other special ingredients unique to apples.

“Your seeds shall live in my body…”

You are what you eat…Apples contain many polyphenol components that provide flavor and color to the apple’s skin, the flesh and even the seeds.  Polyphenols is a broader name for the collective of flavonoids and non-flavonoids, which contain ellagic acid.  But regardless, research is finding that polyphenols in apples play a regulatory role in living disease free.

Functioning as antioxidants, polyphenols help repair cells.  This protects fats in our cell membranes from damage thus slowing down the aging process, reducing the risk of cancer and helping our blood vessels stay healthier. Cell membrane damage in blood vessels can be especially dangerous because it creates an opportunity for plaque to form and accumulate.   This can lead to blockage, which we know as atherosclerosis.

Flavonoids sweeten the deal, sure in flavor but also in in the value of the little bit of vitamin C wrappled within the apple’s skin.  We know vitamin C is good for us – helping build protein, strengthen the immune system and working as an antioxidant.  But apples are not a renowned source of vitamin C.  Generally, each apple only has 8 mg of vitamin C – no comparison to the 72 mg in a small kiwi.  But, apples do contain plenty of flavonoids, which increase the body’s ability to recycle even small amounts of this essential vitamin.

“And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart…”

Got to love the blub-dub…your cells do.  A healthy heart keeps blood coursing through our veins delivering nutrients to the cells while removing waste.  Regulating blood fats and cholesterol as well as blood sugar, apples help in this exchange of food and cellular garbage.

It was long believed that apples were an excellent source of fiber, especially soluble fiber.  Specifically, the soluble fiber pectin was most credited with blood lipid lowering benefits.  But as it turns out, apples have a modest 2-3 grams total dietary fiber, of which only half is pectin.  And recent scientific research has proven pectin’s benefits less than originally thought.   But it turns out, that pectin works with all the apple’s phytonutrients to orchestrate the fat and cholesterol lowering benefits in our blood and thus protecting the heart.

Apples help regulating blood sugar with more than just their fiber.   We’ve known carbohydrate digestion and absorption is slowed by dietary fiber.  But research is increasingly crediting the powerful polyphenols with preventing blood sugar spikes.  For example, the flavonoid quercetin inhibits enzymes from breaking down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars.  This lessens simple sugar absorption and impact on the blood.  Polyphenols also stimulate insulin production while also stimulating insulin receptors.  The net is the key-like action of insulin and the keyhole-like activity of the receptors opens the door for glucose to go into the cells from the blood.

 “And your fragrance shall be my breath,…”

While the roses reveal the heart, their apple cousin seems to be partial to the lungs.  The lungs seem to be the greatest beneficiary of the apple’s antioxidant, anti-cancer activity.  True, apples decrease the risk of colon and breast cancers, but they catch the eye for protecting against lung cancer. Few single fruits alone can be associated with reducing the risk of lung cancer…but apples are!  Apples extend their breath-easy benefits to our lungs by decreasing the risk of asthma.  So great is this apple-lung connection that eating apples seems to have stronger benefits than eating a variety of fruits and vegetables that do not include apples at all.

“And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”

Eating an apple can reduce caloric intake by 15%.  Yes!  Lose weight be eating an apple 15 minutes before a meal and reduce your intake by about 186 calories on average for a net reduction of 60 calories.  This adds up to 6 pounds lost in a year lost without dieting. Now that’s something to celebrate!

Okay, there are many other delectable fruits available besides apples.  It’s recommended that we eat 2-3 servings of fruit a day, of which one may be an apple. Variety is key to getting all the many unique nutritional contributions from each fruits…and with 7,000 varieties of apples available fresh from the end of summer through early winter and each apple keeping well for 3-4 months in cold storage, an apple a day is a joyous tasting to health through all the seasons.

The World’s Healthiest Foods.  (2001-2012).
Apples.  Retrieved October 17, 2012, from

The World’s Healthiest Foods.  (2001-2012).
Kiwifruit.  Retrieved October 17, 2012 from

Livestrong.  (2012)  List of polyphenols.  Retrieved October 17, 2012 from

The content of this post cannot be used without permission.  Contact (215) 546-1231.