8 Great Health Benefits of Apples, According to a Nutritionist
I grew up near an apple orchard, so apples always remind me of home, as well as fall, my favorite time of year. But apples have also been adopted by nutritionists around the globe as a symbol of nourishment and health, and as more and more research indicates, apples are indeed a well-chosen wellness icon.
Here are eight benefits of making them a staple in your diet, along with easy, delicious ways to enjoy them.
They may reduce cholesterol
A research team led by the University of Reading in the UK randomly split 40 men and women with mildly elevated cholesterol into two groups. Over an eight-week period, one group ate two apples a day, while a control group drank apple juice (containing similar amounts of sugar and calories) each day. After a four-week break, the experiment resumed for another eight weeks, only this time people switched places: the apple juice group ate apples and vice versa.
Based on blood work performed before and after each treatment, eating two apples a day resulted in greater reductions of total and LDL “bad” cholesterol and improvements in markers of blood vessel health. Researchers don’t know for sure whether it’s the fiber in apples or their polyphenol content that may have heart-health benefits.
Eat up: Eat up: For an easy and satisfying snack you can take on the go, fill celery sticks with a mixture of minced apples and apple pie spice, folded into almond butter.
They can help with weight control
Natural compounds in apples, especially Granny Smith, promote the growth of good digestive bacteria linked to weight control, a study concluded. Fascinating research, but apples also aid weight control due to their rich fiber content. A medium apple packs 5 grams of fiber, 20% of the minimum daily target. Research has shown that every gram of fiber we eat essentially cancels out about seven calories, by binding to calories and preventing them from being absorbed. That may be why another study from Brazil found that over a six month period, each additional gram of fiber dieters consumed resulted in an extra quarter pound of weight loss.
Eat up: For a fiber-filled way to start your day, chop an apple, skin on, and whip it into a smoothie, along with 6 ounces of unsweetened coconut milk, a tablespoon of coconut butter, a scoop of protein powder (pea protein is my favorite), a dash of apple pie spice, and a handful of ice.
Apples could ward off certain cancers
In a review and analysis of 41 prior studies, researchers in Italy examined the relationship between apple intake and various types of cancer. After pooling the results, they found that higher apple consumption was associated with a reduction in lung cancer risk. Some studies showed a preventive effect on colorectal, breast, and digestive tract cancers, too. While more studies are needed to clarify the effect of apples on cancer risk, the study authors suggest that certain plant chemicals in apples, specifically phenols and flavonoids, may be responsible for warding off cell damage and preventing tumor cell growth, among other anti-cancer benefits.
They can regulate blood sugar
Since apples contain naturally occurring sugar, it may seem counterintuitive that they would help reduce blood sugar levels, but that’s exactly what researchers have found. Scientists say a key antioxidant in apples blocks the activity of an enzyme responsible for breaking starch into simple sugar. That means fewer simple sugars are absorbed from the digestive system into the blood stream, which results in a lower blood sugar level and lower corresponding insulin response. Apple cider vinegar also seems to be helpful for lowering blood sugar. Just don’t drink it straight up; use it in side dishes or salad dressing.
Eat up: To take advantage of the effects, reach for apples as a dessert alternative. Whisk together a tablespoon of water, teaspoon of organic maple syrup, and half teaspoon of apple pie spice. Drizzle mixture over a small cored apple. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees in a small glass container with a tablespoon of water added for about 45 minutes or until apple is tender when pierced with a fork.
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They could aid muscle development
While the research is preliminary, a few animal studies have found that a natural substance in apple peels called ursolic acid helped mice gain muscle mass. In one study, scientists gave ursolic acid to one group of junk-food-fed mice, but not another. The supplemented rodents gained muscle, put on less fat than their unsupplemented counterparts, and their blood sugar level remained close to normal. While simply eating whole apples may not have the same effect, the research is intriguing, and apples’ numerous additional benefits make them a worthy fitness food.
Eat up: Try incorporating apples into savory meals. For example, add a minced apple to a veggie stir fry, cabbage-based slaw, or entree salad. If you’re a burger fan, add moisture and nutrients by folding shredded apple to your patties, along with a little Dijon and fresh or dried herbs.
Apples may be good for gut health
Apples are a rich source of pectin, a type of soluble fiber commonly used as a thickener used in preparing sauces and putting up preserves. But pectin may also benefit people with inflammatory bowel disease. In small, randomized controlled trials, pectin alleviated symptoms of constipation and diarrhea.
They can improve lung health
Several studies have tied eating apples (with the skin) to better lung health, as well as a lower risk of respiratory illnesses, including asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. One study even found that apples helped reduce the risk of asthma more than other fruits and veggies combined. Another found that even after controlling for other factors, people who ate two to five apples a week had a 32% lower risk of asthma than those who ate them less often.
Eat up: One of my favorite ways to enjoy an apple, including the skin, is to chop, toss with a teaspoon of lemon juice, tablespoon of water, and dash of apple pie spice, sauté on the stovetop until soft, then top with a crumble made from a quarter cup of rolled oats into two tablespoons of almond butter. It’s like a healthy version of apple cobbler.
They could help you live longer
A study in fruit flies concluded that apple consumption extended the lives of the insects by 10% and preserved their ability to remain active. If you’re thinking, Fruit flies: what the heck does that have to do with my health? you should know that despite the lack of resemblance, fruit flies are often used as a stand-in for humans in nutrition research, because of their genetically similarities, particularly disease vulnerability. You’ve heard the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” perhaps one savvy way to protect your health is to simply pick up a fresh apple and bite right in!
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
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