Since a long time, apple has always been popular for its medicinal value. A very few fruits have a medicine-like-effect on the diseased condition, but apple is one such fruit with great medicinal and healing properties, as per research, studies and evidences. Apple is an extremely delicious and crunchy fruit with the abundance of dietary fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols. Supplementation of diet with apple has shown to cut down the risk of heart diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels and cancer. Thus, by adding apple to daily diet, you can actually add a number of vitamin, minerals and other health promoting compounds.
Health Benefits of Apples
In the past decade, many studies have found positive effects of eating an apple on health. Apple is not just a treat to eat, but it is also a great fruit for your overall health. Adding apple to your daily diet is a very easy way to fight against oxidative stress, inflammation, diabetes mellitus, heart diseases, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Let’s throw some more light on health benefits of apple:
Packed with Different Nutrients
The presence of a variety of nutrients in apple makes it an amazing super fruit. Vitamins present in apple include vitamin A, niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K. Besides these vitamins, apple also contains a number of vitamins such as potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.
Rich in Dietary Fiber
On a dry weight basis apple contains 10-15% pectin, which is a soluble dietary fiber present in plant foods. Pectin has a gelling property, that is, in the gut it absorbs water and becomes viscous. Such a property of apple prevents sudden spike in the plasma glucose levels after a meal, reduces the levels of cholesterol, provides satiety, delays hunger pangs, and protects against gut problems. Majority of pectin is present in the peels (skin) of apple.
A research studied the dietary fiber composition of 13 different apple cultivars and found that apples are a great source of both soluble as well as insoluble fiber. The dietary fiber content varied between 15 to 20 grams per kilogram of apple.
Extremely Rich in Polyphenols
Apples contain a wide variety of Polyphenolic compounds such as:
- CHLOROGENIC ACID
The content of the phenolic compounds is higher in the peels as compared to apple flesh. Each polyphenol provides different health benefits, for example, PHLORIZIN protects against breast cancer, CATECHIN and EPICATECHIN are major compounds that help in lowering the cholesterol level and QUERCETIN may change the activity of thyroid hormones.
Certain drugs may damage the lining of the stomach, cause inflammation and reduce the population of healthy bacteria in the gut. Polyphenols present in apple may also play a beneficial role in preventing injury to the lining of the stomach and reduce the inflammation.
A research showed that storing apple for 3 months at 1 degree Celsius, significantly reduced the content of polyphenols in the peels by 20% and in the apple flesh by 50%. In fact storing apples at ambient temperature, that is, at 20 degrees Celsius increased the content of polyphenols. (3)
Rich in Antioxidants
Both apples and apple peels are completely packed with the goodness and richness of antioxidants. Two important antioxidants present in apple are vitamin C and beta-carotene. Besides this, many polyphenols present in apple exhibit antioxidant properties. Antioxidants present in apple can greatly inhibit the activity of cancer cells in colon and liver. However, different varieties of apples contain different antioxidant content. (4)
Therapeutic Benefits & Medicinal Importance
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
Apple has emerged to play a vital and beneficial role in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus. A recent study published in 2014 observed that apple when consumed with oral hypoglycemic agents (medications to lower plasma glucose levels) lowered the symptoms of type 2 diabetes mellitus such as excess thirst, increased appetite and so on.
Furthermore, treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus with apple reduced plasma glucose levels by 49%. Such a hypoglycemic effect of apple is attributed to it high dietary fiber content. In addition to this, it was also found that apple lowered the glycation level and reduced the production of ‘advanced glycation end products’. There is scientific evidence that formation of advanced glycation end-products is associated with increased incidence of diabetic complications such as:
- Neuropathy (damage to peripheral nerves)
- Nephropathy (damage to kidney)
- Retinopathy (damage to eyes)
The high antioxidant content of apples scavenges the free radicals that may otherwise play an important role in the etiology of diabetic complications.
Not just this, but apple has also shown to inhibit the activity of the enzyme that converts starch into glucose during the process of digestion. Thus, apple may prevent a spike in the plasma glucose levels. This shows that individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus can safely consume apple. (5, 6)
Scientific evidence has showed that consuming one or more than one apple per day reduced the risk of cancer as compared to consumption of less than one apple. The risk of lung cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer dropped significantly in individuals who consumed apple daily.
The dietary fiber (pectin) present in apples and its peels protects the colon mucous membrane (a tissue that lines the organs of the gut and secretes mucous) from exposure to harmful substances. In the colon, dietary fiber binds these substances and throws them out of the body.
In addition to this, the presence of phytochemicals and potent antioxidants in apple fights oxidative stress by neutralizing harmful free radicals that plays a vital role in the etiology of cancer. Vitamin C and beta-carotene are the two powerful antioxidants that are present in huge amounts in apples.
High Cholesterol & Triglyceride Levels
Maintaining the total cholesterol and triglyceride levels within normal range is very important for a healthy heart. Eating two whole apples per day has shown to have a positive impact on the overall lipid profile. Apples are an abundant source of dietary fiber and contain no cholesterol and saturated fat. The presence of dietary fiber prevents the absorption of LDL – low-density lipoprotein (unhealthy cholesterol in the body) in the gut.
A research found 30% drop in the cholesterol levels in individuals who consumed 2 apples daily as compared to individuals who did not consume apples at all. Another study showed a decrease in the triglyceride levels by 52% in individuals who consumed apple daily.
Thus, individuals can surely make whole apples a part of their hypolipidemic diet. (7)
A very positive effect of eating apples daily on the outcomes related to Alzheimer’s disease has been observed by several studies. Such a beneficial effect of eating apples is attributed to the presence of polyphenols in them.
It was further found that drinking apple juice suppresses the expression of markers of Alzheimer’s disease and decreases the rate of cognitive decline, which means drinking apple juice improves the mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding. Therefore, drinking a glass of apple juice or eating whole apples may be associated with improved cognitive function, better concentration levels and overall better quality of life. (8)
Hypertension or High Blood Pressure
Studies have found that besides being a rich source of dietary fiber, apple also contains potassium and flavonoids such as QUERCETIN and PROANTHOCYANIN in abundance (the potassium content of apples may vary with the soil content and other factors). Not just this, but apple also naturally contains low sodium levels (it is very well known that foods rich in sodium raise the blood pressure).
It was further observed that certain compounds present in apple and its peels have anti-hypertensive properties and are beneficial in reducing blood pressure in individuals with hypertension. QUERCITIN and PROANTHOCYANIN lower the blood pressure by inhibiting ‘angiotensin converting enzyme’ (an enzyme that raises blood pressure by causing the blood vessels to constrict).
Therefore, whole apple (along with peels) can be made a part of DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension). (9)
High blood pressure, high levels of total and LDL – low-density lipoprotein (unhealthy) cholesterol increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Consuming apple daily reduces the blood pressure due to its high flavonoid content. Furthermore, pectin present in apple reduces cholesterol reabsorption in the gut and lowers the overall cholesterol level. The presence of different polyphenols in apple provides additional protection to the heart.
Research report has also shown that eating 2 to 3 apples per day for 28 days reduced platelet aggregation and in turn lowered the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, apple can be made a part of healthy heart diet. (10)
An inverse relation has been found between consumption of apples and asthma. Eating apple daily has shown to improve the overall lung function. The presence of flavonoid (QUERCETIN) in apples has shown to reduce the severity of asthma. Individuals who consumed 5 or more apples per week had a significantly greater forced expiratory volume (the amount of air an individual can exhale during a forced breath) as compared to individuals who did not consume apples. Furthermore, the presence of CATECHIN in apples was negatively associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a chronic inflammatory lung disease). Thus, consuming apple is associated with improved breathing and decreased incidence of asthma and other lung diseases. (11)
Scientific evidence has shown that eating whole apple increases the skeletal mass and brown fat (healthy – burns more calories) and reduces obesity and white fat (unhealthy). This is possible due to the presence of certain antioxidants in the peels. However, if the peel is removed, such a positive effect will not take place.
Another mechanism through which eating apples promote weight loss is the presence of dietary fiber in it. On digestion, dietary fiber absorbs water and forms a viscous gel in the gut. Formation of such a viscous gel provides a feeling of fullness and reduces hunger pangs. This will reduce the food intake, which will in turn decrease the overall calorie intake and promote weight loss.
Thus, individuals who want to lose weight can replace their snack with an apple.
Apples and its peels contain dietary fiber and a variety of nutrients. When apple is consumed, dietary fiber swells in the gut and becomes viscous. This provides bulk to the stools and helps in the easy passage of stools without putting much pressure or strain on the system. Therefore, individuals with constipation should consume at least one apple per day without peeling off the skin.
Different Ways to Consume Apple
- Eat a whole apple
- Make your own apple milkshake
- Prepare a chilled apple smoothie
- Make your own apple ice tea
- Enjoy apples in the form of refreshing juice
- Combine apples with different fruits to make fruit salad
- Have crunchy apple slices with peanut butter
- Make some stewed apple – this can be done for kids or elders with chewing problems
- Poached apple
- Sprinkle some powdered cinnamon on apple pieces
- Add chopped apple to chilled custard
- Apple puree – especially for kids
- Prepare your own apple sauce
Quality of Apple
Certain storage, cutting and cooking techniques may affect the quality of an apple. Storage plays an important role in maintaining the quality of the fruit. Wrong storage techniques may lead to loss of certain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and polyphenols. Eating such an apple would provide fewer benefits to the body.
When a cut apple is exposed to the air (oxygen) for a long period, the color of the apple flesh may turn brown. Such a color change is due to enzymatic changes that takes place when apple flesh comes in contact with the air. The phenolic compounds present in apple get converted to melanin, which is responsible for the brown color of an apple. Ascorbic acid can inhibit the conversion and prevent browning of apples. Therefore, applying some lemon juice to apple flesh can keep it fresh for a longer period without affecting its color.
When apple is cooked, the same browning reaction takes place and some of the antioxidants and heat sensitive nutrients are lost. For example – making stewed apple or poached apple may lead to the loss of vitamin C.
Processing of apples, for example – preparing apple juice, apple milkshake or smoothie may lead to the loss of some important antioxidants.
Storing apples at a low temperature may cause chilling injury. Furthermore, polyphenols are lost when apples are stored at very low temperature (cold storage). At home, apples can be easily stored in tight plastic bags or airtight boxes in the refrigerator (do not keep them in the freezer). (12)
- Healthy Individuals: Healthy individuals without any clinical conditions can safely consume 2 apples per day.
- Cancer Patients: As per scientific observation, cancer patients can get benefits from apples, if they consume 2 to 3 apples per day.
- Diabetic patients: Diabetics can also safely have 1 to 2 apples per day, but should strictly avoid drinking apple juice. Thus, it can be concluded that individuals may get benefits only if they consume at least 2 whole apples per day.
Apple Plant Description
Apple, also known as Malus Domestica, belongs to ROSACEAE (Rose) family and is a POMACEOUS fruit of apple tree. The apple tree is small and deciduous and is approximately 3 to 12 meters tall with dense twiggy crown. It is the most important perennial and long-lived woody fruit crop of the world. It is the fourth most widely cultivated fruit in the world after banana, orange and grape.
Apple History & Origin
At least 7,500 different apple cultivars were developed throughout its history of cultivation, but many of them are now lost. Approximately 100 cultivars are being grown commercially. The presence of apples have been documented as early as 6000 B.C. Apple first originated somewhere in Asia. From Asia, the seeds were spread to different parts of the world and apples are now being cultivated all over the world. It grows best in countries with a cool climate. Different cultivars have different taste, aroma, flavor and color. (13)
Different varieties of apple include:
- Granny smith
- Pink lady
- Pacific rose
- Red delicious