What is an Apple?
An apple is an edible fruit produced by an apple tree. Apple trees are cultivated worldwide and are the most widely grown species in the genus Malus. The tree originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today.
Types of Apples
There are so many types of apples to choose from — for instance, Golden, Pippin, Granny Smith, and Fuji and the Red Delicious, the most well-known of all, which reigned as the most popular apple in the United States for decades until 2018 when it was dethroned by the Gala apple.
But did you know that worldwide there are over 7,500 cultivated apple types?
The most popular cultivated apple types include:
- Red Delicious
- Granny Smith
- Golden Delicious
- Pink Lady/Cripps Pink
- Cosmic Crisp
Most apples you see are red, pink, yellow, or green with a whitish interior, but rarer apples may be black or purple on the outside or have red or pink flesh. Some even taste like roses, lemon, or honey. Today’s commercial apples were likely only introduced within the last two hundred years.
Rarer apples can be expensive as they’re not often commercially grown. The Tibetan Black Diamond apple — which is a dark purple apple that grows in a very remote part of Tibet and resembles something from a fairy tale — can cost up to $20/apple. Most of these rare black apples never make it to the consumer marketplace, partially because apple farmers are uncertain how well they would sell internationally, and because they can take five to eight years to even bear fruit.
There is a similar dark purple apple that grows in Arkansas and is called the Arkansas Black apple. This one is too tart to eat when first picked, and requires long-term storage to develop its flavor, which prevents it from being widely available to consumers.
Important Nutrients of Apples
Apples are a good source of important nutrients, especially fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, as well as various antioxidants and phytochemicals — such as quercetin, catechin, and chlorogenic acid.
Much of the fiber in apples is called pectin, which is a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibers. Soluble fiber helps feed good gut bacteria and lower high cholesterol. While insoluble fiber helps keep your intestines clean and healthy.
While some people avoid apples because they are so sweet, their high fiber and polyphenol content actually help prevent glucose spikes by slowing down how fast your body breaks down carbohydrates.
One medium (3-inch diameter) apple offers the following nutritional profile:
- Calories: 95
- Protein: 0.5 grams
- Total Fat: 0.3 grams
- Total Carbohydrate: 25 grams
- Fiber: 4.5 grams
- Vitamin C: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Potassium: 6% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 5% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 4% of the DV
Keep in mind that there are many nutritional components in the apple peel, so it’s best to eat them washed and unpeeled.
10 Health Benefits of Apples
1. May have anticancer benefits.
Some of the phytonutrients in apples appear to have protective effects when it comes to cancer risk. A 2005 study published in the Annals of Oncology reviewed studies done between 1991 and 2002 in Italy, consistently finding that people who consumed at least one apple per day were at a 20% and 18% lower risk of colorectal and breast cancers, respectively.
Other research suggests that polyphenolic compounds in apples have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, and apoptosis-inducing characteristics when it comes to cancer.
2. May lower your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Human and animal studies have found that regularly eating apples can protect heart health. A 2008 study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research fed some very unfortunate hamsters a high cholesterol diet for 12 weeks.
When these hamsters also received apples and apple juice, they experienced a reduction in cholesterol levels and a 48% reduction in arterial plaque buildup compared to a control group.
The researchers attributed this effect partially to the antioxidant boost the hamsters received from the fruit.
A Finnish study from 1998 found that men and women who ate more than 54 grams of apples daily (about half a decent-sized apple) lowered their risk of dying from a heart attack by 19% and 43%, respectively.
A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition fed healthy, mildly hypercholesterolemic adults either two apples per day or sugar- and energy-matched apple control beverage for eight weeks each.
Researchers measured heart health biomarkers before and after each treatment. They found that eating two apples per day reduced total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides compared to the control group.
3. May support healthy weight loss.
Apples are high in fiber and low in calories, which are two characteristics that make them an ideal weight-loss food. Their fiber content can contribute to satiety, preventing overeating during the day, and reducing overall caloric intake.
In a 2003 study, overweight women between ages 30-50 years with high blood cholesterol levels were randomized to eat supplements of either apple, pears, or oat cookies for 12 weeks.
The group that consumed one and a half apples (300 grams) per day lost three pounds during the study. A 2018 review published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition looked at current research around apple components and weight loss, finding that there is a consistent correlation between apple consumption and weight loss.
That whole “apple a day” thing is getting more and more support from modern science. Like all fresh fruits, apples have high water content and are full of soluble fiber. Eating them is associated with weight loss in many studies. And one of the suspected mechanisms is just how full you feel after eating one.
4. May improve lung health and asthma symptoms.
Consuming fruits and vegetables, in general, has been found to have a positive influence on lung health. In 2007, an in-depth analysis of the link between produce consumption and lung cancer, based on data collected from a prospective cohort of 478,590 participants from 10 European countries, was published.
A significant inverse association occurred between daily intake of apples and pears and lung cancer incidence. In other words, the more apples and pears people ate, the less likely they were to get lung cancer.
5. May lower the risk of dementia and protect brain health.
A 2005 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that mice fed apple juice concentrate after being fed a pro-oxidant diet (deficient in vitamin E and folate, but high in iron) had significantly improved cognition and reduced pro-oxidative status compared to the control group.
The amount fed to the mice was the equivalent of two to three, eight-ounce glasses of apple juice per day for humans. Other research suggests that apple juice concentrate may intervene in mechanisms that promote the production of amyloid β peptide, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
6. May support healthy blood sugar control.
It’s counterintuitive, considering how sweet apples are, but a growing body of research suggests that eating apples may help lower high blood sugar and protect against type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the fiber and polyphenols in apples are thought to slow carbohydrate digestion, preventing dramatic spikes in blood sugar after eating.
In a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers examined the association of dietary flavonoid intake and type 2 diabetes among 38,000 women, finding that eating one or more apples per day was linked to a 28% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
7. May improve bone health.
Research shows that eating fruits and vegetables improves bone mineral density and other markers of bone strength. In a 2004 clinical trial, 15 healthy female adults ate a 500-calorie, macronutrient-matched test meal on three different occasions, which either included fresh peeled apples, unsweetened applesauce, or candy.
Urine samples were taken after the meals, finding that eating fresh apples and applesauce each reduced net acid excretion from the body, and slowed calcium loss.
8. May help protect your gastrointestinal system.
Apples may not only protect your gut via their fiber composition; they may actually protect it from damage caused by medications. The class of painkillers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can injure the lining of your stomach.
For instance, a 2005 study published in the journal Gut found that apple extract helped prevent damage to the gut known to be a risk factor from using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
This attribution came from the polyphenols catechin and chlorogenic acid, which help prevent oxidative damage to cells in the body. Preliminary test-tube studies have also indicated that apple polyphenols may protect against gastric ulcers.
9. May stimulate hair growth.
It turns out that there may be some truth to the touted growth-promoting effects of certain apple-derived hair products. A 2002 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology observed the effects of apple-derived procyanidin B-2 on the growth of hair in rats, concluding that it has a hair growth-promoting mechanism and plays a role in the hair cycle progression. Ironic, considering how smooth and shiny apples are!
10. They May Have Prebiotic Effects and Promote Good Gut Bacteria
Apples contain pectin, a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic. This means it feeds the good bacteria in your gut.
Your small intestine doesn’t absorb fiber during digestion. Instead, it goes to your colon, where it can promote the growth of good bacteria. It also turns into other helpful compounds that circulate back through your body.
New research suggests that this may be the reason behind some of the protective effects of apples against obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
5 Common Apple Potential Health Risks
We always hear about some things being “too good to be true.” While apples offer impressive health benefits, they’ve also received criticism for risks that may come with eating them. Let’s examine some of them and separate apple facts from fiction.
1. Apples are high in cyanide.
While it’s true that apple seeds contain amygdalin — a cyanide and sugar compound that degrades into hydrogen cyanide when metabolized — the human body can detoxify this in small doses. I don’t know about you, but most people don’t even eat the apple seeds — I don’t and I know most people don’t at least, not on purpose.
Furthermore, the number of apple seeds it would take for the cyanide content to become dangerous is so large that even apple seed lovers are unlikely to be at risk for issues. Plus, you’d have to chew them really well to release the amygdalin into your bloodstream.
Creating a lethal apple seed concoction would probably require grinding the seeds from hundreds of apples and consuming them all at once. (Don’t do that!) The good news: apple flesh and peel don’t contain any cyanide but I highly suggest washing apples thoroughly first before eating them.
2. Apples are high in sugar.
Like other fruits and vegetables, apples do contain their share of natural sugars. Sugars and carbohydrates often get a bad rap for people with prediabetes or diabetes. But apples don’t actually contribute to this disease.
The average apple contains 25 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of which are sugars. But apples are low on the glycemic index because of their fiber and polyphenolic content. Note, however, that this is referring to whole apples.
Juiced apples are another matter as apple juice has had most — if not all — of its natural fiber filtered out and discarded, leaving you with a sugar-rich liquid that will likely affect your blood sugar differently.
3. Apples are often genetically modified.
One of the most common genetic modifications done to apples is to prevent them from browning. Arctic apples, for instance, have this modification. While it doesn’t improve their flavor or nutritional value, the flesh of these apples won’t turn brown when sliced and exposed to oxygen as another apple will.
This is appealing to food service providers and some restaurants because they can leave sliced apples out for longer without them turning brown.
Arctic apples could lead to some degree of reduction in food waste. But they lead to no net improvement in flavor, nutritional value, or yield. And they don’t help reduce water or pesticide consumption, either.
And GMO apples that don’t brown could lead to people unknowingly consuming apples that could be weeks or even months old or more. Are there risks? We don’t know. And without proper labeling, we likely never will.
The best thing to do to be safe is to purchase organic or non-GMO labeled apples whenever possible to reduce pesticide exposure and opt-out of the GMO experiment.
4. Apples contain high amounts of pesticides.
Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases their shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce, called the Dirty Dozen. And every year, apples make the list. According to a 2019 article from EWG, apples contain at least four pesticide residues on average, including some at high concentrations.
The use of some pesticides occurs after apples are harvested, like diphenylamine, which doesn’t have enough long-term safety data available at this time. That’s why I suggest buying organic apples whenever possible.
And to help remove any pesticide residues, soak them in a mixture of water and baking soda, or at the very least scrub them thoroughly with a produce brush before eating.
5. Apples are a source of allergens.
Although rare, there is such a thing as an apple allergy. Specifically, it’s an allergy to the protein in apples. What may be more common, however, is a reaction called oral allergy syndrome (OAS), which can appear suddenly after eating certain fresh produce like apples.
Symptoms typically include itchy lips and tongue. But OAS isn’t actually an allergy to apples themselves; it’s an overly-protective bodily response to pollen.
In a sense, your immune system mistakes the apple for pollen that you’re allergic to. OAS is more common among people with seasonal allergies or hay fever who react to pollen in the environment.
Cooking produce can remove the allergen, but an OAS response typically only lasts 15 minutes and isn’t usually severe.
Apples are incredibly good for you, and eating them is linked to a lower risk of many major diseases, including diabetes and cancer.
What’s more, its soluble fiber content may promote weight loss and gut health.
A medium apple equals 1.5 cups of fruit — which is 3/4 of the 2-cup daily recommendation for fruit
For the greatest benefits, eat the whole fruit — both skin and flesh.
While there are some “bad apples” out there — like GMOs and pesticide-laden crops — the real apple facts show there’s definitely some truth to the adage of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Please share your comments below:
- Do you eat apples? If so, what is your favorite kind?
- Would you prefer apples to other fruits? If so, why?
- What health benefits do you derive from eating apples?
Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We encourage you to do your own research. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.
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