Some sources say that apples may have been the very first fruits cultivated, which would explain why there are over 7000 known varieties. It is always difficult to know the exact origination of apples or other fruits, but they are generally considered to have originated in eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Contrary, other evidence has discovered the earliest recorded fossilized remains of apples in Switzerland, dating back to the prehistoric times of the iron age. The first written recordings of apples may have been as early as the 1st century. The ancient nations of China, Babylon and Egypt record that fruit cultivation began as far back as 20 centuries from then! Even though it is unclear if apples were one of these specific fruits, it is highly likely.
Today, apples are among the most widely grown and exported/imported of fruits, with China being the leading producer. In 2008 China produced more than 27,500,000 tonnes of apples, accounting for 2/5 of world wide production. Even though the USA is the second largest producer of apples, they only produce a fraction compared to China. Iran, Turkey and Russia are the other main apple producers, taking 3rd, 4th and 5th positions respectively.
Health Benefits of Apples
In my opinion, apples are one of the most overlooked fruits when it comes to health benefits. With the advent of superstar berries and exotic fruits taking the limelight these days, the common apple has mostly taken a back seat in the press. Despite this, apples and their health promoting components, such as flavonoids, pectin and quercetin among others, have been the center of many studies providing strong evidence of the health benefits of apples.
Heart Health Benefits of Apples
Flavonoids are the most famous group of antioxidant plant chemicals. The health benefits of green tea, red wine, grapes and the acai berry are largely attributed to their flavonoid content. The understated apple is also a great source of three types of flavonoids – quercetin, catechins and proanthocyanidins, all of which have been inversely associated with heart disease.
Several studies have followed the flavonoid intake of large groups of people in the US and Europe over many years and even decades. The aggregated data shows evidence that those eating flavonoid rich foods were significantly less likely to develop coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is the atherosclerosis (hardening) of the arteries that deliver blood directly to the heart, a condition which dramatically increases the chances of heart attacks and strokes. It was apples, cocoa, black tea and onions that were found to be the greatest contributors to the flavonoid intake in these studies. It is not completely clear if it is the flavonoid intake alone, or the combined effects with other antioxidants found in these flavonoid rich foods, that deliver these heart health benefits. One thing is for sure – apples are definitively good for your heart!
Research conducted at the University of California, Davis Medical Center studied the effects of apples upon blood cholesterol levels. Male and female adults who consumed two apples or twelve ounces of apple juice per day found an improvement in their cholesterol profiles. This benefit was the result of less oxidation of their LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, which is a major risk factor in the development of atherosclerosis. These results mimic the same heart health benefits found in flavonoid rich red wine and tea. These finding may alter the following well known saying to “two apples a day keep the doctor away!”
Apples are also a good source of 2 kinds of fiber – cellulose (insoluble) and pectin (soluble). One average sized apple will provide you with 15% of the recommended daily allowance for fiber. When you eat foods containing cholesterol, not all of it is absorbed into the blood stream via the small intestine. Some of it makes it through the digestion into the bowels to be eliminated. However, if we don’t have enough fiber in the diet to move the feces quickly, we are at risk of absorbing this cholesterol into the blood stream – increasing our cholesterol levels. So it is good to know that cellulose and pectin are two types of fiber that have been specifically shown to help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.
Anti-Cancer Health Benefits of Apples
In 1997, a study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology providing evidence of the lung cancer preventative properties of flavonoids. This study followed 10,000 men and women in Finland for 26 years. Those who ate the most apples were less than half as likely to develop lung cancer than those who ate some or no apples. Further analysis of the diet of these men and women yielded more anti-cancer results. Those with the highest overall consumption of flavonoid rich foods, such as apples, onions, yams, juices and other fruits, were 20% less likely to develop any kind of cancer. Quercetins, which are the primary antioxidant flavonoid in apples, constituted 95% of the overall flavonoid intake of these men and women.
Although not tested with humans yet, there is evidence in animal studies that apples help prevent the development of breast cancer. In a study at Cornell University, rats were given the human equivalent of 1, 3 or 6 apples a day, were 17, 19 and 34% less likely to develop breast cancer respectively. The leader of this study Dr. Rui Hai Liu attributed these anti-cancer effects to the overall antioxidant phytochemical content of apples, of which flavonoids are a large percentage.
Dr. Rui Hai Liu and his colleagues have also attributed the synergistic effect of the phytochemicals in apples with inhibitory properties against colon and liver cancer cells in humans.
Diets consisting of a regular intake of high fiber foods like apples are also proven to significantly decrease the risk of developing of colon cancer.
Asthma and Lung Health Benefits of Apples
An overall higher intake of fruits and vegetables is strongly associated with improved lung function and the reduced incidence of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a blanket term for diseases that restricts the breathing capacity of our lungs. The two most common COPD’s are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. One study conducted with 2,500 British men over a period of 5 years showed us how apples, specifically, can help with lung function. Those men who consumed 5 apples per week had significantly less reduced lung function than their counterparts who ate zero apples. Another study that followed 2,917 European men for 20 years found a significant decrease in COPD deaths for those with the highest fruit intakes compared to those with the lowest. These are two strong studies supporting fruit and apples in particular as promoters of healthy lungs.
The role of apples in reducing the risk of developing asthma is also an interesting one. A study conducted with 1600 Australian adults, found that those who ate apples and pears (another source of quercetin) were less likely to develop asthma. However, in this same study, an overall increase in fruit and vegetable intake was not associated with a decrease in developing asthma. Surprisingly, it only applied to apple and pear intake. Another interesting aspect of this study is that an intake of other powerful antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E and beta-carotene were not associated with decreased risk of developing asthma. It leaves researchers to speculate that the flavonoids and other phytochemicals found in apples are responsible for such health benefits, rather than the vitamins and mineral content of apples and other fruits.
Diabetic Health Benefits of Apples
The same study of 10,000 Finnish men and women, mentioned above in the anti-cancer health benefits of apple section, showed an association between eating apples and a reduced risk of developing type II diabetes. A higher intake of quercetins, although not just limited to apple quercetins, was also associated with reduced risk of type II diabetes.
Health Benefits of Apples Summary
As we can see, the evidence of the health benefits of eating apples is overwhelming! There are more studies than those presented here, that provide further evidence for the role of apples in preventing heart disease, asthma, COPD and type II diabetes. There is now preliminary evidence that eating apples may help in preventing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. These studies so far have only be conducted with animals, but are very promising.
A Few Notes On Juicing Apples
It is very important to point out that the vast majority of an apple’s flavonoid (and other phytochemical) content is found in its peel. The combined peeling and juicing of an apple will actually lose around 90% of its antioxidant activity – that’s a major loss! Personally, I always juice the entire apple, no peeling or coring, to gain the maximum amount of nutrition. This will produce a cloudier apple juice, but a considerably more nutritious and healthy one. However, the juicing benefits of an apple (or any fruit for that matter) will provide you with less nutrition than the whole fruit. Then why juice at all? The simple answer is this – when you make yourself a fresh apple juice, you will normally juice several apples at least to make one juice. This provides you with a lot more nutrition overall than eating one apple. Having said that, there are some nutrients that don’t make it through, or do so in small quantities. Fiber is the most notable one. For this reason, I believe juicing is a very healthy addition to eating fruits and vegetables, but should never take over the actual place of eating them.
Additionally I would like point out that I only use organic apples for juicing. Most of the pesticides and other chemicals used in intensive farming methods are found in great quantities in the skins of apples.