It's one of the most recognizable expressions around: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." But besides the fact that it rhymes, which makes it fun to say and easy to recall, does it really have any value? Could the common apple honestly help a person to maintain perfect health?
The first printed mention of this saying can be found in the February 1866 issue of the publication "Notes and Queries." The publication printed the proverb like this: "Eat an apple on going to bed, and you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread." Nearly 150 years later, variations of this adage are still quoted. It's unlikely that the saying would have maintained such popularity if there wasn't some truth to it, right? With that in mind, let's consider some of the apple's components and their effect on our health:
- Pectin -- Pectin is a form of soluble fiber than lowers both blood pressure and glucose levels. It can also lower the levels of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol in the body. Pectin, like other forms of fiber, helps maintain the health of the digestive system. Apples are an excellent source of pectin.
- Boron -- A nutrient found in abundance in apples, boron supports strong bones and a healthy brain.
- Quercetin -- A flavonoid, this nutrient shows promise for reducing the risk of various cancers, including cancers in the lungs and breast. It may also reduce free radical damage. Free radicals develop when atoms in the body's cells have unpaired electrons, which can lead to damage to different parts of the cell, including DNA. Quercetin may neutralize free radical damage, which has been implicated in a variety of age-related health problems, including Alzheimer's disease.
- Vitamin C -- Vitamin C boosts immunity, which helps maintain overall health.
- Phytonutrients -- Apples are rich in a variety of phytonutrients, including vitamins A and E and beta carotene. These compounds fight damage from free radicals and can have a profound affect on health, including reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and asthma.
Apples also act as a toothbrush, cleaning teeth and killing bacteria in the mouth, which may reduce the risk of tooth decay. They're also low in calorie density, one of the trademarks of a healthy food. When a food is low in calorie density you can eat good size portions of the food for relatively few calories. In addition, apples are affordable and readily available.
An apple a day can reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and many types of cancer. But would you be able to avoid the doctor entirely just by eating a bunch of the forbidden fruit? Not likely. Various studies show health benefits when participants eat an apple between three and five times a week, but all ailments cannot be cured by diet alone.
Are other fruits just as good for you as apples? Sure. All fruits are loaded with nutrients that are building blocks to good health. Bananas are loaded with potassium, which is important for a healthy heart and proper muscle function. Blackberries are loaded with fibre, and strawberries contain vitamin C and fibre.
Like cranberries, blueberries help prevent and fight urinary tract infections. They're also a bit tastier than cranberries, which most people only enjoy when combined with plenty of added sugar. Apricots, fresh or dried, are high in beta-carotene.
When choosing drinks, apple juice barely makes the top 10. Pomegranate juice, wine and purple grape juice are high in antioxidants, with apple juice in the tenth spot, right behind tea. One of the things that makes apples so incredibly healthy is the amount of fiber they contain, but that's lost during juicing.
If all fruits are nutritional powerhouses, why are apples the only one to be included in the folklore? At the time the adage emerged, apples were easy to grow (and still are). Once harvested, they could remain in storage for nearly a year. Recent studies have shown that, unlike many fruits and vegetables, the nutritional benefits of apples remain relatively stable as long as 200 days after harvest [source: Boyer and Liu].
While an apple a day will go a long way toward keeping the doctor away, most nutritionists recommend a varied diet. In addition to apples, fill your shopping cart with citrus fruits, tropical treats like mangos, and a variety of berries, which pack a nutritional punch. Eating several servings of a varied selection of fruits each day is truly the best way to keep the doctor away.
by Amy Hunter
- Boyer, Jeanelle and Rui Hai Lui. "Apple Phytochemicals and their Health Benefits." Nutrition Journal. May 12, 2004. (July 13, 2009) http://www.nutritionj.com/content/3/1/5
- CBS News. "Pomegranate Ranked Healthiest Fruit Juice." July 5, 2008. (July 13, 2009) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/05/earlyshow/health/main4234811.shtml
- Goldstein, Laura. "Try Nature's Toothbrush." Prevention. Oct. 1, 2004. (July 13, 2009) http://www.prevention.com/cda/article/try-nature-s-toothbrush/81cb88dc78803110VgnVCM10000013281eac____/health/conditions.treatments/oral.health
- Huber, Lia. "We Love Apples." Prevention. 2007. (July 13, 2009). http://www.prevention.com/cda/article/we-love-apples/a1c155d0c5045110VgnVCM10000013281eac____/nutrition.recipes/cook
- MayoClinic. "10 Great Health Foods for Eating Well." Feb. 22, 2008. (July 13, 2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/health-foods/NU00632