For as long as I can remember, the apple has enjoyed iconic status as a symbol of healthy eating. Many of us will have grown up familiar with apple’s fabled ability to keep doctors at bay, and believe there is much goodness to be had by sinking our teeth into a Cox’s orange pippin or Granny Smith. However, our appetite for apples has waned somewhat of late. The last decade or two has seen our supermarket shelves proliferate with fruit varieties from foreign parts. Where once bananas and pineapples were about as exotic as it got, we now have everything from papayas to passion fruits, and mangoes to mangostines. It appears that many of us have become seduced by the new tastes and textures these fancy fruits have to offer, with the result that the apple is increasingly finding itself left on the shelf.
However, despite their somewhat humdrum image, there is much to recommend about apples from a nutritional perspective. Like other fruits, they are rich in health-giving potassium, vitamin C and fibre. Nutritional science has revealed that apples are particularly rich in a class of compounds known as flavonoids. More and more research suggests that this group of plant compounds have the ability to protect us from a range of conditions. Recent evidence suggests that eating apples can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, asthma, lung cancer and diabetes.
One of the flavonoids chief effects in the body is to combat disease-triggering entities known as free radicals. Free radicals are rogue, destructive molecules that have been identified as powerful trigger-factors in the processes that give rise to chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and asthma. Laboratory studies show that apples pack considerable punch in terms of free-radical quenching ability; one small apple offers the same protective power of a full gram and a half of vitamin C. The considerable ability of flavonoids to quench free radicals certainly offers significant potential to ward off illness and disease.
One specific type of flavonoid found in apples is known as catechin. Studies in both men and women suggest that those with the highest intake of catechins tend to be less like to succumb to heart disease. Catehcins also appear to have an important role in maintaining healthy lung function, and seem to have the ability to protect against lung disease. Another flavonoid compound that is found in abundance in apples is quercetin. Studies have shown that high intakes of quercetin, like catechin, are associated with a reduced risk of lung diseases including lung cancer and asthma.
The flavonoid compounds that appear to be largely responsible for apples’ potent health-giving properties are mainly found in the skin of the fruit, which means the best way to take apples is with their peel. Recently, scientists reviewed the association between apple eating and a range of diseases. The results of this study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show that eating more apples is associated with some protection from cancer (especially lung cancer), asthma, stroke, death due to heart disease and death due to all causes. The evidence suggests munching on this fruit does indeed have the potential to keep us out of the doctor’s surgery. Next time you’re in the supermarket, my advice is to pick apples.