I’ll bet you can’t count the number of times you’ve heard, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, there’s good reason for it. USDA scientists investigated over 100 foods to measure their antioxidant concentration per serving. And, guess what? Apples hit the top 20 not one, but two times! Red Delicious and Granny Smith ranked 12th and 13th respectively. Antioxidants are disease-fighting compounds that scientists believe help prevent and repair oxidation damage that happens during normal cell activity. Studies show apples have powerful health benefits, particularly when it comes to fighting chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more. The healthy reasons to eat apples are endless but here’s our top 5 benefits, along with some delicious ways to add them to your meals.
Health tip: To get the most nutrition, enjoy the whole fruit—both flesh and skin. In addition to using apples in your favorite cooked and baked dishes, be sure to eat them fresh: important antioxidants can be lost in the cooking process.
1. Protects Your Heart
Many studies show apples are good for your heart—in multiple ways. Their high fiber content has been shown to help improve cholesterol levels (lowering bad LDL cholesterol and increasing good HDL cholesterol), according to researchers from Florida State University. A review of data from three major studies also found that people who ate whole fruits—including apples—were less likely to develop high blood pressure. And the Women's Health Study showed that women who ate apples over the seven-year study period had up to a 22 percent reduced risk of heart disease. Finally, a Dutch study found that eating apples and pears was associated with a 52 percent lower risk of stroke—thanks to their high fiber and a flavonoid called quercetin.
2. Boosts Brain Health
A group of four large studies presented at the Alzheimer's Association's International Conference in 2017 adds to the evidence that eating a plant-based diet may help prevent dementia. In one of the studies, Swedish researchers following 2,000 people for six years found that those who stuck to a diet called the Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern (NPDP) had better cognitive function than people who ate more fatty, processed foods. Among other things, the NPDP calls for eating plenty of non-root vegetables, plus pears, peaches and—you guessed it—apples.
In another of the studies, healthy older adults who followed either the Mediterranean or MIND diet—both of which stress eating fresh fruits and vegetables—lowered their risk of dementia by 30 to 35 percent. The longer they followed the diet, the better their cognitive function. Experts point out that more research is needed, but the results look promising.
3. Helps You Lose Weight
One medium apple can help fill you up for under 100 calories—so it's no surprise that apples can help with weight loss. Turns out it's what form of apple you eat that counts. In one study, people who ate apple slices before a meal felt fuller and more satisfied than people who had applesauce, apple juice or no apples at all. The same study also found that starting a meal with apple slices helped people eat an average of 200 fewer calories compared to those who skipped the apple slices.
What kind of apple you eat may make a difference, too. One intriguing animal study published in Food Chemistry suggests that Granny Smith apples have fewer carbs and more nondigestible compounds—including feel-full fiber—compared to McIntosh, Golden Delicious and other common varieties. The compounds also help feed healthy gut bacteria, potentially lowering the risk of some obesity-related problems.
4. Lowers Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
The numbers speak for themselves. In a study of more than 38,000 healthy women, those who ate one or more apples a day had a 28 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than the non-apple eaters. And in a review of data from more than 187,000 people involved in three long-term studies, Harvard researchers found that people who ate at least two servings a week of blueberries, grapes and—yup—apples lowered their diabetes risk by 23 percent, compared to people who had one serving or less a month. Experts say the fruit's fiber helps stabilize blood sugar. Flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, also play an important role.
5. Fights Cancer
Apples rank second only to berries in antioxidants, making them superheroes when it comes to fighting cancer. In fact, an analysis of several Italian studies found that eating one or more servings of apples a day helped lower the risk of colorectal cancer more than eating any other fruit. Other studies in humans have found that eating apples can be helpful in preventing lung and prostate cancer. Don't toss the peel, though—that's where most of the cancer-fighting antioxidants are found.