The old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is true. More specifically, research published in the past year suggests that regularly eating one or more of these crisp juicy fruits daily may keep the endocrinologist and cardiologist away. This is great news if you have or have a family history of diabetes and/or heart disease.
In the first study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that people who ate a serving of whole fruit – specifically apples as well as blueberries and grapes – at least twice weekly were up to 23 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who consumed these fruit once a month or less.
Even more interesting, these food scientists found that subjects who drank fruit juice (they looked at apple, orange, grapefruit and other juices) daily increased their risk of developing diabetes by nearly 23 percent. Yet, when subjects traded three servings of juice each week for whole fruit instead, their diabetes risk decreased by 7 percent.
These findings are pretty amazing for two reasons. First, it was a big study. Researchers looked at data from almost 188,000 subjects (more than 12,000 eventually developed Type 2 diabetes) that participated in three sizable studies between 1984 and 2008. Secondly, this is no bitter pill to swallow. It’s pretty easy and tasty to eat apples.
In the second study, Ohio State University scientists found eating apples can substantially reduce blood levels of cholesterol, a fatty substance that can clog arteries and cause heart disease. In this study, researchers recruited 33 40- to 60-year-olds who didn’t smoke, didn’t eat apples more than twice a month and didn’t take any plant-based supplements that contained polyphenols.
Half, or 16 of these subjects, ate a large Red Delicious or large Golden Delicious apple daily for four weeks. Results showed that the blood cholesterol level of these subjects dropped by 40 percent.
The other 17 subjects took pills containing polyphenols, a type of plant-based antioxidant in apples, and experienced only a small decrease in cholesterol. These results are incredible because cholesterol-lowering medications are one of the top four prescriptions taken by 20- to 44-year-old men in the United States, and some of these have dangerous side effects such as muscle weakness, memory loss and nerve damage.
What is the magic in apples that can help to prevent two major chronic diseases? It’s not one thing, according to researchers from both studies; it’s many. This is why maximum benefits come from eating the entire apple, not just drinking the juice or taking one substance in apples in pill form.
Nutritionally, a medium-size apple (about 6 ounces) provides 80 calories, is an excellent source of fiber (which has been linked to slowing the absorption of sugars and reducing cholesterol levels), and contains no fat, cholesterol, saturated fat or sodium. Apples are also a good source of vitamin C.
The appetizing news is that today there are so many different types of apples from which to choose. There are the old favorites like Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. Gala and Fuji are becoming universal favorites, while the Honeycrisp has taken the world by storm for its crisp juicy texture and sweet flavor.
Newer varieties, each with their own natural flavor profile (natural breeding not GMO or artificial colorings and flavorings), include Pink Lady, Ambrosia, Junami, Lady Alice, Opal, Piñata, Sweet Tango, Kiku and Kanzi.
Apples are great for eating fresh out of hand. This is the way they were consumed in the two studies above. Yet there are other ways to enjoy apples. Instead of making into a pie or crisp with added sugar and fat, instead dip slices in a mixture of Greek yogurt and cinnamon, or add slices to a mixed green salad, or dice and add to coleslaw, or add slices atop a bowl of oatmeal.
Although apples stay crispiest when stored under refrigeration, they don’t easily go bad if not refrigerated for a few days. This makes them a great fruit to buy, keep and eat while you’re out at sea.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.