We have all heard the saying since early childhood, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." While we may feel that this advice was just an old wives’ tale, there is actually a surprising amount of truth to the saying. It certainly can help you keep from having to make a visit to the cardiologist. A recent study published in the Journal of Functional Foods has found that eating an apple a day can reduce your likelihood of hardening of the arteries. Apples provide other health benefits as well, in addition to being tasty.
When Cholesterol Goes Bad
Oxidized LDL is low-density lipoprotein (the "bad" cholesterol) that is even more dangerous than regular LDL cholesterol. When LDL particles react with free radicals, the newly oxidized LDL becomes more reactive with the surrounding tissues. It attaches itself to the lining of the arteries and encourages the buildup of inflammatory cells on the artery walls. Cholesterol comes to the area in an attempt to calm the inflammation, leading to a buildup of arterial plaque and increasing the risk of stroke or a heart attack.
Antioxidants, which are commonly found in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, are known to reduce the presence of free radicals in the body, so it would naturally make sense that any antioxidant may help reduce rates of oxidized LDL. However, this is not necessarily the case. Lead author of the study, Robert DiSilvestro, a researcher at the university's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University said, "Not all antioxidants are created equal when it comes to this particular effect."
The Apple Study
DiSilvestro and colleagues found that those who ate an apple a day for four weeks had 40 percent lower blood levels of oxidized LDL than those who did not. Not only that, apple consumption was significantly more effective than other well-known antioxidants the researchers had studied, including those in curcumin, tomato extract and green tea.
The study involved three groups of healthy adult non-smokers between the ages of 40 and 60 who reported eating apples less than twice a month and who did not take poyphenol supplements or any other type of plant-based concentrates. The first group (16 people) ate a large Golden Delicious or Red Delicious apple every day, the second group (17 people) took polyphenol supplements every day (in an amount equal to the polyphenols received from eating an apple), and the last group (18 people) took a placebo that contained no polyphenols.
According to DiSilvestro, "We found the polyphenol extract did register a measurable effect, but not as strong as the straight apple. That could either be because there are other things in the apple that could contribute to the effect, or, in some cases, these bioactive compounds seem to get absorbed better when they're consumed in foods."
Apple’s Health Benefits
With a healthy amount of soluble fiber and only 95 calories, the apple is one of nature’s healthiest snacks. Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol and helps to regulate blood sugar, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes. Eating apples regularly also reduces your chance of getting metabolic syndrome, one of the precursors to diabetes. An analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES) found that those who had eaten apples in any form over the previous day (which includes the fresh fruit, pies, cakes, applesauce, etc.) were 27 percent less likely to exhibit symptoms of metabolic syndrome. The polyphenol quercetin that apples contain inhibits the production of enzymes that break down carbohydrates into simple sugars (the ones that cause insulin to spike).
Apples can also help in the struggle to lose weight. Eating an apple 15 minutes before a meal can reduce the total calories consumed during the meal by 15 percent, according to one study. Volunteers who participated in the study reported feeling fuller and more satisfied with the meal overall. Over time, a reduction in calories of 15 percent at each meal can add up to fewer pounds.
Apples have also been shown to reduce certain forms of cancer, lung cancer in particular. Studies must still be conducted to discover exactly what mechanisms are at action that target this particular disease, but the association is strong.
All in all, eating apples are a simple and delicious way of assuring that your future is free from disease.