A Canadian fall staple, apples belong to the family Rosaceae, which includes ornamental roses as well as almonds, cherries, pears, raspberries and strawberries.
This familiar fruit actually dates back to prehistory— apples were originally spread by ancient megafauna, and later as a part of trade along the Silk Road. Now, there are more than 7,500 varieties of apples grown for different tastes and uses, like cooking, eating raw and cider production. To reap the most health benefits of this seasonal superfood, leave the skin on the fruit to maximize the amounts of fibre and polyphenols.
On the whole
Eating a whole apple, as opposed to just the juice or purée, offers more health benefits and keeps you full longer. Apples contain pectin, a soluble fibre that can help prevent constipation and has a moderate effect on lowering LDL cholesterol. What’s more, pectin acts as a prebiotic that feeds your gut microbiota. As it ferments in the colon, it produces short-chain fatty acids that may play a role in the prevention of chronic diseases. Studies have shown that plant chemicals in the apple peel, when combined with pectin, may help protect against oxidative damage in the lungs, heart and blood vessels.
Apple skin is rich in quercetin, a type of polyphenolic flavonoid with potent anti-inflammatory effects. Studies suggest that this compound may be useful for the treatment of allergic diseases like asthma and sinusitis. Quercetin may also have a protective effect on the brain and nerves, where it prevents oxidative damage and injuries that can result in degenerative brain disease. It has also been implicated in reduced insulin resistance, and could be used in the prevention or treatment of diabetes.
Perhaps the most promising application of the nutritive elements of apples is in the treatment of cancer. A diet rich in apples has been associated with a reduced risk of breast, lung, colorectal, digestive tract and prostate cancers. Current research suggests that it is the combination of plant chemicals in apples, rather than a particular isolated compound, that comes together and offers up these beneficial effects. Additionally, these plant chemicals can combine with other nutrients to produce novel effects. For instance, when combined, ursolic acid from apples and curcumin from turmeric work together to starve prostate cancer cells.