Eat More Apples?

What are the health benefits of eating apples? I’m also curious about the best way to choose apples.

– September 24, 2007

Apples are good for you – as long as they’re fresh and organically grown. I avoid apples that have been grown with pesticides or treated with fungicides and wax. and I don’t like the ubiquitous Red Delicious variety that conventional growers have foisted on us for years; in my experience, they are usually mealy and tasteless.

Apples are a popular fruit, but unfortunately, they usually rank among the 12 top fruits and vegetables contaminated by pesticides in tests run by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) which investigates environmental threats to health. The last EWG report on pesticides in fruits and vegetables concluded that frequently eating these "dirty dozen" fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about 14 pesticides per day, on average. That said, fresh, organically grown apples offer many health benefits:

  • Separate studies have shown that including apples in your diet may reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, liver, prostate and lung. The flavonoids in apples were credited with the anti-cancer effects.
  • In 2004 a study from the National Institutes of Health found that eating foods such as apples may reduce chronic cough and other respiratory symptoms. The study was published in the August 2004 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
  • Studies in both Australia and England showed that people who eat the most apples and pears have the lowest risk of asthma, and researchers in the Netherlands have found that eating an apple a day may reduce the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in smokers.
  • In 2004, U.S. researchers reported that for every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily, you may be able to lower your risk of developing heart disease by 14 percent and your risk of dying from heart disease by 27 percent. A single medium-sized apple gives you five grams of fiber. The study was published in the Feb. 23, 2004 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
  • More than one study on rats or mice has suggested that antioxidants, particularly quercetin, in apples (and apple juice), may sharpen memory and learning and protect against oxidative damage that contributes to Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related brain disorders.

If you’re choosing your apples on the basis of their health benefits, not your taste preferences, you’ll be better off with Red Delicious, Northern Spy, and Ida Red, because a 2005 Canadian study found these varieties to be highest in antioxidants. The same study reported that polyphenols, the major antioxidants in apples, are five times more prevalent in apple skin than in the flesh. Note, however, that while Northern Spy apples have fewer polyphenols in the skin than Red Delicious, they have twice as many in their flesh. The study was published in the June 29, 2005 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

When choosing apples, you’re better off buying organic ones in season from local farmers. Store them in the refrigerator to prevent them from over-ripening and to preserve their flavor. I recommend never eating the skins of non-organic apples.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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