My favorite thing about fall in Vermont is rambling through a nearby orchard, picking crisp, juicy apples and crunching into one, fresh off the tree. Yet apples are so commonplace that they’re almost overlooked—pushed aside by flashier superfruits, such as pomegranates and goji berries.
But as a registered dietitian, I know that apples have surprising nutritional benefits that justify the “apple a day” adage.
1. Benefit: Nutrition, straight up
Packing in quite a bit of soluble fiber (4 grams per medium apple) for a modest amount of calories (95) makes apples a filling, sweet snack. Plus, a medium apple counts as 1 cup of fruit, so after eating one you’re well on your way to meeting your daily fruit quota (around 2 cups for adults on a 2,000-calorie diet). They also are a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C (providing 14% of the Daily Value).
2. Weight Loss
Apples satisfy hunger for few calories so it’s not surprising that they can be part of a healthy diet that promotes weight loss. And in a recent study, dried apples also helped participants lose some weight. Women who ate a cup of dried apples daily for a year lost some weight and lowered their cholesterol and heart disease markers. Florida State University researchers think apples’ antioxidants and pectin (a type of fiber) are responsible for the benefits—and think that fresh apples would be even more effective.
3. Heart Health
The Florida State study is not the only one to link apple consumption to heart health. Last year, the Iowa Women’s Health Study reported that, among the 34,000-plus women it’s been tracking for nearly 20 years, apples were associated with a lower risk of death from both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Some years earlier, Finnish researchers studying dietary data collected over 28 years from 9,208 men and women found that frequent apple eaters had the lowest risk of suffering strokes compared with nonapple eaters. Experts attribute the heart-healthy benefits to antioxidant compounds found in apples, which help prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and inhibit inflammation. Plus, the soluble fiber in apples has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
4. Protect Against Metabolic Syndrome
People who eat apples may be less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms linked to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Joyce Hendley reported in EatingWell Magazine that researchers who analyzed National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES) data, a survey of eating and health habits, found that people who had eaten apples in any form over the past day were 27 percent less likely to have symptoms of metabolic syndrome than those who didn’t. The apple eaters also had lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation whose presence in the blood suggests an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.
5. Exercise Extender
Eating an apple before you work out may boost your exercise endurance. Apples deliver an antioxidant called quercetin, which aids endurance by making oxygen more available to the lungs. One study showed that quercetin—when taken in supplement form—helped people bike longer.