Grandparents have long said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and one trial set out to prove this. A U.S. study tracked 160 postmenopausal women, half of whom were assigned dried apples and the other prunes. After six months, the apple-eating group had an average 23 percent reduction in LDL (bad) and a 4 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. After 12 months, the same group had dropped an average of 3.3 pounds in weight. Sounds fabulous, but here we have a good example of why such claims should be viewed cautiously.
This study presents a few holes. For example, the apples doled out to participants were dried, whereas people typically eat fresh. Fresh and dried apples have different concentrations of nutrients, with not just one, but four to five average-size fresh apples being the equivalent of the 75 grams of dried apple consumed in the study. Secondly, the results talk about the benefits enjoyed by the apple-eating group, but say nothing about the prune-eating group, so we have no comparison. Finally, the study was restricted to postmenopausal women, who tend to increase weight and fat more easily than premenopausal women, so the benefits for younger women, or indeed men, are unknown without further research.
Practically speaking, consuming four to five apples a day is excessive and likely to result in the exclusion of other fruits and vegetables. Regular readers will know that I am an advocate of never eating too much of a single food, and apples, despite their widely documented health benefits, are no exception.
The question to ask is: What qualifies apples as a super food? Well, their health benefits are thought to be due to high levels of antioxidants – which, incidentally, differ by variety of apple – whereas weight loss is attributed to their pectin (a type of soluble fiber) content. Luckily, other fruits such as grapes, berries, apricots and plums are also concentrated sources of antioxidants, and useful levels of pectin can be found in carrots, citrus fruits, apricots and prunes, so you don’t need to overdose on apples. Remember that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables expands the range of nutrients consumed from food, makes your diet more interesting and can still deliver the beneficial antioxidants and pectin.
By the way, antioxidants and pectin are concentrated in or just under the peel, so eat your fruit whole and use the zest of citrus fruit as flavoring. If you really hate the taste or texture of skin, then juice or liquidize the whole fruit, straining off the pulp if you really have to. Also, try apple cider vinegar, which offers various health benefits. Incorporate it into your diet as a salad dressing ingredient or drink 2 teaspoons in a glass of water.
As it happens, apples do have many health benefits. Munch regularly, but not necessarily daily, on a whole fresh apple, and introduce apple cider vinegar into your menus. Meanwhile, don’t take everything you read at face value, and research claims before making radical dietary changes.
Julie Godfrey, B.Sc. (Hons), is a nutritional therapy practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For more information, see www.foreverhealthyco.com or email [email protected].