As you may know, apples originated from Central Asia and Europe and were brought to the U.S. thousands of years ago. Today, China is the main grower of apples and the U.S. – is second. Apples are powerful antioxidants that are very high in Vitamin C (even higher than oranges) amongst their many other health benefits.
The phytonutrients in apples can help you regulate your blood sugar and the polyphenols can help prevent spikes in blood sugar through a vast array of mediums. Research has discovered that flavonoids like ‘quercetin’ found in apples can inhibit enzymes like alpha-amylase and ‘alpha-glucosidase.’ Since these enzymes are involved in the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into simple sugars, your blood sugar has fewer simple sugars to deal with when these enzymes are inhibited. In addition, the polyphenols in apple have been shown to lessen absorption of glucose from the digestive tract; to stimulate the beta cells of the pancreas to secrete insulin; and to increase uptake of glucose from the blood via stimulation of insulin receptors. Although not a huge source of sugar itself, all of these variables triggered by apple polyphenols can make it easier for you to regulate your blood sugar.
Even though apples are not an excellent source of dietary fiber – the fiber found in apples may combine with other apple nutrients to provide you with the kind of health benefits you would ordinarily only associate with much higher amounts of dietary fiber. These health benefits are particularly important in prevention of heart disease through healthy regulation of blood fat levels. Recent research has shown that intake of apples in their whole food form can significantly lower many of our blood fats. The fat-lowering effects that apples have traditionally been associated with are its soluble fiber content, and in particular, with its fat-soluble fiber called pectin. What we now know, however, is that whole apples only contain approximately 2-3 grams of fiber per 3.5 ounces, and that pectin accounts for less than 50% of this total fiber.
Nevertheless, this relatively modest amount of pectin found in whole apples has now been shown to interact with other apple phytonutrients to give us the kind of blood fat lowering effects that would typically be associated with much higher amounts of soluble fiber intake. In recent comparisons with laboratory animals, the blood fat lowering effects of whole apple were shown to be greatly reduced when whole apples were eliminated from the diet and replaced by pectin alone. In summary, it’s not fiber alone that explains the cardiovascular benefits of apple, but the interaction of fiber with other phytonutrients in this wonderful fruit. If you want the full cardiovascular benefits of apples, it’s the whole food form that you’ll want to choose. Only this form can provide you with those unique fiber-plus-phytonutrient combinations.
The whole food form of apples is also important if you want full satisfaction from eating them. Researchers have recently compared intake of whole apples to intake of applesauce and apple juice, only to discover that people report less hunger (and better satiety, or food satisfaction), after eating whole apples than after eating applesauce or drinking apple juice. It’s the feeling of solid foods being in the stomach that seems to provide the best satiety. Although not calorie dense (roughly 60-80 calories on average), when healthy adults consumed one medium-sized apple approximately 15 minutes before a meal, their caloric intake at that meal decreased by an average of 15%. Since meals in this study averaged 1,240 calories, a reduction of 15% meant a reduction of 186 calories, or about 60 more calories than contained in a medium apple.
The study’s primary conclusion was the importance of whole apples (versus other more processed apple forms), in helping us control our hunger and feeling more satisfied with our food; however it is theorized that the consumption of many other foods just prior to eating a major meal may have a similar effect on the appetite.
Scientists have lately shown that significant health benefits of apples may stem from their influence on bacteria in the digestive tract. During studies on laboratory animals, it has been proven that consumption of apples is known to considerably alter amounts of two specific bacteria, (Clostridiales and Bacteriodes) in the large intestine. Subsequently, the metabolic effects in the large intestine are also transformed; and many of these changes also appear to deliver health benefits.
For example, due to bacterial changes in the large intestine, there appears to be more fuel available to the large intestine cells (in the form of butyric acid) after an apple is consumed. We expect to see future studies confirming these results in humans, and we are excited to think about potential health benefits of the apple and how it relates to the bacterial balance in our digestive tract. So, we’ve all heard the saying, ‘an apple a day keeps the Doctors away…’ and considering the aforementioned, they may be correct with their assertions.