The Fruit That Really Does Keep the Doctor Away

Crisp, comforting and delicious, apples have remarkable health benefits, fighting everything from dental problems to diabetes, heart disease, at least 8 types of cancer, and possibly even Alzheimer’s.

One of the latest discoveries is that eating at least 2 servings a week of whole fruit—particularly apples, blueberries, or grapes—trims risk for type 2 diabetes by up to 23 percent, compared to people who eat less than one serving per month, according to new data from three long-running studies that include 187,382 participants. The research was published in British Medical Journal. The scientists also report that cutting out three servings of fruit juice and eating whole fruit instead would cut diabetes danger by 7 percent.

Other studies reveal the apple's long list of impressive health perks, reports Courtenay Smith, executive editor of Reader’s Digest and editor of the bestseller Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal.

In fact, apples may be one of the best healing foods, but also carry a risk you should be aware of. “Because apples are vulnerable to worms and other pests, conventionally grown fruit can be high in pesticides because it’s sprayed several times,” cautions Smith, who recommends either buying organic or washing the fruit thoroughly before eating.

Here are some of the latest findings about this delightful autumn food:

Protection Against Cardiovascular Disease

An apple snack soaked with tangerine juice lowers cardiovascular risk in children, according to researchers at Universitat de València and other centers. The study included 48 obese kids ages 9 to 15 who followed a low-calorie diet for 4 weeks. Eating the apple/tangerine snack improved the kids’ blood pressure, lipid levels and antioxidant defenses, while also reducing inflammatory markers linked to heart risk. 

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Lower Risk for Stroke

Contrary to the popular belief that the healthiest fruits and veggies are brightly colored, a large Dutch study found that eating white produce (in amounts equal to one medium or large apple) reduces stroke risk by 52 percent, compared to people who eat smaller amounts. Although the researchers looked at a variety of white produce, apples, pears and applesauce were the ones most commonly eaten by the 20,069 participants. There was no link between eating foods of other colors and rates of stroke, according to the study, published in Stroke.

Whiter, Healthier Teeth

“Apples are often called ‘nature’s toothbrushes,’ because they help clean and brighten teeth,” says Smith. “The crisp, abrasive texture stimulates the gums and removes debris from your teeth, while the mildly acidic flavor increases saliva flow to rinse away plaque.” A 2012 study reported that men who ate high-fiber fruits (particularly apples and bananas) were at lower risk for tooth loss and progression of gum disease. The study tracked 625 men for 15 years.

Help You Stay Slim

“Studies out of Washington State and Brazil show that people who eat 3 apples or pears a day lose weight,” Smith reports. “These fruits are low in calories (80 for a medium apple) and loaded with water and fiber, so they fill you up. They’re also digested slowly, so  you feel satisfied longer.”

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May Prevent 8 Types of Cancer

A 2011 scientific review reports that people who eat one or more apples daily have significantly lower risk of oral cancer and cancers of the voice box (larynx), breast, esophagus, colon, kidney, prostate and ovary, compared to those who nosh on the fruit less often. The study included more than 6,000 people and this pattern held true even when the participants’ age, calorie intake, diet, smoking, and weight were taken into account.

“In lab studies out of Germany, there’s evidence that when fiber in apples ferments in the colon, it produces cancer fighting compounds,” says Smith. “Other lab studies show that procyanidins—natural compounds found in apple skins—trigger cancer cell death.”

Help Head off a Heart Attack

The same scientific review also reported that women who ate as little as 71 grams of apple daily (about half of a small apple) were 43 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease—the leading killer of Americans—than were women who didn’t eat the fruit at all. A study of elderly men found similar benefits to eating an average of 69 grams of apple daily, versus little or no apple consumption.

May Help Ward off Alzheimer’s

Animal studies suggest that apple juice may have a variety of positive effects on brain health, including reducing age-related memory and cognitive impairment. What’s more, in animals, daily consumption of apple juice appears to protect against brain changes and damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease, though it is not yet known if tasty drink has the same effect on the human brain.

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