An Apple a Day for Your Heart

An apple a day keeps the doctor away
Apple in the morning – Doctor’s warning
Roast apple at night – starves the doctor outright
Eat an apple going to bed – knock the doctor on the head
Three each day, seven days a week – ruddy apple, ruddy cheek

No one knows who wrote the rhyme or when, but today’s doctors have little to fear from this famed fruit. In fact, experts continue to investigate how it can prevent illness — and we may want to take the latest research to heart. Researchers at Florida State University recently found that a daily dose of apples helps combat two serious risk factors affecting cardiovascular health.

An apple a day keeps cholesterol and inflammation away

The study, recently presented at the Experimental Biology 2011 conference in Washington, D.C, followed 160 women aged 45-65 over the course of a year. Researchers divided participants into two groups: the first group ate 75 g (2.5 ounces) of dried apples each day while the second group ate prunes — another fruit known for its healthy benefits. Blood tests were taken at the 3, 6 and 12 month points to measure heart health.

The results? The women who ate apples on a daily basis saw their total cholesterol drop by about 14 per cent. Their LDL cholesterol level — the “bad” cholesterol we’re always told to watch — dropped by 23 per cent.

“The pulp of an apple gets to be a very viscous gel-like substance that grabs cholesterol and pulls it out of the body. It’s kind of like nature’s toothbrush, and it’s brushing the bad stuff out,” explained dietician Jessica Shapiro in an article on Health Day.

There were even some modest gains in good cholesterol (about 4 per cent), but the benefits don’t end there. The study also found apples reduced the levels of damaging lipid hydroperoxide and C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood by about one third each. Why does that matter? Both contribute to chronic inflammation in the body — which in turn raises heart disease and cancer risk.

What about the participants who ate prunes instead? They saw some slight reductions in cholesterol and inflammatory markers, but the benefits paled in comparison to the apples.

What about weight gain? You might think the extra 240 calories a day of dried applies might cause weight gain, but participants lost an average of 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds) during the study. Experts believe the soluble fibre in apples helped curb participants’ appetites.

While more research needs to be done, the study’s authors note that eating more apples can have healthy benefits — and two might just be better than one. (Read the study abstract and the article on WebMD for more details.)


More health benefits

Even if the study doesn’t have you convinced, there are other reasons to enjoy more of this sweet fruit:

– Apples contain pectin — a soluble fibre that forms a gel when mixed with water — which helps prevent your intestines from absorbing cholesterol. The fibre also adds bulk to stools and helps ward off constipation and diarrhea. Soluble fibre not only helps treat conditions like irritable bowl syndrome and decreases the risk of colorectal cancers, it also helps curb blood sugar spikes — making it a useful tool for staving off type 2 diabetes.

In addition, fibre sources like pectin also help you feel full longer. Some experts recommend eating an apple 15 to 20 minutes before a meal to eat less.

– Apples offer a variety of polyphenols — those antioxidant phytonutrients which fight free radical damage and help prevent cellular damage that can contribute to a variety of illnesses from certain types of cancer to Parkinson’s disease.

Quercetin — which is found in the skin — has even been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts by as much as 15 per cent. Along with other flavonoids in apples, it helps regulate blood sugar levels by slowing the release of glucose into the blood stream.

Want the most antioxidants? Look for uniformly red skin, and the darker the better! But don’t rule out the greens — Granny Smith apples were second only to Red Delicious in a 2004 USDA survey of the top 100 anti-oxidant containing foods. (They ranked 12th and 13th respectively.)

Apples are also a good source of vitamin C, and some evidence suggests that apples are good for the lungs and the brain too (though more investigation is needed).

Ways to enjoy more apples

– Eat them whole. While studies often use dried apples for convenience, experts say whole, fresh fruit is best. Some nutrients and fibre can be lost in the processing to make juice and apple sauce — not to mention the antioxidants in the peel.

Need a pick-me-up? Try dipping slices in all-natural peanut, cashew or almond butter, or dip them in low-fat yoghurt.

– Use applesauce to top meats or pancakes — especially a homemade, chunkier version made with the skins still on. You can lower the fat in your favourite baked goods by substituting up to one half of the oil with apple sauce.

– Add chopped or sliced apples to a stir fry or salad. (Dare we say Waldorf salad or a Baby Spinach, Apple & Bacon Salad?) You can also add them to oatmeal, hot or cold cereals, muffins and pancakes.

– Use them in a gourmet sandwich like grilled cheese or paninis. (For instance, try an Ontario Apple, Aged Cheddar and Smoked Turkey Panini.) You can even use them in an open faced sandwich or to top a pizza or flat bread — like this Basil and Feta Apple Pizza.

– Use them in a side dish, like braised cabbage and apples or Brussels Sprouts with Apples & Toasted Walnuts.

– Enjoy a bowl of soup, like this Smokey Apple & Butternut Squash Soup.

– Make a crispy snack, like Apple Chips or Apple Fries.

– Sliced or halved, apples can go on the grill for dessert or to use in sandwiches or salads. They’re a welcome addition to grilled fruit skewers too.

– Host an apple tasting party and invite guests over to sample the many varieties.

Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a healthy dessert like a classic apple crisp. This version uses heart-healthy oats in place of refined flour and cinnamon to boost the antioxidants.

Adaptable Apple Crisp

1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp cinnamon (to taste)
2 tbsp flour (all-purpose, whole wheat, spelt or oat flour will work)
1/4 cup melted butter, margarine or butter substitute (such as Earth Balance)
6 cups chopped baking apples (leave skins if preferred)
1/2 chopped walnuts, almonds or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Core and chop apple, then spread evenly in an 8″ pan.

Combine dry ingredients and mix in melted butter. Sprinkle topping evenly over the fruit.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the fruit is tender and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream or frozen yoghurt.


– Replace up to half of the apples (3 cups) with your favourite fruits like pears, peaches, plums, nectarines or apricots, or add a couple of handfuls of your favourite berries. (Cranberries work well for a holiday feast.)

– If you prefer plenty of crumble, double the topping recipe or cut down on the fruit and use a smaller pan for a “deep dish” effect.

– To dress it up for guests, drizzle caramel sauce in zigzags across the plate first. Add a scoop of butterscotch ice cream and top with a sprinkle of crushed pecans or walnuts.

– Sprinkle warm apple crisp with peanut butter or butterscotch flavoured chips.

Confused about which type of apple to use for what purpose? Websites like All About Apples have a full list of the varieties and their features, or you can look for regional websites — Nova Scotia Apples, Ontario Apple Growers and BC Fruit Trees — to find out what’s grown near you.

Perhaps “an apple a day” is an ambitious dietary goal, but it’s a tasty challenge to take on. Experts generally agree that a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables contributes to better health.

Addition sources:,

10 everyday superfoods
Spices of life
Foods to prevent cancer
Pistachios pack a powerful punch
Foods your heart will love