Are apples healthy?
Does an apple a day keep the doctor away? Here’s the health benefits of apples
image The Simpsons / 20th Century Studios
words Rhys Thomas
A is for apple. Not the technology company, the fruit. The OG apple. Red or green or yellow or a bit of all of them. Grows on a tree, falls off a tree. Humans have eaten apples since prehistoric times, in the UK we know apples were eaten and that the pips were spat out, well over ten thousand years ago. Outside of eating them, apples have also been culturally significant for a long time. The historical richness and symbolism of an apple makes it as loaded as an aubergine or peach - especially emoji-wise From being a forbidden fruit in Christianity to being a sign of immortality in Celtic mythology, the apple is something we engage with every day.
But are apples healthy?
You might know the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and while apples aren’t literally a doctor deterrent, they are very good for us. Apples are considered nutrient-dense, meaning that for every bite of an apple, it’s going to give you more good stuff than a fair few other foods do. The main health benefits of eating apples are the vitamin C, antioxidants, and satiety – which is partially due to the high fibre content. A medium sized apple has around 17 percent of our daily fibre needs. Some of this fibre comes from pectin, which is a soluble fibre. This form of fibre is doubly good for us as it feeds the friendly bacteria in our guts too. Though people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) might find some of the other fibres within apples can cause irritation.
Other health benefits of apples include their high potassium content, which is great for maintaining normal levels of fluid inside our cells, helping muscles to not cramp, and regulating blood pressure. And those antioxidants we mentioned, apples specifically contain quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid, all of which are strong antioxidants. Their effects reportedly include being anti-inflammatories, showing ability to help protect the heart, preventing cancer, preventing cell damage generally, even slowing tumour growth.
Finally, despite being super sweet, apples are made of very simple sugars, so they fall low on the glycaemic index (GI). The glycaemic index rates foods on how quickly they affect blood sugar, higher ratings mean blood sugar spikes quickly, which long-term can increase risk of developing diabetes or heart disease. Due to the high fructose content though, people with fructose intolerance may want to eat apples with caution. That aside, apples are great!
And it’s not just apples, byproducts of apples can be great for us too. A trendy example is apple cider vinegar, popularised in part by the Kardashians (especially Kourtney and Kim). Apple cider vinegar is basically cider which is then introduced to bacteria which ferments the booze into a vinegar, partly while creating acetic acid. Acetic acid is the compound that seems to carry most of the health benefits, and cider vinegar is often as much as 6 percent acetic acid. It tastes like cider, which is fun too. You should dilute it in water when drinking it (kinda like a healthy jägerbomb with fewer glasses).
Where do apples come from?
New York might be known as the big apple, but sadly it has nothing to do with the origin of apples of any size. That phrase started roughly a hundred years ago, when a sports journalist called John J. Fitz Gerald wrote that horse racers were going to “The Big Apple”. He meant it was a place where horse racing had very big rewards for those who won, and they happened to be in Manhattan.
Apples originally come from Central Asia, specifically somewhere within or very near Kazakhstan. The largest city in Kazakhstan is called Almaty, but was previously called Alma Ata. Alma means apple in Kazakh, the native language, and some say Alma Ata’s non-literal translation is “full of apples”.
But if you mean - where do all these varieties of apples come from? - well it’s breeders who manipulate the genetics of an apple in order to make a specific new apple variation. It can take around a decade to make a new apple variation. First, parents have to be selected (if you want a crispy sweet new apple, you need a sweet parent and a crispy parent).When these parents’ trees bloom in the spring, you cross-pollinate the seeds. Then apples form, and their seeds are collected and planted too. From there it takes five years for the seeds to grow into trees that will ripen with the new apples. From here, people have to sample all the apples on the tree, as they’ll all have genetic variations, until they find what they’re looking for. This lucky apple - just one out of 5000 - is then selected for further evaluation. Then lots of research is done on the apple, from its characteristics and nutrition through to where it grows best. Eventually, the apple is then in existence, and its seeds are planted. The tree grows, and its branches are cut off and planted to make even more of them. Then four years later, it’s all “hey, new apple just dropped” and we eat it. And if it has a name, which it will, that name has been patented and trademarked. Apples are the most widely grown fruit in the world. Gala comes from New Zealand, Pink Lady is Australian, so is Granny Smith. Cox comes from the UK, as does Royal Gala. There’s over 7,500 varieties of apple.
What are other uses for apples?
Apples are at their healthiest eaten raw and with the skin, but if you’re looking to do something a little different there’s plenty to get creative with. Literally, in the arts and crafts sense, you can take the core out of the apple and turn it into a candle, you can use them to paint a still life from (as with basically anything), and they’re also good at getting green tomatoes to ripen quicker. And, okay, it’s sort of food, but you could make a preserve like chutney to give to your grandma or whoever likes a chutney as a gift.
What are some great apples recipes?
Given the endless types of apples, and that they’ve been around forever and globally, apples can be used in a huge variety of ways and cuisines when it comes to cooking them. It isn’t quite apples and oranges, but it basically is. Ever heard of a Waldorf Salad? It’s an apple-inclusive salad that was first made at the Waldorf Hotel, New York, in 1896. Really popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s among the preppy crowds. The people in things like Brooks Brothers. J Crew and Ralph Lauren. So maybe it’ll come back, who knows! It should, too, because it’s delicious and happens to be fairly healthy (and it’s easy to make, you don’t have to drop a million quid on it).
Here’s what you do:
- 3 ripe Granny Smith apples, washed well
- 1 firm stalk of celery, washed and de-stringed
- 100g walnuts, chopped coarsely (1 cup) if you want to toast them in a dry frying pan for a minute or two, feel free.
- 1 head of baby gem lettuce, coarsely chopped
Combine all of that in a bowl and … you should dress it in mayonnaise but if mayo gives you the ick, maybe try yoghurt and/or extra virgin olive oil (often abbreviated to EVOO). That’s it, done.
As for ways to just kind of have fun with a raw apple, you could add a nut butter to it (experiment, have fun!) or for more savoury apples (and we don’t mean an [apple of the earth](Are potatoes healthy? - Woo)) like a granny smith, adding lime and salt is delicious.
If you'd rather leave the cooking to someone else…
Who has a better memory of school dinners than an apple crumble? Nobody. Now imagine if it was actually nice and you could customise it to your taste? Humble Crumble is basically that, sustainably sourced ingredients, artisanal-quality from custard to crumble. Check it out the next time you’re walking around London (they’re in Shoreditch and Borough Market).