Originally published in Healthy Options, November 2003, New Zealand
It is uncertain where the first wild apple was cultivated to eventually produce the sweet and fleshy apple of today. From that small, sour, seed filled apple we now have more than 5,000 named apple varieties. Apples have been eaten in many ways, the most popular being raw. In Shakespeare’s day people would eat baked or stewed apples for dessert with a small dish of caraway seeds.
The apple has had an important role in myth, health and love for thousands of years. A love potion from Germany consisted of soaking an apple in the desired ladies’ perspiration. Once the amorous young man devoured the apple all his deepest fantasies would be fulfilled. The Greeks considered the apple capable of healing all ailments and American folk medicine credits them with being therapeutically effective in neutralizing the bodies excess acids and being very helpful for digestion.
Research from around the world has confirmed that apples keep the cardiovascular system healthy. Apples rank near the bottom of the glycemic index. This makes them good for people with blood sugar problems. Even more surprising are studies conducted at Yale University which found that merely the smell of apples can lower blood pressure. The smell of spiced apples has a calming effect which may explain the people that Pliny and Sir John Mandeville spoke of — the race of little men in “farther India who eat nought and live by the smell of apples.” Perhaps apples should be our staple diet.
The apple should be eaten unpeeled as most of the nutrients are in or around the skin. Unfortunately, if the apples are commercially grown and marketed they have a wax on their skin. In this case it is better to peel the apple. Preferably buy locally grown apples and wash them before use to get rid of any unwanted chemicals. These days it is best to eat only organically grown apples or apples that you know are not treated with chemicals or have been manipulated genetically.
Apples are excellent to eat at bedtime as they cleanse the teeth and push back the gums to clean out any particles. Because of their soluble fiber content they also help prevent constipation, apple pectin also powerfully removes heavy metals, radiation and toxins from our bodies. Apple juice has been found to have anti-viral properties. Studies done from Cornell to Finland have found that apples contain many phytonutrients, including the flavanoid quercetin which have powerful antioxident properties. Extract from the apple skin can inhibit liver and colon cancer cells by around 50%. About two thirds of an apple has the same antioxidant activity as 1,500 mg of Vitamin C. It is also beneficial for respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer. A study done at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands found that eating an apple a day helps reduce the risk of developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in heavy smokers. Even people eating only 2 apples a week were found to have their chances of developing asthma lowered (research done at King’s College in London).
Some of the best apple varieties for their phytonutrient contents are Fuji, Spartan and Red Delicious. In a world filled with pollutants and potential for free radical damage lurking in every breath we take and bite we eat it is refreshing and reassuring to find that our most trusted and historically proven friend, the apple, is able to provide such a range of health benefits. But beware of the GMO apple as there are no long term studies done on how it will effect our health.