Apples: How they support your health

06 Oct 2023

Apples hold the crisp memory of autumn’s arrival: picking apples from the tree, slicing them into quarters, making an apple pie from scratch. Let’s not underestimate them because they’re so familiar. Apples provide a range of nutrients and polyphenols, offering more than meets the eye. So, does an apple a day keep the doctor away?

In a Nutshell

Research Digest

Meta-analyses link apples in our diets to:

  • Cancer prevention: People with a higher intake of apples showed a reduced risk of certain cancers, including lung (12%) and digestive tract (41%) cancer. (Fabiani et al.2016)
  • Type 2 diabetes prevention: Consumption of apples and pears was associated with an 18% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. (Guo et al. 2017)
  • Cardiometabolic health: Higher intake of apples significantly decreased BMI and risk of adverse cardiovascular outcomes. (Gayer et al. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2019)

How much? Every increase of one serving per week was associated with a 3% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Higher intake was defined as over 6 servings per week - so almost an apple a day!

A sprinkle of nuance: As always, these studies come with limitations that deserve consideration. Studies differ in defining ‘high intake,’ methodologies vary, and confounding factors, like overall healthy lifestyles, may influence the results.

Apples are a source of:

  • Polyphenols, such as quercetin, catechin, chlorogenic acid and anthocyanin
  • Vitamin C
  • Soluble and insoluble dietary fibres
  • Minerals, particularly potassium, phosphorus and magnesium

Fibre spotlight! Pectin is a major component of apple dietary fibres. It shows various health activities in lab studies, including a positive impact on blood lipids and detoxification properties by binding heavy metals.

Don’t forget the peel: It contains about 2 to 3 times as much fibre as the pulp. 

How does it work? Bioactive compounds in apples may support health by improving antioxidant capacity, regulating inflammatory signalling pathways and regulating glucose levels. (Zhang et al. 2023)

Plant Tales

Apples in our diets are nothing new. The history of apples is deeply intertwined with humanity.

In the wild: People have been collecting the fruits of wild apple trees across Europe and West Asia for more than 10,000 years. Ancient seeds, dating back to the Neolithic era, offer glimpses into humans’ close relationship with these trees.

Along the Silk Road: Humans started moving apple fruits across Eurasia along the Silk Road. The process of exchange brought different apple trees into contact with each other. With the help of bees and other pollinators, hybrid fruits were created.

To the modern apple: Farmers started noticing the larger fruiting trees and fixed this trait in place. Genetic studies show that the modern apple is a hybrid of at least four wild apple populations. These hybrid plants possess the traits we see in our markets today like bigger, sweeter and firmer fruits - creating our modern apple.

Where did local apples go? The UK has a rich history of apple cultivation. Yet, large supermarkets seem to offer anything but locally grown apples. What’s going on? It was reported that British apple growers are caught in a tough spot with rising costs causing them to cancel tree orders. While shoppers are already paying 23% more for apples, growers are not receiving a fair return from supermarkets, leading to a significant reduction in profit and substantial losses. Read more in these articles from Natoora and Wicked Leeks.

Pick diversity: Apples are a very diverse fruit. In the UK alone, there are over 2,500 varieties, with over 7,000 varieties worldwide. This means you could eat a different UK variety every day for over 6 years! Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to find most varieties in supermarkets – Braeburn and Gala, natives to New Zealand, account for a large proportion of British sales. If you have direct access to a grower, mix it up with seasonal varieties like Red Pippin and Spartan.

Tasty Tips

Apples around the world

  • German Himmel und Erde ​​​​​ or ‘Heaven and Earth’ - a mixture of mashed potatoes (from earth) and apples (from heaven), usually covered with caramelised onions.
  • French Poulet à la Normande or Chicken Normandy - a hearty one-pot meal, which highlights Normandy’s apple harvest.
  • Swedish Äppelmos - a purée made of apples, sugar, a touch of acidity brought by lemon juice, and perhaps, a few vanilla beans, a grated piece of nutmeg, cinnamon sticks or a few crushed pods of cardamom.
  • Polish Racuchy - sweet apple pancakes, often eaten as appetisers on New Year’s Eve.

5 ways to enjoy apples this season:

  1. In salads: Chop or grate and toss together with greens, nuts and your favourite vinaigrette.
  2. Quick slaw for your sandwiches: Cut into matchsticks and stir with coarsely grated carrots or finely sliced cabbage and mayonnaise.
  3. In soups: Add to your go-to soup with onion, garlic, vegetable stock, spices and beetroot, cauliflower, or parsnip for delicious sweet and savoury notes.
  4. In stews: Add a chopped apple to a hearty lentil stew with warming spices and other veggies.
  5. As a snack or dessert: Chop and pair with nut butter and Greek yoghurt.

TDK recipes to try


Human studies: Fabiani et al. R. Public Health Nutrition. 2016 - Guo et al. Food & function. 2017 - Gayer et al. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2019

History: Spengler et al. Front. Plant Sci. 2019



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