If reducing the risk of several chronic diseases and providing plenty of nutritional and nutritional benefits helps keep the doctor away, studies show that apples easily meet those criteria. Apples are an excellent food for preventing disease and promoting health, and they are most in season and at their peak in the fall in the United States.
However, there are red flag problems with apples that most people don’t know about. Apples are consistently on the Environmental Working Group’s list of produce with the highest concentrations of harmful pesticides, and some apples on the market are now genetically modified and a significant portion of the population wants to avoid them.
Below is the full scoop on apples: their many benefits and warnings about potential risks from modern pesticide use and genetic modification.
Rich source of phytochemicals
Apples are a widely consumed, rich source of vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium and phytochemicals, non-nutritive plant compounds with many health benefits. Thousands of phytochemicals have been identified in foods, but there are still many that have yet to be identified.
Flavonoids are the main type of phytochemicals in apples, powerful antioxidants that fight body-damaging and aging free radicals. In a Finnish study of nearly 10,000 people, flavonoid intake reduced overall mortality. Apples were one of the main sources of dietary flavonoids that showed the strongest associations with reduced mortality or longer life.
Apples for weight loss
Apples are high in water and dietary fiber, which makes them filling. They are also lower in carbohydrates and calories than other sources of carbohydrates such as grains and beans. For these reasons, eating them can help with weight management.
In one study, eating a whole apple increased satiety for four hours longer than consuming the same amount of apple juice or puree. This is because a whole apple reduces gastric emptying, the rate at which your stomach empties its contents.
Experiments on animals and humans have shown that eating apples in various forms can lead to weight loss in overweight people, and some studies suggest that the polyphenols in apples may have anti-obesity effects.
Reducing the Risk of Cancer and Other Diseases
“Many epidemiological studies have linked apples to a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and asthma,” says a review of scientific research published in the Nutrition Journal.
“In vitro and animal studies have shown that apples have high antioxidant activity, inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, reduce lipid oxidation, and lower cholesterol, potentially explaining their role in reducing the risk of chronic disease.”
Human and animal studies show that eating apples can improve blood vessel function, cholesterol metabolism, and inflammation—factors that explain their protective effects against cardiovascular disease. A 2015 study suggests that the fiber and polyphenols in apples benefit the composition of the gut microbiome, which may play a previously unrecognized role in reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors.
In terms of cancer protection, a 2011 article titled “A Comprehensive Review of Apples and Apple Components and Their Relationship to Human Health” has “very plausible mechanisms” by which apples may reduce the risk of cancer in humans. Test-tube studies show that apple polyphenols inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Along with the antioxidant properties of apples, this effect of their polyphenols is believed to act as a “chemopreventive” action, reducing a person’s risk of developing cancer or keeping it from returning. Apple pectin fiber may help provide other cancer-fighting properties.
With lung disease, particularly asthma, researchers believe the lungs are particularly vulnerable to damage due to high and continuous oxygen exposure. Apples can protect lung function and help prevent inflammatory and allergic lung diseases such as asthma due to their antioxidant potential and phytochemical content.
Other Health Benefits
A large ongoing trial found that women who ate an apple a day had a 28 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who did not.
The previously mentioned 2011 review article summarized research suggesting that apples may have beneficial effects on outcomes related to Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline in aging, and bone health.
That review article concluded that the data on apple products and reduced disease risk were “provocative and varied.” The combined phytochemical and nutrient profiles of apples show “potential to be potent in the prevention of several chronic diseases in humans.”
Beware of pesticides
As studies show that apples are beneficial, many synthetic chemical pesticides are applied to non-organic apples, which may offset some of their benefits or add new health risks.
Each year since 2004, the Environmental Working Group has updated the Buyer’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce and compiled a “Dirty Dozen” list of the produce with the most pesticide residues. Apples are generally near the top of the list because they contain an average of 4.4 pesticide residues, including those in high concentrations. Apples made the Dirty Dozen list again in 2022.
In 2016, tests conducted by Department of Agriculture scientists on raw apples found diphenylamine in 80 percent of them. Diphenylamine is a controversial chemical and has been banned from apples imported from Europe since 2014.
But pesticide concerns go far beyond diphenylamine. A database of pesticides used on various US crops, compiled by Beyond Pesticides, shows that apples grown with toxic chemicals can sometimes have low pesticide residues:
- There are 109 different pesticides that can be used on apples;
- 94 pesticides, including the problematic herbicide glyphosate, have been linked to chronic health problems (such as cancer);
- 39 of the pesticides are highly toxic and create a dangerous environment for agricultural workers.
Many pesticides used in apples are also harmful to wildlife and the environment. According to the database:
- 92 of the pesticides that can be used on apples are toxic to living things;
- 44 is considered toxic to honey bees and other insect pollinators;
- 25 pollute streams or groundwater.
While not all pesticides on the list are applied to all apples, it is impossible to tell which pesticides have been applied to any given apple on your store shelf. The main ways to protect yourself are to buy organic produce or talk to local apple farmers about the pesticides they use.
Genetically modified apples
Another relatively new issue is the introduction of genetically modified (GM) apples, designed purely for cosmetic effect. These apples are rarely openly labeled as GM.
Arctic® apples by Okanagan Specialty Fruits are apples that have been genetically modified to not turn brown immediately when cut or crushed. This modification uses a relatively new genetic engineering technology known as RNA interference (RNAi), which interferes with the natural production of the enzyme (i.e., polyphenol oxidase) that causes the fruit to turn brown. [PPO]) by silencing the PPO genes that express it, thereby dramatically reducing the amount of the enzyme in apples, according to The Non-GMO Project. The apples, which are planned to be sold in containers, pre-cut slices or cubes, have the Arctic® name, logo and square QR code on their packages.
The Center for Food Safety said the USDA’s environmental assessment was inadequate and did not properly characterize the PPO genes, their functions, and the effects of silencing on the apple tree as a whole, before those apples were released to market. United States of America. The center noted that PPO genes in other plants have been shown to be associated with resistance to pathogens, and silencing them could lead to greater susceptibility to disease and pests, which could result in increased pesticide use in GM apples.
According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, about half of US adults are concerned about the health effects of genetically modified foods, and according to a 2018 survey, about half of US consumers are at least somewhat wary of GMOs. The short- and long-term health and environmental effects of gene silencing in apples are unknown.
In addition, the non-browning cosmetic effect is unnecessary, because there are other ways to prevent apples from browning when sliced: for example, pour some lemon juice or some other form of vitamin C on sliced apples.
If you want apples that don’t brown easily when cut, try Opal apples, a non-GMO variety that doesn’t brown naturally when cut. They are warm golden yellow in color and taste similar to Honeycrisp apples.
The main way to avoid both pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is to buy organic produce. USDA Organic certified foods are prohibited from using synthetic chemical pesticides and GMOs.
Get the most out of your apple
Apples are powerful, nutrient-dense, disease-preventing foods. To get the most health benefits from them with the lowest level of potential risks, eat apples whole-food with the skin on, which contains the highest amount of protective nutrients, and buy organic varieties.