There’s a real reason for the expression “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” If eaten regularly, apples can actually protect against such diseases as diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Apples are a rich source of dietary polyphenols, which are one type of free radical-fighting antioxidant in the body. The high content of such polyphenols as quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid are what make apples so protective, nutritious and delicious.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the No. 1 killer in the United States, and it affects more than 1 in 3 women, including nearly half of all African-American women and 34 percent of white women. And although we’ve seen a steady decline in CVD rates among men over the past 25 years, the decline in women’s cases has not been as dramatic.
CVD affects women much more frequently during menopause due to the hormonal shifts that take place in the body. A woman’s heart and blood vessels are largely protected by estradiol — the predominant form of estrogen during her childbearing years. As the production of this form of estrogen decreases during the menopause transition, her risk of CVD starts climbing considerably.
So, researchers decided to test the theory that apples and their heart-healthy compounds could protect menopausal women from CVD, and particularly its risk factors like high cholesterol.
One hundred and sixty healthy postmenopausal women (1 to 10 years past menopause) were randomly assigned to one of two dietary intervention groups. The test group ate 75 grams (g) per day of dried apple, while the control group consumed 100 g per day of dried plum. Fasting blood samples were taken at baseline and again at 3, 6 and 12 months to test cholesterol levels.
At the end of the study, researchers found that the only significant difference between the apple and plum groups was a significantly lower total cholesterol reading in the apple group at six months.
When they compared results within the apple test group (literally, apples to apples), they noted more significant results. The most significant result they saw was in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” form).
At three months, the apple-eating group had significantly lower serum levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by 9 percent and 16 percent, respectively, compared to baseline. These values went down to 13 percent and 24 percent, respectively, at six months, but stayed constant thereafter.
Researchers also found that daily apple consumption profoundly improved atherogenic risk ratios (the development of plaques) in as little as three months.
Eat Your Apples
Considering the many health benefits of apples, including the cholesterol-lowering effects found in this study, there really is no downside to eating an apple or two a day. (The 75 g of dried apple used in this study is the equivalent of about two medium apples.)
Unlike many fruits, apples are always available year-round, which makes them easy to find anywhere you go. Try to choose apples that are organic whenever possible, as apples tend to have higher pesticide residue levels than other fruits and vegetables.
Whole fruit is a better option when it comes to nutritional value, but you can munch on dried apples, too, as the women in the study did. But be careful not to eat too much dried fruit, as it’s pretty high in sugar.
The best part is choosing the type of apple you like best out of the literally hundreds of different varieties: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Braeburn, Gala… the list goes on and on!
 Sheau C et al. Daily apple versus dried plum: Impact on cardiovascular disease risk factors in postmenopausal women. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 Aug;112(8):1158-68.