An apple a day: why traditional fruits are often healthier than 'superfoods'

December 17, 2019

Ever since falling on Isaac Newton’s head, the humble apple has proven itself to be small but mighty. Now research suggests this extends to the fruit’s health benefits, as eating two apples per day could lower ‘bad’ cholesterol.  

The study from the University of Reading monitored 40 people and found that eating two apples per day lowered their levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol by almost four per cent.  

 

This could be because of its high fibre content. “Apples are particularly high in soluble fibre,” explains Linia Patel, a registered dietitian and member of the British Dietetic Association. This soluble fibre “helps lower the ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood,” she says.

 

It’s not the first time that health experts have sung an apple’s praises. The fruit has also been “associated with lower risks of cardiovascular, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer,” according to The Great British Apples’ Health Research Review, from Professor Thomas Sanders, the Emeritus Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London. The review also linked the apple to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes because it contains polyphenols. 

 

Before you start buying apples in bulk, however, Patel says that the fruit isn’t actually that special. “It’s not just about apples, it’s about eating any kind of fruit and vegetable which gives you fibre.” This includes bananas, berries and cabbage, as well as apples, as they contain high quantities of soluble fibre (although wholegrains, such as oats and lentils, contain a much higher quantity). No one particular fruit is better than the other, Patel adds. “There’s no winning gold-star one, it’s about variety.”

 

We should be aiming to eat 30 different kinds of fruit and veg per week, according to recent research. This variety is important, Patel explains, because of the nutritional benefits from the different colours of fruit and veg. Colour is important because it translates into phytochemicals (also called phytonutrients), which you find in plant-based foods.  

 

When you eat a piece of fruit or veg, these phytochemicals travel into the large intestine, where the gut bacteria breaks them down and releases molecules called short-chain fatty acids, vitamins and hormones. “These are the molecules that have been really important because they have a link with how our gut bacteria communicates with our brain to impact our mental health and also conditions like obesity,” Patel says. 

 

The level of phytochemicals is “just as important” as the level of fibre, as both have different roles in the body. A melon, for instance, might have a lower level of soluble fibre, compared to an apple, but it “still has important phytonutrients,” Patel says.

 

She therefore recommends a variety of fruit and veg, as they contain different levels of phytochemicals, such as bananas, berries, apples, pears, spinach, kale, mushrooms and tomatoes. 

 

You’ll notice that she does not recommend running to your nearest Whole Foods and stocking up on chia seeds. “You don’t have to get these really expensive superfoods to get the same health benefits you can get by looking at simple British produce,” Patel explains. 

 

Indeed, a ‘superfood’ is “not even a scientifically defined term” and is “more a marketing term,” she says, used to describe foods that are dense in nutrients. This density can be misleading, however, because you can usually only consume these foods in small quantities. For instance, you can only have a spoonful of spirulina, as opposed to eating tubs of it, “so you’re not getting as much nutrition as they sell you at the beginning,” Patel says.

 

She concludes that “there’s no such thing as a superfood, but there is such a thing "a super diet”. As such, you can “get the same benefits from eating a diet that has very basic foods”. These basic foods include British fruit staples, such as pears, berries, cabbage, carrots and, of course, the humble apple.  

 

Source: The Telegraph

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