Numerous research studies support the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples (Malus sp., Rosaceae) contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals vital for good health. It’s not just the flesh of an apple that provides nutrients, but the polyphenols in apple skins have powerful documented health benefits.
According to one study in Finland, people who ate five apples a week had the world’s lowest rate of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
An apple with skin ON contains 50% MORE phytonutrients than a peeled one!
Apple skins have exceptionally high concentrations of antioxidants. They also contain compounds (triterpenoids) with significant anti-cancer capabilities. Particularly so, when it comes to preventing liver, colon and breast cancer. Research shows apple peels and extracts may also help lower cancer risk for several types of cancer.
With so many health benefits, it’s worth exploring the pros and cons of eating apple skin.
Is Apple Skin Safe to Eat?
It depends on how the apples are grown and how well they are washed. If you grow your own without chemicals, there’s no issue of course. Unfortunately, chemically grown apples absorb the sprays into the flesh, not just on the skin surface.
In the 2019 EWG Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, conventionally grown apples again made it into the top 5 most contaminated fruit and vegetables in their ‘Dirty Dozen’ list. Over 90% of apple samples tested positive for two or more pesticide residues. Apple skins contain higher nutrient value than flesh. However, they have also tested for a greater concentration of toxic chemicals.
Unfortunately, in some countries, conventionally grown apples are drenched in diphenylamine after harvest. The aim is to prevent spoiling in storage. This chemical, however, has been linked to some cancers. Apple scab disease is treated with fungicides up to 15 times a year!
Why are Apples Sprayed?
Commercially grown apple trees tend to attract a variety of pest insects and diseases. Apple orchards are typically monocultures. With so many host trees, they’re a sitting target!
Chemical-free apple growers use organic and biodynamic methods, that minimise chemical inputs. They often use integrated pest management strategies (IPM) to overcome pest issues. A home gardener growing a couple of apple trees doesn’t have the same scale of problems to deal with.
Apple growers spray their trees to produce large, blemish-free fruit that meets consumer demand for perfect looking produce. This yields the best price but results in unnecessary wastage. Consumer expectations are actually part of the problem! An imperfect apple with surface blemishes grown without chemicals doesn’t look as attractive. Even though it’s sweet and nutritious.
Consumers need more tolerance for ‘ugly produce’. Truly ‘perfect’ fruit is safe to eat!
Wax Coatings on Apples
Apples produce a natural protective wax coating. This helps the fruit prevent moisture loss and enhances firmness. The waxy coating slows down natural spoilage. It acts as a physical barrier, preventing microorganisms from entering the fruit.
Dr. Joe Kemble, Professor of Horticulture at Auburn University explains:
“The waxy coating can appear milky sometimes, but if you rub it gently, you can actually get it to shine. The major cyclic component of apple fruit wax is called ursolic acid and is highly water-repellent. Research has shown that ursolic acid is capable of inhibiting various types of cancer cells and can serve as a starting material for synthesis of more potent bioactive compounds such as antitumor agents.”
However, farmers often add another wax coating to extend shelf storage life. Wax coatings may be naturally sourced from trees, plant leaves, and insects. Waxes are also made from synthetic lab polymers and petroleum products.
How to Clean Apples Naturally
No matter what kind of apples you buy, it’s common sense to wash them well. Wash apples with a soft brush in warm water. Add a tablespoon each of vinegar or lemon juice and baking soda. This solution may help dissolve the wax and remove some surface pesticides and chemicals. Systemic chemicals inside the fruit, however, will remain.
Want to avoid waxed apples? Request wax free apples from your produce manager or local farmer.
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How to Choose Healthy Apples
Want to reduce your exposure to chemically grown apples and still get the health benefits? Try these options.
- Choose to buy biodynamic, certified organic, homegrown or unsprayed apples. Support growers who avoid chemicals. There are many urban farmers who choose not to pay for organic certification. The best growers focus on soil health and nutrient-dense produce.
- Seek out local producers at farmers markets, food swaps, roadside farm stands, natural food stores or community gardens. Walk and talk! Chat to backyard farmers in your neighbourhood. You may discover imperfect, but delicious, seasonally grown or even wild apples! Apples grown in healthy soil may be a nutritious option if they’re chemical free.
- Ask challenging questions! Food retailers have a duty of care to tell you how it’s been grown. Then you can make informed choices. Your health depends on it.
- Have conversations at your retailer. Find out the story behind how the fruit is grown and stored. Cold storage apples may be up to a year old!
- Research the apple variety you buy. Some heritage cultivars have more anti-cancer properties than popular commercial varieties.
- Grow your own! Consider planting an apple tree. You could be harvesting your own delicious fruit in 3-4 years.
With the wealth of potential health benefits apples offer, they are a fruit to enjoy on a regular basis. This article provides food for thought to help you make informed choices about the apples YOU eat!
References & Resources:
- Shoji T and Muira T. Chapter 104 – Apple Polyphenols in Cancer Prevention. Polyphenols in Human Health and Disease, Volume 2, 2014, pages 1373-1383.
- What’s On My Food? A searchable database designed to make the public problem of pesticide exposure visible and more understandable. This free tool tracks bee-toxic pesticide residues alongside the ones with human health implications with updated government toxicology data.
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2019. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
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