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How Many Apples a Day Keep your Gut Bacteria Happy?

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“Eat an apple on going to bed and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.”

At least, that’s what one Welsh publication advised its readership in the mid 19th century. The genesis of the adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, as near as we can mark it, was that publication.

Why did people think that? We know, of course, that doctors were as distrusted by the public and prohibitively expensive as they are now. Any advice about how to keep the doctor from your door sold papers. 

Many advances in medical science later, we understand a bit more about the humble apple and why keeping them on the menu might keep the doctor and his bills away.

After some intensive studying, it was discovered that the average half-pound apple – stem, peel, flesh, seeds, and calyx – contains more than 100 million bacteria. 

Now, the seeds are where that microbial community is the densest. If you don’t eat the core, you’re looking at closer to 10 million bacteria.

As to whether or not apples actually decrease your exposure to the healthcare system, one group was actually able to show that eating an apple a day does correlate with a reduction in your pharmaceutical costs over time (prescription meds) and doctor visits in total!

But that’s not really what we’re here for. We’re here because the apple, with its intense and varied microbial content, is a powerhouse for gut health.

Let’s take a bite out of the apple’s microbial profile…

Seeds in Your Gut Ain’t Bad

No, you won’t start to grow an apple tree in your intestines if you swallow the seeds… 

In fact, science says you SHOULD! But not all apples are created equally. 

Specifically, the most diverse community of beneficial bacteria can be found in organic and freshly harvested apples – if that’s beyond your reach, your regular old apples are still teeming with friendly little microorganisms. 

(Remember, diversity is key because it prevents one group of bacteria from overcrowding any others, allowing a full range of biological benefits.) 

Part of what makes the apple such an attractive bacterial vessel for your digestive tract is that we tend to eat them raw. Cooking, or really just exposing to heat, kills off bacteria, which can be great news if the bacteria is harmful.

In this case, biting into a fresh, organic, raw apple is best. 

During the analysis of organic vs. conventional apples, it was found that conventional apples could carry Escherichia-Shigella, a bacterial group including known pathogens, while organic apples didn’t carry that bacteria.

The researchers also found that organic apples carried Lactobacilli, but conventional apples did not.

But it isn’t only the specific varieties of bacteria and the sheer volume of them that make our guts so happy. 

Apples Feed the Good Bacteria

Probiotics and prebiotics are different, but deeply connected. 

Probiotics are the microorganisms that live in your gut (and elsewhere) that hold sway over our digestion, immunity, moods, comfort, skin health, and more.

Prebiotics are what they eat – namely, the fibers we’re not able to digest as humans. Just because we don’t use those fibers, doesn’t mean they don’t get used. They feed probiotics, and then we haven’t wasted any part of the food we’ve eaten, and we’ve contributed to the happiness and health of the bacteria that will take care of us!

Apples are loaded with prebiotics:

  • Pectin: Of an apple’s total fiber content, pectin accounts for about 50% – mostly found in the skin and core. Pectin helps to create butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that feeds good bacteria and starves bad bacteria. That means that those pathogens can’t adhere to the intestinal wall as easily! It also binds bile and cholesterol in the gut, which helps send them out of the body. 
  • Polyphenols: These antioxidants are associated with better digestive health and comfort, better fat metabolism, and reduction of bowel inflammation. Again, they’re found in the highest quantities in the peel!

These prebiotics can even help to lower H. pylori, an unfriendly flora that leads to digestive issues and major discomfort.

So how many apples should you be eating per day?

According to one Japanese study, two is the magic number. After just two weeks on double apple duty (Granny Smith are the best for gut health, they say), participants already showed increased populations of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli

The aphorism stands after all. But just to be safe, double up your apple dose!

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