Written by Emily Majorkiewicz
At some point during your childhood you probably heard the phrase “an apple a day will keep the doctor away” to encourage consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables. But why does the phrase specifically mention an apple? Do apples hold some type of nutritious value over other fruits, or were they simply chosen because they better fit the rhyme? Let’s explore the origin and merit behind this popular idiom.
Originally phrased “Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread,” this proverb was first recorded in Wales during the 1860s . Although the saying is only 150 years old, the health value of apples had been known long before this. According to Caroline Taggart, author of “An Apple A Day: Old-Fashioned Proverbs and Why They Still Work,” the beneficial properties of apples were known and used even 1,500 years ago in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest forms of holistic medicine .
Indeed, apples are known to be excellent sources of vitamin C, quercetin, and pectin, all of which have been linked to possible decreases in the risk of cancers . Vitamin C in particular has been known to benefit the immune system by boosting its function, while quercetin possesses chemical properties that can neutralize free radicals within the body that are often associated with the sort of DNA damage that leads to cancer development. As a fiber, pectin decreases low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels of cholesterol when it dissolves in blood, doubling as a factor that reduces blood pressure .
Other fruits, however, are also made up of similar vitamins and nutrients. The reason apples were chosen for the popular phrase has to do with the time period of the idiom’s first recording. At the time of the popular phrase’s creation, apples were commonly grown throughout the region. Once harvested, they could be stored in jars as preserves for several months at a time, and thus could be consumed during colder seasons .
Of course, although apples can reduce the risk of cancers and lower blood pressure, apple consumption is not a perfect substitute for healthcare and normal check-ups. A variety of fruits and vegetables, which combined, would provide all necessary vitamins and minerals, is key to maintaining wellness. Above all, diet is only one factor that contributes to health. Exercise and genetics are factors that must be considered as well.
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 Taggart, Caroline. An Apple a Day: Old-fashioned Proverbs and Why They Still Work. London: Michael O'Mara, 2013. Print.
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