Everyone is familiar with the very common saying of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Is this really relevant and, if so, do apples lower cholesterol levels?
Apples are actually loaded with nutrients. They contain a lot of vitamins, antioxidants, and especially soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is the key in regards to reducing bad cholesterol as it acts in the same manner as a class of prescription cholesterol drugs called bile acid sequestors, such as Questran.
The way that bile acid sequestors work is that they essentially act as a sponge and soak up bile acids during digestion and then carry them out of the body as waste. The liver is the organ that creates bile acids and when it notices that there is a decrease in the amount of bile acids it begins more production. Why this is good for lowering bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) is because LDL cholesterol is used as a building block for bile acids. As more bile acids are being produced more LDL cholesterol is being pulled out of the blood stream.
The soluble fiber that apples are full of is called pectin. It is important to note that the bulk of the pectin found in an apple is concentrated within the skin. Not only that, but most of the antioxidants and vitamins are also found in the skin. Therefore, drinking apple juice is not a good alternative. It is best to eat whole apples. If you want to have apple juice, make your own using a blender so you get more nutrients by retaining the pulp. Another option is eating dried apples (with the skin).
By weight, a fresh apple contains 1-1.5% pectin. It is more concentrated when they are dried, whether as apple chips or as dried apple rings.
Besides pectin, apples contain polyphenols. Phenols are a class of antioxidants found in plants. They help to lower LDL levels by reducing the production of VLDL, which is a precursor of LDL. Lower levels of VLDL results in lower levels of LDL.
- The results of several studies indicate that apples may in fact lower bad cholesterol levels.
- The pectin in apples acts similar to the class of prescription cholesterol drugs called bile acid sequestors.
- Do not drink your apples – don’t substitute apple juice for whole apples. The skin and pulp are both full of the nutrients that you need.
- Two apples per day is the recommended amount to consume in order to see benefits.
- If you want a handy and portable way to consume your daily dose of apples, try dried apples.
So the question is – with the amount of soluble fiber (pectin) and polyphenols found in apples, do apples lower cholesterol levels? One important study that helps to answer this question involved feeding pectin to a group of hamsters that were engineered to have high cholesterol levels. Hamsters were used because their cholesterol levels respond to fiber similar to the way that humans do. Over a four week period, the group of hamsters being fed pectin experienced a lowering of their LDL cholesterol levels while their HDL (good) cholesterol levels increased.
While there is no definitive proof that apples alone can reduce cholesterol in humans, much of the research suggests that this is the case. Consuming two apples a day (or the equivalent in dried apples) seems to provide enough soluble fiber and polyphenols to make a significant difference in cholesterol levels.
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