Apples: For Intestinal & Overall Health

I’m all about easy, efficient ways parents can use food to improve the health of their kids.

We’re talking about strategies for busy families so we have to focus on yummy and nutritious foods that are easy to prepare and that give busy parents big bang for their buck. 

This is why I love apples.

Let me tell you a little about what the research has to say about the humble apple.

It's all about the fibre... sort of

Apples contain a hefty dose of pectin, a type of non starchy, soluble fibre that is highly fermentable by bacteria.

Because pectin resists digestion (we lack the enzymes to break it apart), it ends up in the colon where it literally feeds the intestinal bacteria living there (If you’re new to the role gut microbes play in your child’s health take a look at this video post).

When the bacteria in the colon eat up the pectin, one of the bi-products produced is the short chain fatty acid called butyrate.

Let me tell you a little bit about butyrate….

Butyrate and infection

As these researchers found out, butyrate can help protect us from pathogenic infection like E-coli.

Butyrate, it turns out, feeds a protective cycle in the gut by increasing the oxygenation of the gut lining and thereby limiting the availability of oxygen to enter the lumen (the part of the intestine that comes in contact with food). This essentially shifts the environment of the lumen to one that is not conducive to pathogenic oxygen-loving bacteria like salmonella and E-coli.

Put another way…. the presence of butyrate instructs the cells on the gut lining to gobble up oxygen so that little is left to enter the lumen. An oxygen-depleted lumen is not a friendly place for pathogenic bacteria that might be introduced via food or water (which happen to love oxygen). So the beneficial flora (which happen to not love oxygen) can gain the upper hand and push pathogens out.

Maybe this is why apple sauce is a traditional remedy for tummy aches and food poisoning. More apples = more butyrate.

Butyrate and digestive rehabilitation....

The cells of the intestinal lining are fragile. They quickly become damaged in the presence of inflammation but, luckily, they also quickly regenerate when the environment is right and the building blocks are available.

Butyrate helps promote epithelial cell growth and improve intestinal barrier function.

Butyrate’s ability to influence cell growth is in part why pectin has been studied for cancer prevention and treatment

Butyrate and constipation/diarrhea

The depletion of butyrate is emerging as an important mechanism contributing to antibiotic-induced irritable bowel syndrome

Because it seems to play a role in regulating the muscle contractions of the intestinal tract butyrate can resolve both constipation and diarrhea

And then there’s the pectin itself….

Cleaning and Detox

Pectin has been shown to increase the urinary excretion of certain heavy metals including lead, arsenic and cadmium and generally act as an intestinal janitor helping maintain the health of the gut.

Apples and weight management

Fermentable fibre like pectin has also been shown to play a role in weight management. In part we can credit its blood sugar stabilizing effect for this, but also, fibre can actually alter genetic expression related to fat deposition. Fibre like pectin seems to be capable of shifting bacterial gene expression to favour the expression of Bacteroides – a genus of bacteria found in abundance in normal weight humans and deficient in obese humans.

But there’s more to my love of apples than the butyrate-producing pectin...

Apples and allergy

This study concluded that apple consumption can reduce symptoms of allergy. They credit the effect to the polyphenols in apples which, they suggest, can help immune regulation through influence over mast cells and histamine production and by supporting T-cell function which play an important role in the development of oral tolerance.

It’s one of many studies corroborating this effect of polyphenols in allergy resolution.

Regeneration of the epithelial lining is also a key factor for immune system sensitization and, as discussed, butyrate can help here.  

Apples and inflammation

C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, has also been shown to go down when apple intake goes up. This time it seems to be the flavonoids to thank.

Inflammation has been connected with most disease states including cardiovascular disease, most autoimmune diseases, allergies, some cancers, and many mental illnesses.

All this to say....

Because apples contain pectin and certain phytonutrients (like flavonoids and polyphenols), their consumption has been shown again and again to improve health markers. And, because they are delicious and easy to access they have become a favourite strategy of mine.

Apples support each of my 3 Core Dietary Strategies for Raising Resilience making them, in my mind, a superfood.

This is why I’ve incorporated stewed apples into the 3 week meal plan included in my Raising Resilience Jumpstart program to help kids with ADHD, autism, aggression and anxiety.


A touch of caution...

Some kids react poorly to apples. There could be a variety of reasons for this.

  • Apple cross reacts with latex and birch pollen. So if your child has an allergy to either of these, apples might cause an allergic-type reaction.
  • Their fermentability make apples a FODMAP food. In some people this can cause bloating and intestinal pain. If this happens, reduce the amount or try pears. 
  • Lastly, if you’ve read my book, you’ll have learned how some children with self regulation struggles (impulsivity, hyperactivity, aggressive outbursts etc) react to dietary phenols. Apples are high in phenols, which is, you’ve just learned, partly what makes them so health promoting. But if your child reacts to phenols you’ll have to address the underlying contributors to that before using this strategy (often this has to do with the lack of a particular enzyme).

So go ahead and enjoy apples!

For best benefit stew your apples and make them into sauce. I suggest keeping the peels on because the content of phenolic compounds, dietary fibre, and minerals are higher in apple peel. You can use a high powered blender to pulverize the peel and integrate it into a nice sauce if your child is sensitive to the texture of the peel. If your child reacts to phenols, try peeling the apples to see if that reduces the reaction. They will still get some benefit. Give your child a little bit with every meal.

Food hold a huge potential to help your child. You just need to learn how to use this tool efficiently and systematically.

For more on the connection between food and your child's behaviour, watch this free video training. 



Dietary fibre and intestinal health:

Microbiota, butyrate and protection from pathogens:

Butyrate depletion and IBS:

Butyrate and constipation:

Butyrate and diarrhea:

Pectin and heavy metals:

Pectin and cancer:

Pectin and weight:

Apples, polyphenols and allergy:

Butyrate and the epithelial lining:

Apples, flavonoids and CRP:

Phenolic compounds in apple peels:

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field