This seems to be a rhyme whose origins are lost in antiquity but in fact it is quite modern and well know. It appears in its current form in 1922 . It derives from earlier form as it has morphed over the decades. Originally recorded in 1886 in the antiquarian series “Notes and Queries” as “Eat an apple on going to bed, And you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” by J P Phillips in Herfordshire. Presumably it was widespread as it has also been recorded in the Devon dialect “Ait a happle avore gwain to bed, An’ you’ll make the doctor beg his bread”
Over the next century, it evolved to “an apple a day, no doctor pay” and “an apple a day sends the doctor away.” It wasn’t until 1922 that the saying we know today was first documented.
But is there truth in the saying? Well it contains Vitamin C, a vitamin that prevents scurvy a disease prevalent in the poor and especially sailors. Cured nowadays with oranges and lemons but prior to their arrival from the West Indies, apples and Cider were a good but lesser source. You’ll get 8.4 mg of vitamin C in a medium apples, or 14 percent of your daily recommended intake. James Lind surgeon in the British Navy on the ship Salisbury conducted experiments in 1747 and found cider halted the disease. -see seperate Musing on Scurvy. Also apples contain fibre, and many micronutrients.
Apples provide other important vitamins and minerals. You’ll also get smaller amounts of vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin K, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, and folate.
Minerals in apples include potassium, manganese, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and iron
Apples contain many nutrients that can provide health benefits especially just below the peel—which contains chromium, a mineral that is important in assisting insulin action. Insulin is the hormone that helps to regulate blood sugars, enabling sugar to be utilised for energy. Also, the apple peel contains a greater percentage of phytonutrients when compared to the flesh of the apple. Lastly, the peels can aid in satiety because they contain fibre
About one-third of the fibre in apples is soluble mainly pectin. Research has shown that foods rich in soluble fibre can help to lower cholesterol.
Fresh apples are an excellent source of quercetin, plus they also have a large number of polyphenols
Quercetin is a type of phytochemical known as a flavonoid, which is found in the apple skin. Animal research and research using cell cultures have found that quercetin may help to protect against certain cancers and help to kill cancer cells. Notably, these types of studies can suggest possible helpful effects but they do not provide proof that such effects can be achieved in humans. Preliminary studies also suggest that quercetin may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Apples may also have positive effects on the bacteria in our colons. This is an area of research that is now receiving a great deal of attention. It appears that a healthy gut can help to prevent disease and maintain good health.
So how does this stack up in reality? Sadly not so well, a large cohort of data suggests. Published in JAMA a well respected medical journal albeit in the Apple Fools section in 2015. A retrospective analysis of the data from 08/08 and 09/10 of the National Health and Nutrition Survey showed a cohort of 8,399 people of which 9% ate more than one apple a day. Adjusting for confounding factors they attended their GP as often as non apple eaters! https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2210883
However I am sure they enjoyed the apples.