12 health benefits of apricots
Apricots originated in Asia over 4000 years ago, and have travelled across the world to become a popular fruit. They thrive best in warm climates so many countries enjoy these delicious fruits as imports from hotter countries. They are relatives of plums, nectarines and peaches, and are enjoyed in a variety of different ways, from being a healthy snack to a feature of a decadent dessert.
Apricots have an excellent balance of nutrients which gives us boosts in healthy calories whilst keeping the bad stuff to a minimum. They are very low in cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium, and are a very good source of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A and dietary fibre. One apricot (of approximately 35g) contains 17 calories, most of which come from the sugars in the fruit.
Many people believe that sugar, no matter where it comes from, is bad for you. This is a slight misconception. The problem with sugar comes from overeating fructose. This is easy when sugar has been added to foods, such as in fizzy drinks, sweets and cakes. In fruit, however, where all the sugar is naturally occurring, it is much harder to over-consume fructose.
This is because most fruits, including apricots, take a while to eat, and so the sugars are processed slowly by the liver. They also contain fibre which can help add to the feeling of fullness. As a result of this, the body can process the sugar slowly and efficiently, and you will be less likely to seek out more food due to feeling unsatisfied.
Vitamins and Minerals In-depth
Apricots contain vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and dietary fibre.
Vitamin C is vital for maintaining a healthy immune system and fighting off infections. Our bodies do not naturally produce it, so we must find it in the food we eat. 1 apricot contains 6% of your daily recommended allowance (RDA) of vitamin C, so a few of these as a snack during the day will give you a much needed boost.
Apricots contain more vitamin A than most other food substances. Vitamin A, which may be better known as ‘beta-carotene’, is beneficial because it helps to form and maintain healthy skin, teeth, bones, and eyes. It is also an extremely powerful antioxidant which can help to prevent cancer, age related mascular degeneration (poor eyesight as a result of aging) and measles. One apricot contains 13% of your RDA of vitamin A.
Potassium is a mineral found in apricots (1 apricot contains 6% of your RDA) which is necessary for protecting blood vessels from thickening and from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is another name for damage done by free radicals, which are atoms in the body which have an unpaired electron. The atom attempts to find a molecule to pair with the electron in the body, but in doing so can cause massive damage to cells, including those making up the structure of blood vessels.
The damage caused by free radicals can lead to stroke and coronary heart disease, but ensuring you consume enough potassium can be protective against this. Research by Griep et al (2011) found that you must consume raw fruit and vegetables to gain the benefits however; processed fruits (including tinned apricots) do not have the same benefits.
Apricots also contain dietary fibre, which is very important for maintaining gut health. There are two forms of dietary fibre; soluble and insoluble. Apricots contain approximately half and half. Insoluble fibre is important for ensuring that waste is passed through the digestive system efficiently, and so can prevent constipation. Soluble fibre helps to maintain a feeling of fullness, which in turn can reduce the risk of further snacking later on.
The Benefits of Apricots
- Protection against free radicals
- Protection against eye damage
- Protection against inflammation
- Maintains a healthy heart
- Aids with weight loss
- Maintains bone health
- Improved fertility
- Improving ear aches
- Treating skin disorders
- Treating asthma
- Treating fever
- Treating iron-deficient anaemia
1. Protection against Free Radicals
Free radicals, as previously mentioned, are very harmful to the body in large quantities. They are important for controlling processes such as metabolism, but in the modern world where pollution, poor diet and stress are abundant, free radicals thrive.
They are created by oxidation (the gaining of oxygen), and are simple molecules which are missing an electron. They attempt to find another electron to fill in the gap, and in doing so severely damage our cells, including DNA. This can lead to serious health problems including cancer, premature ageing and degenerative diseases.
Antioxidants are the best way to combat free radicals. There are various types of antioxidant, and they work in many different ways. Apricots contain well-known antioxidants such as vitamin A and vitamin C, but they also contain less well-known flavonoids and carotenoids, including lycopene.
Flavonoids are plant compounds which have anti-inflammatory health benefits, support the cardiovascular and nervous system, and combat free radicals. The exact mechanisms by which flavonoids combat free radicals is unclear, however they do appear to be particularly effective in protecting red blood cells from damage.
Carotenoids are fat soluble pigments with strong anti-oxidant properties, and are particularly effective in men. Lycopene, a carotenoid, is responsible for the golden hue of the apricot, but as well as providing pigmentation it can also protect the body against heart disease (particularly in women) and prostate cancer in men.
Lycopene may be one of the most effective antioxidants, and it is found in abundance in apricots. Lycopene protects the heart by reducing blood levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, which can be a precursor to heart disease. It combats prostate and other cancers through destroying free radicals before they attach to your DNA and cause damage.
2. Protection against Eye Damage
Eye care is not on the top of everybody’s priority list, but when we notice that our eyesight is diminishing, it can become a real burden. The UK’s leading cause of eye degeneration is age-related. There are not many things you can do to protect against this, but one option is to change your diet.
By adding more vitamin C and vitamin A, you may well protect your eyes from further degeneration. Research has in fact shown that by eating three or more pieces of fruit a day, you can lower your risk of age-related mascular degeneration (ARMD) by 36% compared to people who eat half that amount (Cho et al, 2004).
Apricots are very high in both vitamin C and vitamin A. Vitamin C helps to protect against eye damage in a few ways. Firstly, it is responsible for the formation and maintenance of connective tissues, including collagen within the cornea of the eyeball and the delicate blood vessels in the retina.
A diet high in vitamin C can ensure that these structures are maintained well and protected from damage. Furthermore, vitamin C can help to reduce the formation of cataracts. These are protein bundles which form due to ageing and UV light exposure, and cause a clouding of the lens of the eye. They are the world’s leading cause of blindness.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and can protect enzymes present in the eyeball which break up these protein clumps. As previously mentioned, apricots also contain carotenoids, which can actually absorb some of the UV rays given off by the sun. This in turn can prevent cataracts from developing, and can maintain eye health.
Vitamin A is particularly useful in maintaining eye health as not only can it also prevent cataracts from developing, but it can also protect the eyes from developing xerophthalmia. This is a disease which means that the eye cannot produce tears and is more serious than it first appears, as it can lead to a very dry eyeball, severe pain, periods of blurred or reduced vision, and cornea damage.
Xerophthalmia is often preceded by night blindness; an inability to see in dim lighting or difficulty adapting to changes in lighting. Vitamin A is necessary to create rhodopsin, found in the ‘rods’ in the retina. Rods are cells which allow us to see in low-light conditions.
A lack of vitamin A can mean that rhodopsin is not created, and so the rods cannot work effectively. Night blindness can be improved and xerophthalmia prevented by ensuring that foods containing vitamin A, such as apricots, are a staple part of your diet.
3. Protection against Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process in the body as part of the healing process. Occasionally, this process can go awry and cause more problems than it helps. This occurs when the body is overloaded with toxins from the atmosphere, food you ingest, stress, infection and so forth.
When this happens, the body can turn on itself and start doing serious damage. Inflammation is implicated in a vast number of problems, including heart disease, arthritis and stomach problems.
Severe inflammation is somewhat difficult to treat with modern medicine, but dietary changes can have quite a profound impact. Apricots are one of the foods recommended for those with inflammatory diseases, particularly arthritis.
Apricots contain a phytochemical called quercetin. Phytochemicals are chemical compounds found in plants, and quercetin is particularly useful for inflammation in three separate ways.
Firstly, it can encourage the body to use its own anti-inflammatory system more effectively. There are cells in the body which release histamine, a chemical responsible for the allergic reaction. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Quercetin can stabilise these cells to ensure that when an inflammation occurs, they are more able to reduce its negative effects. This works particularly well when combined with vitamin C, which as we now know is found in abundance in apricots.
Quercetin is also effective against inflammation because it is antibacterial in nature. It can eliminate various enzymes which cause inflammation in the body, and may also be able to eliminate the enzyme protease, which causes HIV to replicate.
Therefore, if your inflammation is caused by infection, it can help to reduce the amount of infection, and as such, reduce inflammation.
Thirdly, quercetin can help with inflammation because it is an antioxidant, and so can protect the body against the damage caused by free radicals. Inflammation can create free radicals, but free radicals can also cause inflammation.
By eating apricots, the quercetin can help to eliminate free radicals from the body, reduce the amount of oxidative damage as a result of heart disease (which may create more free radicals), and to protect and regenerate vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant.
As inflammation can be both the cause and the result of a large variety of illnesses, and quercetin is so good at reducing inflammation, eating a diet rich in foods like apricots can be extremely beneficial to general health.
4. Maintains a Healthy Heart
Heart health is a very important issue in the UK. Poor diet and lack of exercise can cause a significant number of problems for the population, and coronary heart disease is the biggest killer in the UK. Heart health can be easily managed with a healthy lifestyle, but what you eat can have a big impact on how healthy your heart is. Apricots contain 3 main components which can be beneficial for your cardiovascular health:
- Potassium provides compounds in cell and bodily fluids which can help to regulate heart rate and blood pressure. It works by balancing out the amount of salt in the body. The kidneys have an important role in blood pressure because they balance out the amount of fluid in the body; more fluid means greater blood pressure. Eating salt increases the amount of sodium in the body, which reduces the kidney’s ability to remove excess fluid. High blood pressure can then increase the risk of other health complications including heart attack and stroke. Eating apricots are a good way to ingest a healthy amount of potassium (it is possible to have too much!) which will ensure that sodium levels are more effectively controlled.
- Phytochemicals found in apricots can help to remove the amount of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. Cholesterol can cause heart disease because it can build up on the walls of the blood vessels around the heart. This is a form of heart disease known as atherosclerosis. Blood flow to your heart is then decreased as arteries narrow, and as a result this can cause heart attack or stroke.
- Research has shown that vitamin A (beta-carotene) may also help to reduce damage by excess cholesterol. Tavani and La Vecchia (1999) performed a review in which they suggest that the production of free radicals may enhance the effects of atherosclerosis, and so effective antioxidants can be beneficial to remove this enhancement. There was a discrepancy in results between observational studies and intervention studies, and so it is important to take this research on board with some caution.
5. Supports Weight Loss
Apricots are a little known addition to a weight-loss regime. They contain insoluble dietary fibre, which can both absorb water to reduce bloating, and help to prolong a feeling of fullness. They also do contain a fair amount of sugar per serving, but this can help to satisfy cravings for sweet foods.
The UK government is currently trying to roll out a ‘sugar swaps’ initiative, which encourages people to eat fruit rather than sweets when they crave sugar. Apricots may be a particularly good choice because of the fibre they contain, which has the additional weight-loss properties.
You may see advice which suggests that dried apricots are good for weight loss, but I would caution you that with dried fruit the water has been removed but the sugar and calories remain the same. You will most likely end up consuming more calories with a handful of dried fruit because you’ll require more of it to feel full and satisfied.
6. Maintains Bone Health
The body requires a number of minerals to develop and maintain a healthy and functional skeleton. Apricots contain significant or moderate amounts of all of these minerals, including calcium, phosphorous, manganese and copper. All of these minerals are vital for the creation of bone matter.
Calcium is also stored in the bone and is extracted when the body requires it. Not having enough can cause bones to become weak and brittle. Menopause can be associated with bone loss, and so ensuring calcium is present in your diet is particularly important to pre-menopausal and menopausal women.
Phosphorous is used to ensure bones are strong, and both phosphorous and manganese help the body to absorb calcium. Copper helps to maintain the health of the bone as it creates collagen and connective tissue, and it also inhibits the breakdown of bone collagen. Finally, it can prevent the onset of osteoporosis, a condition in which bones are weak, fragile and more prone to breakage.
Apricots may not be your first choice when looking for bone-healthy foods, but as they contain all of these different minerals, they would be a good addition to your diet.
7. Improved Fertility
Apricots originated in Asia thousands of years ago. In China they used to be referred to as ‘moons of the faithful’, as they were thought to be beneficial to women’s fertility. Modern science can tell us that this is in fact true!
Research by Mendiola et al (2010) has found that a diet low in antioxidant nutrients is associated with a poorer semen quality in patients attending fertility clinics. Specifically, subjects who ingested less carbohydrates, fibre, folate, vitamin C and lycopene (all of which are found in apricots) showed worse sperm concentration, worse ability for sperm to move (sperm motility) and fewer number of ‘normal forms’ of sperm (i.e. sperm without abnormalities).
Higher levels of vitamin A were also positively related to sperm quality, but only when toxins such as pollution and smoking were taking into account.
The nutrients found in apricots, many of which have been mentioned above, have other uses which can also help to ensure a successful pregnancy:
- Vitamin A, found in high amounts in apricots, is crucial for enzymes which aid in the implantation of your fertilised egg on the wall of the womb. It is also essential for the growth of various body parts, including the hearts, lungs, kidneys, hearing and vision. Thirdly, vitamin A helps to keep the baby’s DNA healthy due to its antioxidant properties, and it also helps to repair tissue that has been damaged during the birthing procedure.
- Iron, as mentioned previously, is vital for the creation of haemoglobin, which in turn allows red blood cells to carry oxygen all around the body. One out of three women who are pregnant become iron-deficient, which can have negative impacts on the development of the foetus. Oxygen needs to be supplied not only to your body, but also to the baby’s, and so iron deficiency may mean that the foetus isn’t getting enough oxygen. This can inhibit all areas of foetal development.
- Magnesium can help keep the womb from contracting prematurely, which could lead to premature labour. It also plays a role in the production of healthy bones and liver, energy production, balancing blood sugar levels and nerve function.
- Potassium is necessary during pregnancy as it protects against high blood pressure and osteoporosis (of which pregnancy is a risk factor).
- Fibre is necessary as during pregnancy the body produces a greater number of hormones, some of which can cause constipation. Fibre allows the intestinal system to work efficiently and effectively to protect against uncomfortable blockages.
- Folic acid found in fruits like apricots can help prevent against congenital disorders such as spina bifida, a condition where the spinal column doesn’t fully close, and nerves remain exposed. The exact cause of spina bifida is unknown, but folic acid is most effective as a preventative when taken in the earliest stages of pregnancy.
8. Improving Ear-Aches
The oil derived from apricot kernels is thought to be an effective treatment for earache. Placing a few drops in a painful ear canal may reduce pain. The mechanism by which this might work has not been fully researched yet, but some suggest it may be due to the antioxidant and antibacterial nature of the nutrients found in the fruit.
9. Treating Skin Disorders
Apricots have a variety of properties which make them one of the best natural substances for treating skin problems
Apricot oil is very helpful in the treatment of skin disorders, including dermatitis, eczema and acne. This is due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Apricot flesh is also particularly good for treating acne. It can be applied as a paste to treat spots and acne, and when used in a facial scrub it can help to prevent their development. The juice of an apricot, obtained by blending the leaves of the fruit, can also be used as a treatment for sunburn, eczema and scabies.
Apricot is often found as an ingredient in cosmetics and skincare products because of its antioxidant nature. It is also very moisturising but also absorbed easily by the skin, meaning no excess oil is left over (which may cause skin problems). The ease of absorption also means that for dry skin conditions, apricot oil is able to penetrate the barrier of the skin to moisturise and sooth dry skin effectively.
It is high in gamma linoleic acid (GLA), a fatty substance which enables your skin to maintain a healthy moisture balance. Apricot oil also helps the skin to retain elasticity, clarity and suppleness. Vitamins A and E (powerful antioxidants), also found in apricot oil, can help to slow down the signs of aging due to free radicals.
10. Treating Asthma
Asthma is a chronic condition which can be set off by allergies, stress and exercise. Asthma attack symptoms include coughing, wheezing, struggling to breathe, tightness in the chest, and in severe cases asthma attacks can require hospitalisation to prevent mortality. It currently affects approximately 5.4 million people in the UK and although the cause is not known, both genetics and environmental factors are thought to play a role.
Most asthma attacks are triggered by an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions occur when histamine is produced, a process triggered by immune system cells. This occurs when the cells detect a toxin, pollutant or infection in the body. This can occur when pollutants such as dust, smoke, pollen, air-pollution and mould are inhaled. When an allergic reaction occurs, inflammation begins to occur as a result of the body’s natural immune response.
Asthma attacks can occur as a response to the body’s natural inflammatory response which has gotten out of hand. It is an inflammatory condition of the airways, whereby the bronchi (small tubes which carry air in and out of the lungs) become inflamed and sensitive. Exacerbated immune responses such as this are often as a result of an excess number of free radicals in the body.
Therefore, antioxidants found in fruits such as apricots which treat other inflammatory conditions are also effective at reducing the symptoms of asthma. A meta-analysis (review of many studies) conducted by Moreno-Macias (2014) found that there is evidence that antioxidants can reduce the symptoms of asthma, but that a healthy lifestyle can mediate this effect.
11. Treating Fever
During a fever the body is often drained of nutrients through sweating and vomiting. Apricot juice is often given to patients who suffer from fever because it provides many nutrients necessary to fight infection, such as vitamin C, and it also gives the body much needed calories, water and minerals. It can also help to re-balance acid levels in the stomach, and help the body to fight off bacterial infections. As well as helping the body to regain the nutrients it has lost, it can help the patient feel more comfortable, as it is extremely thirst-quenching.
12. Treating Iron-Deficient Anaemia
One apricot contains approximately 1% of the RDA of iron. This may not sound like a lot, but apricots also contain a small but very useful amount of copper. Copper is helpful for ensuring that iron is absorbed into the body so that it can be used effectively. Iron is an important mineral as it is found in every cell in the body, and is vital for the creation of blood cells.
Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body and maintain organ function, and so iron is a very important mineral for keeping the body healthy. Anaemia as a result of iron-deficiency is a common problem and results in feelings of dizziness, tiredness, and heart palpitations.
Consuming apricots in generous amounts can increase the production of haemoglobin (the molecule in red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body), which can be particularly important for women who have a heavy menstrual cycle, and for people suffering with anaemia.
Things to Be Aware Of
As with most types of food, there are risks associated if you are prone to allergies. Those who suffer from a birch pollen allergy may find that apricots also set off an allergic reaction because both contain the same proteins which cause the reaction.
One more note of caution which was touched on earlier is that many people recommend dried apricots for health benefits. Although they are a very enjoyable food and are healthier than many other snacks, one dried apricot contains the same calories and sugars in it as one fresh apricot, but with much less weight.
You may find that you need to eat a lot more dried apricots to feel as full and satisfied as you would when eating fresh apricots. As a result, you may consume many more calories and much more sugar than is necessarily healthy. Dried fruit is a good substitute for crisps and sweets, but it is important to be aware of their nutritional content.