Looking For A Probiotic For Gut Health? Try An Apple05:20
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Apples imported from the U.S., are seen at the Beethoven market in Mexico City. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)
Apples imported from the U.S., are seen at the Beethoven market in Mexico City. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)

We have all seen the expensive pills and yogurts at the grocery store that promote themselves as probiotic supplements. But new research shows that perhaps the best probiotic aid out there is the one your grandmother promoted: the apple. Other fresh fruits and vegetables aren't far behind.

In his latest article, "The Best Probiotics,” Dr. James Hamblin, staff writer at the Atlantic, makes the case that apples — and fresh produce and grains in general — are a great source of important nutrients, fibers and microbes.

More controversially, though, he recommends eating the fruit “from bottom to top” — including the “fibrous core.”

“I don't mean to stir up your listeners,” Hamblin (@jameshamblin) tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “But, yeah, an apple core by itself, it's not as sweet as eating the rest of the apple. But when you take the bites from the bottom, the core becomes a smaller proportion of it, and it's barely noticeable, and you're getting good fiber, and it minimizes a little bit of food waste.

“So, it's kind of a win-win-win.”

Interview Highlights

On apples versus multivitamins as a source of important nutrients

“We've known that produce contains microbes, and we're starting to quantify that and figure out which sorts are in which kinds and how they should be consumed to ideally get the best microbes. That's far off. But an apple itself, an average apple has about 100 million different microbes in it. So, it's not a ton on the scale that we're talking about, but it's still a lot, and it's a reminder that we've had these enduring questions — like why should an apple be healthier than taking a multivitamin that has the same nutrients in it? And you realize there are all these components to it, like the fiber and the microbes that are interacting with our gut biome and stimulating our immune system in ways that [are] still mysterious to us. But they're sort of confirming the old wisdom that we knew it was healthier to eat a lot of good food, and this is a mechanism that might explain why.”

On whether he recommends people take vitamin supplements

“I'm saying to think about supplements closer to the way you might think about a medication, and I say this for nutritional supplements too. There are going to be use cases for particular people who have particular dietary limitations and lifestyles and medical conditions, and that's why it's important to have a doctor who can oversee and say, 'You are one of the people who would benefit from this.' But like medicines — like insulin or high blood pressure medication — it's going to be extremely unlikely that we're just going to say, 'Oh yeah, everyone should be taking this. Everyone is going to benefit.' Because, not that it's exactly like insulin, but that is a lifesaving medication for some people, which can kill someone else who takes it and shouldn't be taking it. So, it's not going to be that dramatic, but anything that has a good benefit to our physiology could potentially have harms.

“For what we know right now, yeah, there isn't a good case to widely recommend that people take any of these pills, and there is good reason to think people should be getting high-fiber diets, full of fresh produce, and minimizing antibiotic exposure and trying to keep the biome healthy in the ways that we've always known are good for us.”

On apple seeds containing cyanide and whether eating them every day is unhealthy

“I have consulted experts on that who say that if you were to do that every day as an adult, that should be fine. If you're eating many, many just the core, I would spit the seeds out. But, no, one a day should not be a problem.”


Karyn Miller-Medzon and Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtJackson Cote adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on September 2, 2019.

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