Famous Sayings: #19 — ‘An Apple a Day…’

July 17, 2016

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

an apple a day, keeps the doctor away, apple, apples, health benefits, famous sayings, wales

Here’s a phrase that all of us should be familiar with. Chances are it might have been the first famous saying you have ever heard. I think it might have been the first I heard as a child from what I remember.

What Is the Origin of This Phrase?

My first stop on my search for the origin of “An Apple a Day…” was The Phrase Finder. There, Gary Martin says that the phrase may have originated from Wales in 1866. It can be found in the February 1866 edition of Notes and Queries magazine:

A Pembrokeshire proverb. Eat an apple on going to bed, And you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.

The phrase as we know it might have originated with Elizabeth Wright. In Notes and Queries, Wright first wrote the original phrase in the Devonian dialect. And she paired it with a variation. From Rustic Speech and Folk-lore (1913):

Ait a happle avore gwain to bed, An’ you’ll make the doctor beg his bread; or as the more popular version runs: An apple a day Keeps the doctor away.

Martin adds that in ancient times any fruit that was borne from a tree was called an apple.

My next stop was a 2013 article from The Washington Post. Margaret Ely interviewed Caroline Taggert, author of

According to Caroline Taggert, the saying originated in Pembrokeshire in Wales during the 1860’s. An Apple a Day: Old-Fashioned Proverbs and Why They Still Work. It’s on Amazon and it can be found here.

In the article, Taggert gives the original phrase from the nineteenth century: ‘‘Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” She also talked about variations of the famous saying from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They go like this:

  • “An apple a day, no doctor to pay.”
  • “An apple a day sends the doctor away.”

Now, here is where there is a difference in reporting with Martin. Before, Martin said that the phrase as we know it could be found circa 1913. Taggert says that the phrase as we know it now was first recorded in 1922. However, she didn’t cite a particular source (in the article).

Additionally, Taggert talked about how ancient societies extolled the benefits of apples. These include:

  • The Romans.
  • The Anglo-Saxons.
  • Ayurvedic medicine, which goes back over 1,500 years.

What Does the Phrase Mean?

As we all could surmise, the phrase means what it says, but it requires a little bit of thinking for those who first hear it (kids). Basically, apples are said to part of a healthy diet. If eaten regularly, apples are supposed to provide noticeable health benefits that will reduce your trips to the doctor. Of course, we still need to visit doctors for emergencies and regular checkups.

Well, Does an Apple a Day Really Keep the Doctor Away?

Actually, they do. There have been various medical studies that have supported the saying, and on multiple levels.

In particular, apples may reduce risks for certain chronic illnesses. According to a 2004 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, this much was already known:

  • Regular Apple consumption reduced the risk of cancer (particularly lung cancer), especially in women.
  • Regular apple consumption reduced the chances for cardiovascular disease and the mortality from heart disease.
  • An Australian study found that apples and pears helped to decrease the chances for asthma and bronchial hypersensitivity.
  • Apples were important to reduce the risk for diabetes. And even if one has diabetes, it is recommended that apples still be eaten (“Apples”).
  • An apple a day helps for weight loss and for lowering one’s cholesterol.

Apples have antioxidants (including Vitamin C), flavonoids, and other vitamins. Vitamin C helps us boost our immune systems. Flavonoids kill off cancerous cells, help the body fight off viruses, are anti-inflammatory, and are anti-allergic (Robertson). B-complex vitamins like riboflavin, thiamine, and B-6 help the cardiovascular system (“Apples”). Most of the antioxidants are found in the peels of apples.

Well, after looking at that, I should probably eat more apples.

Works Cited

Boyer, Jeanelle and Lui, Rui Hai. “Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Published online 12 May 2004. Web. Retrieved 17 July 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC442131/>.

Ely, Margaret. “History behind ‘An apple a day.’” The Washington Post. 24 Sep 2013. Web. Retrieved 17 July 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/history-behind-an-apple-a-day/2013/09/24/aac3e79c-1f0e-11e3-94a2-6c66b668ea55_story.html>.

Martin, Gary “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The Phrase Finder. Web. Retrieved 17 July 2016. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/an-apple-a-day.html>.

Robertson, Sally, BSc. “What are Flavonoids?” NewsMedical.net. Last Updated 2 Dec 2014. Web. Retrieved 17 July 2016. <http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Flavonoids.aspx>.


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