JUST two apples a day could help protect women against heart disease by cutting their cholesterol levels, according to new research.
Scientists found apples significantly lowered blood fat levels in postmenopausal women, the group most at risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Snacking on the fruit every day for six months slashed cholesterol by almost a quarter.
The biggest reduction was seen in low-density lipoprotein, the so-called 'bad' cholesterol that furs up arteries and raises the risk of a life-threatening clot forming near the heart or brain.
The findings, by a team of researchers at Florida State University in the US, support previous evidence that apples could be good for the heart.
But the latest study suggests they could benefit one of the highest-risk groups.
Around 45 per cent of British women will suffer from heart disease or a stroke and it is the biggest single cause of death among post-menopausal women.
Up to the menopause, women appear to have a natural immunity to heart disease and the rate of illness is only a third of that seen in men.
But from the age of around 50 onwards, the incidence increases sharply.
Researchers wanted to see if eating the equivalent of two apples every day could have a significant effect on heart disease risk.
They recruited 160 women who had been through the menopause and got half to eat 75 grammes a day of dried apple - the equivalent of two medium-sized fresh apples.
As a comparison, the other half were told to eat the same quantity of prunes to see if they had a similar effect. Each volunteer underwent blood tests every three months for one year.
The results, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed that after three months total cholesterol levels in the apple-eating group had dropped by nine per cent and LDL cholesterol by 16 per cent.
After six months, levels were even lower, with total cholesterol down 13 per cent and LDL levels dropping by 24 per cent. There was no further decline in the remaining six months of the experiment.
Prunes lowered cholesterol levels slightly but not to the same extent as the dried apple.
In a report on their findings the researchers said: 'Consumption of about two medium-sized apples can significantly lower cholesterol levels as early as three months.'
British consumers munch their way through nearly 500,000 tons of apples a year.
In 2009, a Polish study revealed two apples a day also halved the risk of bowel cancer in adults.
And research by scientists at St. George's Hospital Medical School in London shows lung function is boosted in middle-aged men if they eat at least one apple every day.