Who among us hasn’t heard the expression “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Not only have these words been uttered for years, but they are, in fact, attributed to none other than Benjamin Franklin himself.

Seems like good advice. After all, whole foods are good for you. Fruit is good for you. And apples themselves are rich in vitamin C and certain B vitamins, as well as quercetin, which has been positively linked to reducing allergies, improving heart health, and even providing stress reduction by lowering cortisol levels.

But to really put this long-held adage to the test, researchers took a cross-section of nationally representative, non-institutionalized U.S. adults. Their study, which was published in May 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at 8,728 such people age 18 and older who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. As a part of this group, the participants had completed a 24-hour dietary recall questionnaire and reported that the food listed was indicative of their usual daily diet.

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Researchers noted those people who were daily apple eaters versus those who were non-apple eaters. Next, researchers looked at number of visits to a physician in the past year, as well as successful avoidance of other health care services, including overnight hospital stays, visits to a mental health professional, and prescription medications.

They found that, among the apple eaters, 39 percent were able to “keep the doctor away,” while 34 percent of non-apple eaters also boasted no doctor visits. Once researchers adjusted for additional factors such as sociodemographics and health-related characteristics, the five percent difference was even less meaningful (or not statistically significant).

However, the researchers DID find that apple eaters did take noticeably fewer prescription medications than non-apple eaters.

The net takeaway? Mr. Franklin may have been on to something. While you may only slightly improve your chances of avoiding the doctor, your chances of bypassing the pharmacy are greater. 

And isn’t that the real goal, after all?