While pears are not an unusual source of conventional antioxidant or anti-inflammatory nutrients (for example, vitamin E or omega-3 fatty acids), the phytonutrient category is where this fruit excels. For example, in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (1,638 participants, average age range 62-69 years), the combination of apples/pears ranked as the second highest source of flavonols among all fruits and vegetables - partly due to the epicatechin richness of pears. Average flavonol intake in the study was about 14 milligrams per day, and one pear can provide about half of this amount all by itself. The list of phytonutrients found in pears has been of special interest to researchers, and the list below summarizes their findings about key phytonutrients provided by this fruit.
Virtually all of these phytonutrients have been shown to provide us with antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory benefits. As a result, intake of pears has now been associated with decreased risk of several common chronic diseases that begin with chronic inflammation and excessive oxidative stress. These diseases include heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
As a very good source of dietary fiber, pears might logically be expected to help protect us from development of type 2 diabetes (or DM2, which stands for "diabetes mellitus type 2) as well heart disease. Adequate intake of dietary fiber is a long-established factor in reducing our risk of both diseases, and in the case of pears, this benefit may be even more pronounced due to the helpful combination of both soluble and insoluble fiber in this fruit. In addition to their fiber content, however, pears have other ways of helping to protect us against these diseases. In the case of DM2, scientists now know that pear flavonols (including isorhamnetin, quercetin, and kaempferol), flavan-3-ols (especially epicatechin), and the anthocyanins (found in red-skinned varieties including Red Anjou, Red Bartlett, Comice, Seckel, and Starkrimson) all help improve insulin sensitivity. (More and more research attention is being given to mechanisms of action in this area, including regulation of the enzyme NADPH oxidase.) In the case of heart disease, recent research has shown that pear fibers are able to bind together with bile acids in the intestine, lowering the pool of bile acids and decreasing the synthesis of cholesterol. In addition, the phytonutrients in pear may play a special role in these fiber-bile acid interactions. The ability of pear fibers (and other fruit fibers) to bind bile acids has actually been compared to the cholesterol-lowering drug cholestyramine, with pears showing about 5% of the ability of the drug to accomplish this result. (Among commonly eaten fruits, only bananas and pineapples showed more bile acid-binding ability at 9% and 6%, respectively.)
The health benefits of pear fiber also extend into the area of cancer risk. Fiber from pear can bind together not only with bile acids as a whole, but also with a special group of bile acids called secondary bile acids. Excessive amounts of secondary bile acids in the intestine can increase our risk of colorectal cancer (as well as other intestinal problems). By binding together with secondary bile acids, pear fibers can help decrease their concentration in the intestine and lower our risk of cancer development. In the case of stomach cancer (gastric cancer), intake of pears has also been shown to lower cancer risk. Here the key focus has not been on pear fiber, however, but on pear phytonutrients, especially cinnamic acids (including coumaric acid, ferulic acid, and 5-caffeoylquinic acid). In a recent study from Mexico City, it took approximately 2 total fruit servings per day and 4 daily vegetable servings to accomplish a decrease in gastric cancer risk. Pears and mangos were among the key foods determined to provide cinnamic acids in the study.
Esophageal cancer (specifically, esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, or ESCC) is a third cancer type for which pear intake helps lower risk. In a very large-scale study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and the American Association of Retired Persons (involving 490,802 participants), pears were found to be a key food associated with reduced risk of ESCC. Interestingly, numerous foods belonging the rose (Rosaceae) family were also found to lower risk of ESCC, including apples, plums, and strawberries.
It's become fairly common to hear both laypersons and healthcare practitioners talking about pear as one of the more easily digested fruits. In fact, many practitioners recommend that pear be one of the first fruits considered when it comes time to introducing an infant to his or her first pureed fruits. Even though we have been unable to find large-scale human studies to support these digestibility claims, we don't question the fact that easier digestion has been experienced by many individuals in the context of pears versus other fruits. One factor that may come into play here is the low acid nature of pears, especially in comparison to widely enjoyed citrus fruits like lemons, grapefruits, and oranges.
It's also become fairly common to hear pears being described as a "hypoallergenic" (low allergy) food. Healthcare practitioners often allow clients to continue eating pears when following a low-allergy diet plan, and many individuals report having fewer allergy-related symptoms when consuming pears versus other fruits. Of course, no fruits are classified as major allergens according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and their rules for identification of allergenic foods on product labels. In addition, we have been unable to find large-scale research studies to support any low-allergy claims for pears. Still, we do not question the fact that many people seem to do much better when consuming pears versus other fruits in terms of allergic response.
It's very possible that these two experiences - better digestibility and decreased allergic response - are related, and that future research will help us understand why pears may provide us with special health benefits in these areas.
Pears are a member of the rose family of plants (Rosaceae), which, in addition (of course) to roses, contains a long list of fruits including apples, apricots, cherries, chokeberry, crabapples, loquats, peaches, plums, quinces, raspberries, serviceberries, and strawberries as well as the tree nut, almonds. The many different varieties of pears commonly found in U.S. groceries all belong to the same category known as European Pear (Pyrus communis). These pears typically have a rounded body that tapers into a neck of various lengths.
They are distinct from (but closely related to) the fruit we commonly call "pear apple." Pear apples are completely round with no necks, and while they remind of us of apples in shape, their skins make us think they are pears. Contrary to popular belief, pear apples are not a cross between apples and pears. Pear apples belong to a second category of pear, broadly referred to as Asian pear. Included in this second category are Chinese pear, Japanese pear, and Korean pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) as well as Siberian/Manchurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis). When these categories are combined, they account for more than 3,000 varieties of pears that people enjoy worldwide.
Pears are found in a variety of colors, including many different shades of green, red, yellow/gold, and brown. Many varieties fail to change color as they ripen, making it more difficult to determine ripeness. (For more about selection of pears, please see our How to Select and Store section.)
The list below describes some of the more commonly enjoyed varieties of pears:
There is some debate about the exact origins of the European pear, but many experts believe that European pears (Pyrus communis) and Asian pears (both Pyrus pyrifolia and Pyrus ussuriensis) evolved separately and during the same approximate time in history (roughly 1000 BC). Certain species of pear are also native to parts of Africa.
Beginning in the 1500's, Eurpoean colonists began to bring pears to North America, where they apparently were not native or enjoyed before that time. While pears were cultivated there during those years, the colonists continued to import most of the pears they consumed from Europe, and especially from France. Today, pears grown in Europe have become a very small part of the U.S. diet. While the U.S. continues to import over 75,000 metric tons of pears each year, the vast majority now come from Argentina, Chile, China, South Korea and New Zealand.
On a worldwide basis, China has become the world's largest grower of pears. Out of 21 million tons produced worldwide, China now produces about 15.5 million tons, or nearly three-quarters of the world total. Of the remaining 5.5 million tons, another 2.7 come from Europe, 1.1 from Argentina and Chile, 0.8 from the U.S., and smaller amounts from New Zealand, South Korea, and other countries.
Within the U.S., the state of Washington is by far the largest grower of pears, accounting for about half of all U.S.-produced pears. California and Oregon follow next, with significant commercial production also occurring in New York and Pennsylvania.
Since pears are very perishable once they are ripe, the pears you find at the market will generally be unripe and will require a few days of maturing. Look for pears that are firm, but not too hard. They should have a smooth skin that is free of bruises or mold. The color of good quality pears may not be uniform as some may feature russetting where there are brown-speckled patches on the skin; this is an acceptable characteristic and oftentimes reflects a more intense flavor. Avoid pears that are punctured or have dark soft spots.
It is possible, of course, that you may find ripe pears at the market. When trying to determine whether a pear is ripe, don't start by squeezing the whole fruit. Instead, we recommend gently pressing only at the top of the pear, near its stem. If that spot gives in to pressure, the pear is probably optimally ripe for eating. If the flesh feels extremely soft, almost to the point of being squishy, the pear is overripe. For food safety reasons, we recommend that overripe pears only be used in cooked recipes rather than eaten raw.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and pears are no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including pears. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells pears but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown pears is very likely to be pears that display the USDA organic logo.
As with all of the World's Healthiest Foods, we recommend that you purchase certified organic pears to lower your risk of exposure to unwanted pesticides, sewage sludge contaminants, and any potential risks associated with irradiation or genetic engineering. Fortunately, over 250 certified organic farms in the U.S. now produce over 20,000 tons of organic pears, and so these delicious fruits are getting easier to find in organic form.
If you will not be consuming the pears immediately once they have ripened, you can place them in the refrigerator where they will remain fresh for a few days. If you want to hasten the ripening process, place them in a paper bag, turning them occasionally, and keep them at room temperature. Storing pears in sealed plastic bags or restricted spaces where they are in too close proximity to each other should be avoided since they will have limited exposure to oxygen, and the ethylene gas that they naturally produce will greatly increase their ripening process, causing them to degrade. Pears should also be stored away from other strong smelling foods, whether on the countertop on in the refrigerator, as they tend to absorb smells.
If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare pears the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.
Between 2008-2011, concerns arose in both the U.S. and Canada over contamination with arsenic of certain brand-name pear juices. While we have never seen official reports pinpointing the exact source of the contamination, it would not be uncommon for a food like pear juice - made from pears that may have been imported from nearly a dozen countries throughout the world - to pick up unwanted heavy metal residues (like arsenic) from groundwater contamination, soil contamination, sewage sludge fertilization, or some combination of these sources. Pear juices found to be contaminated were recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and the FDA also set a Level of Concern for arsenic in fruit juices (including pear juice) of 23 parts per million (for long-term, routine consumption of pear juice). Companies who voluntarily chose to monitor their pear juice production were then able to use this standard as a guideline. These events are one of the reasons we encourage selection of organic pear juice (and fresh pears). Organic food regulations greatly lessen the chance of exposure to heavy metals like arsenic not only in pear juice and pears but in all other foods as well.
|fiber||5.52 g||20||3.5||very good|
|vitamin C||7.65 mg||10||1.8||good|
|vitamin K||7.83 mcg||9||1.5||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%