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The Benefits of Pears

Special Report from The Food Channel®

The Food Channel’s TrendWire™ recently put out a report on the benefits of apples. As a result, we were asked about similar benefits of pears—particularly any news about the benefits of pear skin that may be similar to the quercetin in apple skin.

Quercetin is an antioxidant/flavinoid that helps prevent cancer and artery damage that can lead to heart disease, and a recent Cornell University study showed it might provide some protection from Alzheimer’s disease. Quercetin is most prevalent in apple skins and onions, but is in other fruits as well – including pears – although in lower doses. Quercetin is actually perhaps the biggest flavinoid in pear skins (at 28 mg/kg).

While the pear probably should not be listed as a major carrier of quercetin, the pear does have other attractive benefits. When eaten with the skin, a pear is a good source of fiber (4g), potassium and Vitamin C (10% of the RDA). Pears do not have any sodium, saturated fats or cholesterol. Although high in sugar (actually, Levulose, a natural sugar), pears have more nutrients per calorie than calories per nutrient. Pear skin contains the majority of the fruits’ antioxidants, so for the full benefits the fruit should always be eaten with the skin; the chlorogenic acid tends to accumulate in the pear skin.

Here is a summary of the top-line health benefits identified from pears:

Help for Diabetics. Pears have a low glycemic index (GI) of just 38. Low-GI foods are digested and absorbed more slowly, producing a more gradual rise in blood glucose and insulin levels. Foods with a low-GI are recommended in the prevention of coronary heart disease and obesity, and in the management of diabetes. Particularly for diabetics, pears are one of the fruits that can improve blood glucose levels, help a person lose weight, and improve concentration.

Non-Allergenic Benefits. Pears are a hypoallergenic fruit, and are the only fruit allowed on elimination diets used to test allergy sufferers. This also makes pears and pear juice attractive for serving to small children because they are less likely to produce adverse reactions.

Cancer Prevention. Pears contain hydroxycinnamic acid, which has been identified as helping to prevent stomach cancer. At least one serving of apples and pears a day is associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer in women. The high vitamin C and copper content act as good antioxidants that protect cells from damage by free radicals. Studies have revealed that eating pears help protect women against postmenopausal breast cancer.

Pulmonary Disease. Eating pears appears to improve lung function and reduce Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease symptoms such as breathlessness and coughing.

Inflammation. Pears can be useful in treating inflammation of mucous membranes, colitis, chronic gallbladder disorders, arthritis, and gout.

Asthma Prevention. An Australian study has revealed people who eat pears regularly have the lowest risk of developing asthma.

Constipation. The pectin in pears is diuretic and may have a mild laxative effect. Drinking pear juice regularly is said to help regulate bowel movements. A high sorbitol content, plus extra fiber, makes pears ideal for persons suffering from constipation.

Digestion and Colon Health. Pears contain more fiber than many other fruits. Fiber helps speed the passage of food through the digestive system and plays a part in controlling blood glucose by slowing the absorption of carbohydrate from the intestine into the bloodstream. Pears are recommended for babies suffering from Reflux because they are gentle on the stomach and proved to alleviate baby’s constipation (including the pear skin – there is no reason to peel even with an infant). Most of the fiber is insoluble, making pears a good laxative. The gritty fiber content may cut down on the number of cancerous colon polyps. The skin and the flesh are both eaten. Most of the Vitamin C, as well as the dietary fiber, is contained in the skin.

Healthy Cholesterol Levels. Like other fruits, pears have been shown help sustain healthy cholesterol levels because of the high content of pectin. Pears are actually higher in pectin than apples.

Bone Health. Pears provide copper and vitamin C. They also have boron, which is needed for proper functioning of calcium and magnesium; boron helps the body retain calcium and thus prevents or retards osteoporosis.

Blood Pressure. Pears have antioxidant and anticarcinogen glutathione, which help prevent high blood pressure and stroke.

Energy. You can get quick and natural source of energy from pears, due largely to its high amounts of two monosacharides (fructose and glucose) and carbohydrates.

Sore Throat and Fever. Pears are known to have a cooling effect that is excellent in relieving fever. Some say the best way to bring a fever down quickly or sooth a sore throat is to drink a big glass of pear juice. The antioxidants will also build your immune system; so drink pear juice when you feel a cold coming on. One recommendation says that for vocal chord health, boil the juice of two Chinese pears with raw honey and drink it warm.

Pregnancy. The high content of folate (folic acid) is thought to help prevent neural tube defects in infants.

Vision. Regular consumption of pears is thought to lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the main cause of vision loss in older adults.

U.S. pears are grown in California, Washington and Oregon where the peak harvest is during the winter. Pears are not allowed to fully ripen on the tree to prevent a gritty texture and produce the best flavor. Pears are harvested from pear trees once they have reached maturity but prior to ripening. Bartlett pears are the only type of pear that actually changes color as it ripens.

The colors are the result of phytochemicals, a natural plant compound that may help fight disease. Pears happen to be represented in four out of the five recommended color categories—red, yellow/orange, white, and green. Pears are believed to contain high levels of phytochemicals. Research by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that the phytochemicals in pears, and consequently the high level of antioxidants in pears, are especially helpful in the battle against brain-depleting diseases.

The USDA has found that pears have a very high ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). ORAC is a way of expressing a measure of the antioxidant activity of food. Antioxidants help prevent damage caused by free radicals, which are byproducts of reactions between oxygen and foods when energy is created. Free radical damage increases when diets are antioxidant-poor, because free radicals are allowed to roam the body damaging other cells and tissues. To reduce the chance of damage, the USDA recommends a diet high in antioxidant-containing foods, such as pears.

In addition, pears are high in soluble fiber, the type which reduces blood cholesterol. Lower cholesterol has been found to help prevent heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Patients who suffered from these diseases have also been found to have a higher incidence of memory-depleting illnesses such as Alzheimer’s.

Research is being done at the University of Innsbruck (Austria) to examine the breakdown of chlorophyll in ripening apples and pears; it is believed that the decomposition products, called nonfluorescing chlorophyll catabolytes (NCC), are highly active antioxidants—making them potentially very healthy. The researchers have examined the peels of apples and pears. Unripe fruits are green because of their chlorophyll. In ripe fruits, NCCs have replaced the chlorophyll, especially in the peel and the flesh immediately below it. These catabolytes are the same for apples and pears, and are also the same as those found in the leaves of the fruit trees.

To ripen pears, leave them out on your counter or put them in a brown paper bag (not plastic). Store pears in the refrigerator in the coldest spot away from strong-smelling foods, as they tend to absorb odors. As pears ripen from the inside outwards, a ripe pear will gently yield to the touch when pushed. A soft pear is likely indicative of over ripeness and may be close to rotting.

Key nutrients in pears include vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, potassium, iron, fiber, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), niacin, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, selenium, manganese, fructose, glucose, sucrose, pantothenic acid, and vitamin E; important phytochemicals include beta-carotene, caffeic acid, quercetin, pectin, and tocopherols. To determine the iron levels in a pear, see if it turns brown when cut – if it doesn’t turn brown, common lore says that the iron content is very low or non-existent.

Calories in a medium sized pear are estimated between 60-100 per piece of fruit, with no fat, cholesterol or sodium. This size pear (roughly the size of a tennis ball) equates to half of the daily recommended intake of fruit. A larger piece of fruit, which is the size more often found in US supermarkets, can contain as much as two and a half or three servings.

Trends:

Intensive Pear Production. This essentially plants closer together for higher yield and economy of care.

The ‘Functional Food’ Benefits. This may impact how pears are used as an ingredient in foods of the future.

Production. Mixed reports are available but show production slightly down, most likely due to climate conditions.

Flavor Sensations. Recipes call for pairing them with strong flavors such as bleu cheese, nuts, ginger, vanilla and cinnamon. Pears can be substituted for apples in most baked dishes or salads.

Freeze-Dried Snack Food. In January 2008, Crispy Green Inc., the maker of Crispy Green® Crispy Fruit premium, freeze-dried fruit snacks launched Crispy Pears, made of 100% high-quality, freeze-dried Asian pears. These all-natural snacks contain no added sugar, preservatives, colors, flavors, fat or cholesterol and have been certified kosher-parve by Shatz Kosher Services.

Sources:

This report is a compilation of research available online and through special reports sent to The Food Channel®. It is not meant as a medical opinion and accuracy of information has not been independently verified. Sources are available upon request.