Praising the Pear

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Apples have gotten such a good rap (“an apple a day keeps the doctor away”) that the closely-related pear, equally nutritious, should have its own aphorism: “A pear a day keeps sickness at bay.” But pears are often overlooked as a handy snack. Both apples and pears are nutrient-dense, low-calorie alternatives to a bag of chips. At only 100 calories per medium-sized pear, they are a great snack to keep piled on your desk for easy access.

Unlike apples, pears do not ripen on the tree and are picked hard, needing anywhere from 2-5 days at room temperature to fully ripen. This is particularly important as a pear’s antioxidant content peaks with ripeness.

Feel The Stem
Pears ripen inside out; so waiting until the flesh of a pear’s body is soft can mean that it is over-ripe inside. To choose a ripe pear, feel the area around the stem instead. Once this gives, the pear is ready to eat, even if the body feels firmer. This method is particularly effective with the D’Anjou and other harder pear varieties. Only green, unripe Bartlett pears turn yellow when ripe and give a clear color indication of when they are ready to eat.

Have you noticed that pears can sometimes have a gritty texture compared to apples? This comes from stone cells, which develop in pears as they ripen on the tree. Stone cells have very thick cell membranes with very little space inside and are one of the reasons pears do not ripen well on the tree. They are protective for the fruit, but not necessarily what humans want, so pears are picked when mature, but not ripe, to avoid excess stone cells.

Eat the Skin
The majority of a pear’s nutrients are in or just below the skin. For this reason, it is a good idea to eat the skin and choose organic pears. All pears should be washed before eating. Non-organic ones can be rinsed in diluted dish detergent to remove some of the pesticides present on the skin. Do not be concerned about rough brown areas on the skin that look like a potato’s skin, called russetting, which occur naturally.

Pears are an excellent source of fiber, offering 24% of the Dietary Recommended Intake (DRI) in one medium-sized pear, but remember the majority is packed into the skin. Not only is a pear’s fiber great for regularity, but it is also associated with lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease, as well as lowering your risk for colon and post-menopausal breast cancer.

Pear skin is also a good source of Vitamin C (10% of DRI) and copper (over 9% of DRI), both of which we must get from our diet. You need Vitamin C for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. It is also a powerful antioxidant in water-soluble parts of the body, and activates white blood cells to attack viruses and bacteria. Antioxidants stop the damage caused by free radicals (substances that damage DNA). The build-up of free radicals over time contributes to the aging process and the development of health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. Copper is an essential component of the enzyme superoxide dismutase, which controls toxic superoxide free radicals produced during cell metabolism.

Pear season is here, and there is every reason to eat them. Try different varieties and colors for different mixes of phytonutrients, all of which are good for you. They are just what the doctor ordered!

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