Originally printed in the September 2018 issue of Produce Business.
By Kathy Stephenson
Read Jim Prevor’s Commentary below
Recently, a study titled “Fresh Pear Consumption is Associated with Better Nutrient Intake, Diet Quality, and Weight Parameters in Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010,” was published in Nutrition and Food Science. The study revealed new information regarding the health benefits of pear consumption.1 Of particular interest, given the high rates of obesity in the United States, the study found adult pear consumers had a lower body weight than non-pear consumers and they were 35 percent less likely to be obese.
Sweet, juicy and versatile, pears are a reliable fruit for retailers to stock during a time when consumers are increasingly looking to fill their grocery list with more nutritious options. Overall awareness of the obesity issue has grown, and retailers are in a key position to lead consumers toward healthier choices.
Led by Carol O’Neil of the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, the epidemiologic study used a nationally representative analytic sample to examine the association of fresh pear consumption with nutrient intake, nutrient adequacy, diet quality and cardiovascular risk factors in adults.
“The association between pears and lower body weight is very exciting,” says Dr. O’Neil. “We believe fiber intake may have driven the lower body weights that were seen in this study because there was no difference in energy intake or level of physical activity found between the fresh pear consumers and non-consumers.”
One medium pear provides about 24 percent of daily fiber needs for only 100 calories. They are sodium-free, cholesterol-free, fat-free and contain 190 mg of potassium.
In addition to discovering a correlation between fresh pear consumers and lower body weight, the study found pear consumption was associated with higher diet quality (as defined by the Healthy Eating Index). The consumption of one medium fresh pear per day had a positive effect on nutrient intake since consumers had higher than usual intakes of dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, copper and potassium — consumers of fresh pears also had lower intakes of total, monounsaturated fatty acids, saturated fatty acids and added sugars.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans state people who eat more fruit as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to reduce their risk of some chronic diseases, although little is published on the health outcomes associated with individual fruits, including pears. In fact, according to a new report from the CDC, only 12.2 percent of American adults consume the recommended 1.5-2 cups of fruit per day. For the produce industry, this is a fact that can be passed to consumers through the offering of desirable produce options such as pears.
The Pear Bureau Northwest, a non-profit marketing organization that promotes Oregon and Washington’s pears, collaborates with researchers to commission studies that show the relationship between pears and positive health outcomes. Pears are an excellent source of fiber and a good source of vitamin C. One medium pear provides about 24 percent of daily fiber needs for only 100 calories. They are sodium-free, cholesterol-free, fat-free and contain 190 mg of potassium. Fiber is an important preventive agent against many chronic diseases, and it plays a beneficial role in glucose metabolism and diabetes management.2
The vitamin C content of pears provides important antioxidants necessary for bone and tissue health and prevention of cardiovascular disease and various cancers. Pears are also a natural source of other antioxidants, which, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, are important in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes and may improve immune function and lower risk for infection. Furthermore, people who eat lots of anthocyanin-rich fruits – such as pears – have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a Harvard study which included about 200,000 men and women.3 Also, pears, like most fruits, are a fat-free, nutrient-dense food that can help fill you up and keep you satisfied. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, these benefits may aid in weight loss and weight management.
Beyond the nutritional benefits, pears are simply a delicious ingredient to add to both sweet and savory dishes. Three U.S.-grown varieties are currently in-season:
- Bosc: Crisp and woodsy with a honey sweetness
- Green Anjou: Refreshingly sweet and juicy with a hint of citrus
- Red Anjou: Juicy with a fresh, sweet and slightly tangy flavor
Visit www.usapears.org for additional information on pear research, nutrition resources and recipes.
- O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL (2015) Fresh Pear Consumption is Associated with Better Nutrient Intake, Diet Quality, and Weight Parameters in Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010. J Nutr Food Sci 5: 377. doi:10.4172/2155-9600.1000377
- Anderson JW, Randles KM, Kendall CW, et al.: Carbohydrate and fiber recommendations for individuals with diabetes: A quantitative assessment and meta-analysis of the evidence. J Am Coll Nutr 23:5-17, 2004.
- EurJ Cancer Prev, 2010
Kathy Stephenson is the marketing communications director for Pear Bureau Northwest, working with nearly 900 pear growers in Washington and Oregon to increase the demand for Northwest grown pears in retail, foodservice, and wholesale markets.
Study of Individual Fruit’s Health Benefits Still In Its Infancy
By Jim Prevor
This author happens to love pears. We have a vendor that brings a box of fruit to the Produce Business office twice a week. The box typically includes pears, and I have at least one virtually every day. So, it is nice to read eating pears is associated with many good things, including health indicators.
For the industry, however, this type of research, though perhaps a nice talking point, isn’t really going to move the needle on consumption and, certainly, won’t encourage institutions outside the produce industry — say the government, insurance companies or foundations — to fund efforts to boost consumption.
Why? Three reasons:
First, the study reports various health indicators, but it does not delve into health outcomes. We can’t say that people who eat more pears live longer, get fewer heart attacks, get cancer less frequently or have fewer strokes.
Second, because the research draws on retrospective data of people — who, out of their own preferences, have chosen to eat more or fewer pears — the findings do not tell us what would happen as a result of admonitions or incentives given to the public to consume pears. Assuming consumers are attentive to such advice or incentive, how would their dietary patterns change? Would they eat fewer chocolate bars and consume an equal amount of calories in pears? Would they drop apples in order to consume pears? Would they increase total calories consumed in order to eat a “pear a day” or other recommended quantity? This study doesn’t explore this, but such reactions may well determine the actual health outcome of a dietary change to eat more pears.
Third, association is not causation. Put another way, there could be lots of reasons why people who over-index on consumption of pears may have good health indicators or outcomes. These reasons may have nothing to do with pears. Perhaps the people who over-index on pear consumption also over-index on cherry consumption — and it’s the cherries that cause the favorable indicators and outcomes. Or, maybe people with higher levels of education and income over-index on fresh produce consumption — including pears — and it is the overall mix of produce that causes the favorable indicators and outcomes.
Or it might have nothing to do with produce. Maybe better educated and more affluent people eat lots of seafood — or drink red wine — or go to the gym — or get more frequent checkups — or are more obedient to doctor’s orders — or take supplements or have less stress — and also happen to eat more pears. There is no way of knowing from this study which of these factors — or many other unknown or unconsidered factors — might be impacting health indicators or outcomes.
Public health officials generally are willing to recommend diets rich in produce. The health benefits of individual produce items are barely even studied.
Perhaps none of these things matter. Perhaps at birth, people born with genetic dispositions to poor health are never able to study, work or achieve good incomes, so they eat cheap carbohydrates and never eat delicious delicacies such as succulent fresh pears. Is it possible the association of pear consumption with good health indicators is the inverse of people with poorer health simply eating fewer pears?
Who knows? The point is association is just not enough.
Studies such as this are often done because they are easier and less expensive to do than the kind of research that would provide evidence of causality. This study draws from pre-existing data. In order to establish causality — that eating pears causes some positive health effects — we have to start with people who represent the ethnic, religious, geographic, health, income, education and other data points that mirror the U.S. population.
We then would divide this group, perhaps into three sub-groups. One third might be a control group, simply told to eat as they always do — in fact, it is better if the control group is not even told what is being studied is related to food. So, the control group would fill out surveys or be questioned on many subjects so as to avoid biasing the group — but pear intake also would be on the list. Another third would agree to avoid intake of pears. The third group would agree to consume a set number of pears a week as determined by the researchers.
You really want an additional set of controls where another two groups are eating, or refraining from eating, say, apples. Otherwise, you won’t know if it is pears, per se, that produce any changes in health indicators or outcomes; it could just be eating more or less fruit in general.
Then you have to follow these people, taking blood, tracking their weight and body measurements and, of course, studying health outcomes. Though it is possible to record blood test changes in the short term, weight and other measurements will take longer, and health outcomes could take decades.
It is hard to raise both money and interest in such commodity-specific studies. Most of the positive health recommendations for produce draw on a well of research that speaks to very broad and general findings. So public health officials generally are willing to recommend diets rich in produce. The health benefits of individual produce items are barely even studied. The USDA and Pear Bureau Northwest deserve praise for supporting this research, but the industry must realize it is in its infancy.
This study basically establishes there is a reason to do further research on pears and, one suspects, on many other produce items.