Bite into a pear at the perfect, ripe moment and you'll understand why Homer, in his epic "Odyssey," called it a "gift from the gods." And time has only been on this luscious, delicate fruit's side. Centuries of intense cultivation have brought out the pear's ambrosial, soft sweetness and all but eliminated its gritty tendencies. The perfect cool-weather fruit, pears are available throughout the fall and winter; among the thousands of varieties, average supermarkets carry just a handful, including Bartletts, Bosc, and Anjou.
You'd never guess it from the buttery texture, but pears deliver 6 grams of fiber -- almost a quarter of the fiber you need each day. The skin contains mostly the insoluble kind, which promotes healthy digestion. The flesh's soluble fiber, including pectin, helps you feel fuller longer and keeps blood sugar even. Thanks to pectin's well-established ability to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol, snacking regularly on pears can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and might guard against diabetes.
The pear's other significant nutrients, vitamin C and potassium, bolster its support for the heart. A potent antioxidant, vitamin C protects blood cholesterol against damage from dangerous free radicals-a good thing, since left defenseless, oxidized blood cholesterol can harm blood vessels, hindering circulation.
Meanwhile, potassium guards against hypertension (also known as high blood pressure), a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Your bones get a good boost from this mineral, too. Studies show that potassium helps strengthen bones by preserving their calcium content.
How to Buy
Unlike many other fruits, most pears ripen best off the tree. For this reason, they're picked while mature but firm. Stick with this approach when choosing the fruit at the store. At home, encourage ripening by storing pears in a paper -- not plastic -- bag at room temperature for a day or two. To determine whether a pear is ready to eat, gently press near the stem end with your finger. If it yields slightly, the pear is good to go. Because these delicate fruits ripen from the inside out, very soft outer flesh means a pear is past its prime.
Poached, sauteed, baked, and even grilled, pears complement savory foods such as cheeses, nuts, and meats, particularly chicken and pork. Choose slightly underripe, firm pears for cooking. Anjou and Bosc hold their shape well. For a quick and easy way to core a pear, use a melon baller.
Per 1 medium pear, raw
Calories: 103 kcal
Fat: 0.2 g
Fiber: 5.5 g = 22 percent* of DRI**
Potassium: 212 mg = 5 percent of DRI
Vitamin C: 7.5 mg = 10 percent of DRI
* Percentages are for women 31 to 50 who are not pregnant
** DRI, Dietary Reference Intake, is based on National Academy of Sciences' Dietary Reference Intakes, 1997 to 2004
Text by Cheryl Redmond
© 2014 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. All rights reserved.