Pears' Role In Managing Blood Sugar

  • Miranda Platt BSc Applied Medical Sciences, MSc Global Health and Development

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Pears are a highly nutritious, delicious fruit that grows on pear shrubs and trees belonging to the Rosaceae family of flowering plants. Pears grow best in mild climates and are found widely distributed across the globe. In addition to being a refreshing snack, pears are also full of vitamin C, nutrients and fibre.  They can provide an array of health benefits, including the ability to help control blood sugar levels. If you would like to know more about how pears can balance your blood sugars, please read on.

Management of blood sugar

Carbohydrates are a key constituent of our diet; they act as fuel, providing us with a source of energy. The simplest form of carbohydrates is sugar, which naturally occurs in fruits, vegetables and milk, amongst other food and drink items. Historically, sugar has been used as a preservative due to its ability to draw out water, which helps to lengthen shelf life and prevent the growth of microorganisms. The most abundant simple sugar we will come across in our daily lives is glucose, a monosaccharide, which is a carbohydrate with one sugar molecule.

Today, sugar is added to many foods we buy. Although it has a number of functions, it is also linked to a number of health issues which are on the rise in today’s society. Poor control of blood sugar levels is known to contribute to insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Insulin resistance and diabetes

Insulin sensitivity is the body’s responsiveness to the hormone insulin, which is responsible for enabling cells to use glucose for energy. If a person’s cells work efficiently to use glucose for energy, then they have high insulin sensitivity. If someone is less receptive to insulin, it may take longer for it to start working; this is when a person has low insulin sensitivity or is insulin resistant. If a person is insulin resistant, it means their body requires a greater volume of insulin to have the same effect as someone who is not insulin resistant. This can lead to increased blood glucose levels, which increases the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and inflammation.

The pear

Pears belong to the Pyrus genus and are grown across the world, predominantly in temperate climates. They are grown extensively across Europe and Asia, with China being the main producer. There is a wide range of pear varieties that differ in skin colour and taste and, therefore, provide different health benefits. There are records of pears being cultivated as early as 4000 years ago in ancient times, and they remain popular today.

In China, pears are often used in traditional medicine due to their anti-inflammatory, diuretic and blood sugar-lowering properties. They are also a source of:1

  • Potassium
  • Antioxidants
  • Ascorbic acid/Vitamin C
  • Phenolic acid
  • Fiber
  • Water

Pears have been highlighted as having a beneficial effect on blood sugar. The green pear (Pyrus communis), in particular, has been found to cause the smallest rise in blood glucose following consumption compared with other fruits, including mango, red apple, grape, and papaya2

Glycaemic index

The glycaemic index (GI) was a term first coined in the 1980s by Nutritional Professor David J. Jenkins. GI is a numerical classification system from 0 to 100 that ranks carbohydrate-rich foods according to their effect on blood glucose following eating. It is also known as post-prandial glycaemia3. According to this system, food belongs to the following key groups:

• Low GI = 55 or less

• Moderate GI = 56 to 69

• High GI = 70 or higher

Low-GI foods take longer to digest and are absorbed more slowly, resulting in a gradual increase in blood sugar. Examples of low-HI foods include oats, legumes, carrots, and pears.

High-GI foods are quite the opposite. They are quickly digested and elicit sharp rises or “spikes” in blood glucose. White bread, potatoes and white rice are a few examples of some high-GI foods.

Pears are classified as low GI, averaging a score of 30, though this is likely to change depending on variety.

It is important to note the GI ranking system was originally designed to help people make healthier food choices. Many factors impact how nutritious a food is, many of which are not reflected by classification as high or low GI food, which is why sometimes GI can be misleading. However, it is a helpful tool when trying to manage blood sugar better. For people with diabetes, choosing a meal made with low GI ingredients is likely to prevent glucose spikes after eating.

Factors affecting GI

There are a number of factors which impact the GI of foods, including4

  • Sugar type, i.e. a higher fructose/glucose ratio
  • Amylose
  • Amylopectin
  • Ripeness
  • Presence of organic acids

Many foods have been documented to have higher GI with increasing ripeness, while organic acids and a high fructose/glucose ratio have been linked to lower GI. 

Fibre

Fibre is an important factor in how foods impact blood sugar and its management. Dietary fibre (DF) is a term that describes the indigestible parts of plants, fruits, vegetables, and other edible carbohydrates. The human body is capable of breaking down and digesting a range of different food types; however, not all digestive enzymes are able to digest fibre.

Fibre is usually classified as soluble or insoluble. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel-like solution in the gut, while insoluble fibre acts as a bulking agent and can pass through the digestive system intact.

DF has been positively linked to:5

  • Reduced blood glucose response after eating
  • Increased satiety and reduced appetite
  • Lowered inflammation
  • Decreased LDL cholesterol
  • Increased glucose sensitivity

Research has shown that when people increase their insoluble DF consumption, their glucose disposal increases, which is reflected by increased insulin sensitivity. Benefits differ between soluble and insoluble fibre, but as pears provide a good source of both, you can optimise your chances of receiving maximum benefits.

The World Health Organization recommends consuming 20g-35g of fibre daily, and one medium-sized pear is estimated to provide around 6g, which packs a punch, giving you approximately 20% of your daily recommended intake in just one fruit.

Antioxidants

Pears are loaded full of antioxidants, substances which inhibit oxidation. This process produces free radicals and can lead to oxidative stress, which is linked to a number of health conditions and has linked overeating to insulin resistance.6 Antioxidants can stabilise free radicals, which prevents them from causing damage to tissues in the body and impacting our health. Pears contain a variety of antioxidants which are able to adapt and lessen oxidative stress, preventing the risk of insulin resistance.

Pear antioxidants include:

  • Ascorbic acid
  • Phenolic acid
  • Vitamin K
  • Anthocyanins
  • Polyphenols, i.e. flavonoids

Fructose

Pears have a high fructose/glucose ratio. Fructose is a monosaccharide or simple sugar, known as fruit sugar, and is abundant in fruits and honey. It is absorbed into the blood slower than glucose and has a reduced impact on blood sugar response. Fructose has been found to be rapidly cleared from the body, while glucose seems to be maintained at more constant levels.7 

How to introduce pears to your diet

There is a wide range of pears available to choose from depending on your taste and preference, and you can add these to your daily lifestyle in a variety of ways. Eating fresh pears is preferred by many and may be the healthiest option as no additional fat or sugar is added. People also enjoy poaching pears, adding them to cakes and tarts, salads, preserved and in jams. Pears can also be blended to make a hydrating, delicious drink. However, the juicing process removes pulp from the fruit, which contains valuable insoluble.

Possible risks and side effects

For the majority of people, there is minimal risk of experiencing side effects when having pears. However, if you rapidly increase your pear consumption, you may experience an upset stomach. This is especially true for people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome who are more likely to experience:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhoea

If you are currently taking any medication, it is best to check with your GP or medical practitioner for clarity on whether it could react with pears and pose a potential risk. 

Summary

Pears are an excellent nutritious snack, provide a good source of hydration, and have been regarded as a hangover cure in traditional Chinese medicine. They have also been identified as diabetic-friendly fruits for a number of reasons, and they can provide blood glucose-regulating benefits to diabetics and non-diabetics alike. Packed with fibre, pears take longer to digest, reducing the risk of blood sugar spikes, while the antioxidants they provide have been linked to decreased oxidative stress and insulin resistance. Pears make a healthy addition to your diet if you do not already enjoy them and are safe for most people, but please remember to seek advice if you are on a specific dietary plan or certain types of medication.

References

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Pippa Chapman

MSc, Immunology, University of Strathclyde

Pippa is a Cell Culture Scientist who after completing an MSc in Immunology has been employed in the biotechnology sector. She has a strong interest in medical research and the application of both conventional and holistic strategies to tackle today's most challenging health conditions.

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