Got Pears? – Fresh Tastes by Bev

By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB


By any measure, IC patients eat a lot of pears. It’s the one fruit that almost everyone with IC can eat without fear of a symptom flare-up. We slice them and dice them, we bake them and we poach them. We eat them just about every way imaginable. We could do testimonial ads for the pear growers.
Though they’re kind of a plain-jane fruit, pears do have more than just bladder-friendliness going for them. Pears are a healthful snack that satisfies the sweet tooth, while at the same time they’re a good source dietary fiber (and a whole lot tastier than psyllium hulls).

A medium pear provides as much fiber as six prunes (4 grams of fiber), with 20% less calories. (Some of us have discovered another benefit to eating pears: they are a welcome antidote to the constipating side effects of prescription painkillers).

Unlike most other fruit, pears don’t have a lot of vitamin C, but one pear will give you about 10% of your daily allowance of it. (Hey, every little bit helps.) Pears also have impressive quantities of antioxidants– more than many other fruits.

In cooking, the flavor of pears combine well with spices and flavorings that most of us can tolerate: coriander, anise, fennel, cardamom, vanilla, and lemon or almond extracts. They also work well with lemon zest, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg– flavorings that many IC sufferers can also use (unless they have a severe case of gastrointestinal problems or vulvodynia).

Pears can substitute for apples in many recipes. (They’re more juicy than apples, so you may want to adjust for that. For instance, to make an apple pie with pears, use less-than-fully ripe fruit and add an extra tablespoon or two of flour to thicken the juice. A 1/4 cup of additive-free dried blueberries or dried dates help soak up juice too).

Pears ripen quickly in a fruit bowl thanks to the ethylene gas they emit, but have you noticed how those little blemishes almost immediately become big rotten spots? I try to buy ones that are still pretty green and place half of them in the refrigerator to slow down the ripening. (But be careful not to put them in an airtight compartment with your lettuce. The lettuce will wilt and brown quicker thanks to the ethylene gas from the pears).

I like to eat pears raw. But I’m careful to wash them thoroughly, especially if they’re imported. (The last thing I need is a food-borne illness.) If you wash your pears with dishwashing detergent, be sure it’s very dilute. Detergent can leave a residue that upsets a touchy gastrointestinal tract (I discovered that the hard way). These days however, I have another reason to wash or peel my pears: pesticides.

In March 1999, the Consumers Union, publisher of the well-respected Consumer Reports, announced the results of a landmark study of the pesticide content of foods Americans consume. While they found that much of the produce sold in the U.S. was relatively safe, what they found out about several bladder-friendly food items– particularly pears– was disturbing. Pears were found to have very high levels of pesticide residues. What is of more concern is that two of the three significant pesticides found in the Consumers Union study (aldicarb and Dieldrin), can penetrate the interior of fruit (as opposed to just coating the skin or residing in the skin). The other significant pesticide is methyl parathion (which works the same way in humans as it does in insects, it attacks the nervous system). Luckily, this pesticide only clings to the skin of fruit, so it can be peeled away.

But before we look closer at the pesticides in pears, a little background on the study: The Consumer’s Union gleaned data from the USDA’s agricultural database on foods sold in the U.S. and analyzed levels of several pesticides in some 27,000 imported and domestically-produced fruit, vegetable, and dairy samples. (They chose to analyze this database because the USDA’s information is regarded as the most comprehensive available. The USDA regularly collects such samples each year as part of its job to monitor pesticide use on crops.)

The pesticides Consumers Union found in the food samples varied in their toxicity and in the levels found, but three pesticides stood out as the biggest problems: aldicarb, Dieldrin, and methyl parathion. While Dieldrin hasn’t been used since the ’70s, the residue remains in the soil and still shows up in food. “Methyl parathion”, Consumers Union said, “accounts for the lion’s share of the total toxicity of the foods we analyzed.”

Consumers Union devised a toxicity scale to rate the foods they studied. In explaining the scale they said, “Ounce for ounce, some pesticides can be thousands of times more toxic than others. When it comes to pesticides on foods, the biggest concern is a person’s long-term exposure. Many compounds may affect the developing nervous system. Some are suspected of causing cancer. Some may interfere with endocrine activity. For our analysis, we devised a toxicity index that integrates all of these health risks and reflects the actual amounts of pesticides detected on produce.”

They went on the explain that consumers shouldn’t panic and that a high level of pesticide residue “doesn’t automatically mean a food is unsafe to eat. Your personal risk depends on your age, your susceptibility to the effects of a compound, how often you eat a particular food, and how much of it you eat relative to your body size.”

Overall pesticide consumption by children is one area of particular concern to many in the public health field because children eat far more produce per pound of body weight than adults do. Developing bodies are also more sensitive to the toxic effects of agricultural chemicals.

One interesting highlight of the study was that although the pesticides on virtually all the foods tested were within legal limits, many of those limits are outdated. In a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, federally mandated limits for pesticide use are considerably higher than what the government now deems safe for children.

Listed below are the toxicity scores of several varieties of pears that Consumers Union tested. They identified foods with scores over 100 as “worth concern”. Scores for all foods they analyzed ran from a low of 0.01 (canned /frozen corn) to a high of 4848 (fresh peaches), with a variation of 20 points or less being meaningless.

  • Pears (presumably domestic): 435
  • Pears from Chile: 415
  • Pears from South Africa: 201
  • Pears from Argentina: 157

While I’m not worried, this study did made me sit up and take notice. I breathed easier to discover such bladder-friendly foods as broccoli, canned and frozen peas, milk, and sweet corn received very, very low toxicity scores. Wheat, potatoes, and sweet potatoes also had low scores. Bananas, though some IC patients can’t eat them, was a fruit with a very low toxicity score too. As Consumers Union pointed out, “One thing you should NOT do is stop serving fresh produce, which provides a host of vital nutrients.”

As a person with a chronic illness, my body needs all the nutrients it can get, so I’m certainly not going to eat any less pears or other produce. Yet I’m concerned that pesticide residues will add an additional burden to aspects of my endocrine and nervous systems which are already malfunctioning thanks to the IC. My strategy at this point will be to follow the Consumers Union’s recommendations for minimizing exposure to pesticides:

  1. Avoid giving children large amounts of foods with the highest toxicity scores. (Pears and winter squash were the two “bladder-friendly” foods that landed in that category.)
  2. Peel foods with a high toxicity score (pears, apples from New Zealand and winter squash) where practical. Washing with diluted dishwashing detergent also helps.
  3. Consider buying organically grown versions of unacceptable-toxicity foods that are impractical to peel (green beans, carrots and spinach).
    I’ll also be shopping for my pears more carefully, paying attention to where the produce originates if the label indicates it. I like to grow vegetables in my backyard in the summer. Bush green beans are especially easy to grow in limited space and I’ll definitely continue doing that. And now, at least for winter squash and pears, I’ll purchase the organically grown version (even though the price per pound is– gasp!– almost double).

Consumers Union also recently reported a test of organic produce which found few or no pesticide residues. (See the January 1998 issue of Consumer Reports.)

For more information on this latest pesticide study, you can download the full report in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format at this web site:

Here’s an Asian pear recipe that’s featured in my IC cookbook, “A Taste of the Good Life: A Cookbook for an Interstitial Cystitis Diet”. Try this with round, yellow, Asian pears or red D’Anjou pears.

Sichuan Baked Pears

– serves 2

  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 firm pears, peeled
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. anise seed
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. coriander
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Melt butter and pour into a shallow baking dish. Core peeled pears and cut in quarters. Place in butter, turning to coat. Mix sugar and spices and sprinkle over pears. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 5 minutes. Baste with pan juices. Bake another 7 minutes until sugar is bubbly. Cool slightly, then serve warm. (Keep warm while dinner is served by covering with foil, or rewarm for a few seconds in the microwave). Calories per serving: 247
This article originally published June 1999, revised and updated by the author Mar 2003.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: When I originally wrote this in 1999, Consumers Union had just released a landmark study of pesticide residues on foods. The study showed alarming amounts of pesticides on several fruits and vegetables that IC patients commonly eat a lot of. These pesticides are among the most toxic used on crops, they affect the function of the central nervous system (in humans as well as insects), and are especially dangerous to children. Because we already have a chronic illness, and because we probably eat more of these foods than the general population (due to exclusion from our diet of alternatives), I felt the subject was important. It’s now November of 2003… has anything changed? Well, yes and no. Shortly after the release of the 1999 study, the federal government banned the use of one of the implicated pesticides (methyl parathion) on two IC-friendly foods: pears and green beans. Other changes in policy were made as well. In respon