The Several Benefits of Avocados

An avocado
An Avocado

Avocado – that buttery green fruit that you can spread on a sandwich, dice into a salad, and mash into guacamole (America’s favorite dip).  Research has demonstrated that avocados offer some surprising and powerful health benefits.

One of the most nutrient-dense foods, avocados are high in fiber, folate, potassium, vitamin E, and magnesium.  No doubt, avocado nutrition makes it a powerful superfood.

Avocados have been cultivated for thousands of years.  A favorite of the Aztecs, they were originally native to Central America.  There are generally two types available in the USA today – the Hass avocado from California and the West Indian avocado from Florida.

Hass avocados are nutty, buttery and rich in monounsaturated oil (18 to 30 percent oil in each avocado).  The light green Florida avocado is larger and juicier than the Hass variety, but it is less buttery, considerably lower in oil (3 to 5 percent oil) and has roughly 25 to 50 percent less fat than the Hass variety.

The avocado’s monounsaturated fat content is its biggest health claim.  The only other fruit with a comparable amount of monounsaturated fat is the olive.  The monounsaturated fat in avocados is oleic acid, which helps lower cholesterol.  One study found that after seven days on a diet that included avocados, there were significant decreases in both total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as an 11 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.

Reasons To Eat Avocados

1. Avocados are packed with carotenoids

Avocados are a great source of lutein, a carotenoid that works as an antioxidant and helps protect against eye disease.  They also contain related carotenoids zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, as well as vitamin E.

2. Avocados are rich in healthy fats

Since carotenoids are fat-soluble, they need to be eaten with fats at the same meal to be absorbed into the blood stream.  Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats that help the body absorb these carotenoids from the avocado and also from other foods.  An easy way to do this is to add sliced avocado to a mixed salad.

3. Avocados make you feel full

Half an avocado contains 3.4 grams of fiber, including soluble and insoluble, both of which your body needs to keep the digestive system running smoothly.  The soluble fiber also slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in your body, helping you feel full longer.

Avocados also contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that activates the part of your brain that makes you feel full.  Healthier unsaturated fats containing oleic acid have been shown to produce a greater feeling of satiety than less healthy saturated fats and trans fats found in processed foods.

4. Avocados are rich in folate

One cup of avocado contains almost a quarter of the recommended daily intake of folate, a vitamin which cuts the risk of birth defects.  So if you are pregnant, or planning to be, avocados will help protect your unborn baby.

A high folate intake is also associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and heart disease.  So avocados could help keep your heart healthy.

5. Avocados can help lower your cholesterol

In addition to making you feel full, the oleic acid in avocados can help lower cholesterol levels. In one study, an avocado-rich diet resulted in a significant reduction in total cholesterol levels and an 11 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.

6. Avocados can regulate your blood pressure

Avocados are full of potassium and magnesium, two nutrients known to lower blood pressure.  A one-cup serving of avocado contains 15% of the RDI of potassium compare to 11% in bananas, which are a typical high-potassium food.  The avocado also contains 14% of the RDI of magnesium, more than several fruits including the banana, strawberry, and kiwi.

7. Avocados taste great

Avocados are a healthy way to boost the flavor and texture of your meals.  Toss chopped avocados on a salad or bowl of soup.  Serve guacamole as an appetizer or condiment.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Salads: Garnish vegetable, fruit, and whole grain salads with diced avocados, and then toss gently to mix.
  • Pasta salads: Add diced avocado, diced bell pepper, and sliced scallions to cooked pasta, and dress with a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, and mustard for a tasty pasta salad.
  • Guacamole:  Mashed avocados are the main ingredient in this tasty dip.
  • Spreads: Mash half an avocado and spread it on whole grain bread or toast for a nourishing breakfast or snack.
  • Wraps: Put sliced avocado in wraps and sandwiches.
  • Omelets: Add diced avocado to eggs or omelets before cooking.
  • Crackers: Top whole grain crackers with thin slices of avocado and smoked salmon for a tasty appetizer or snack.
  • Butter: Top baked potatoes with avocado butter, made by mashing a ripe avocado with a tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, salt and pepper.