Avocados are a stone fruit with a creamy texture that grow in warm climates. Their potential health benefits include improving digestion, decreasing risk of depression, and protection against cancer.
There are many types of avocado that vary in shape and color from pear-shaped to round and green to black. They can also weigh anywhere from 8 ounces to 3 pounds.
Avocado is also known as an alligator pear or butter fruit and it is the only fruit that provides a substantial amount of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) In fact, 77% of the calories in it are from fat, making it one of the fattiest plant foods in existence. But they don’t just contain any fat. The majority of the fat in avocado is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that is also the major component of olive oil and believed to be responsible for some of its health benefits. Oleic acid has been associated with reduced inflammation and shown to have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer. The fats in avocado are also resistant to heat-induced oxidation, making avocado oil a healthy and safe choice for cooking.
Although I love avocados, it is important to know that each avocado requires 18.49 gallons of water to produce, which means the fruits can be environmentally destructive. In drought-prone Petorca province in Chile, avocado plantations have diverted and stolen water, causing streams to run dry and harming local people. Water conservation activists in Chile opposing the water theft receive threats and little government support. In the state of Michoacan, where 80% of Mexico’s avocados are produced, cartels have crowded into the business and terrorized local people. Buy avocados responsibly – just what you need and ask the vegetable buyer in your local market from where their avocados are sourced.
Avocados are a naturally nutrient-dense food and contain nearly 20 vitamins and minerals.
Here are some of the nutrients in a single 3.5-ounce serving:
- Vitamin K: 26% of the daily value (DV)
- Folate: 20% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 17% of the DV
- Potassium: 14% of the DV
- Vitamin B5: 14% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 13% of the DV
- Vitamin E: 10% of the DV
- It also contains small amounts of magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorous and vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin).
Avocados also provide lutein, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. This serving size has 160 calories, 2 grams of protein and 15 grams of healthy fats. Although it contains 9 grams of carbs, 7 of those are fiber, so there are only 2 “net” carbs, making this a low-carb friendly plant food. Avocados do not contain any cholesterol or sodium and are low in saturated fat.
Although most of the calories in an avocado come from fat, remember that fat is good for you – especially unprocessed fat. Avocados are full of healthy, beneficial fats that help to keep you full and satiated. When you consume fat, your brain receives a signal to turn off your appetite. Eating fat slows the breakdown of carbohydrates, which helps to keep sugar levels in the blood stable.
Fat is essential for every single cell in the body. Eating healthy fats supports skin health, enhances the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and may even help boost the immune system.
Potassium is a nutrient that most people don’t get enough of. It helps maintain electrical gradients in your body’s cells and serves various important functions. Avocados are very high in potassium. A 3.5-ounce serving has 14% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA), compared to 10% in bananas, which are a typical high-potassium food. Several studies show that having a high potassium intake is linked to reduced blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure
Avocados contain 25 milligrams per ounce of a natural plant sterol called beta-sitosterol. Regular consumption of beta-sitosterol and other plant sterols has been seen to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Beta-sitosterol is one of the three predominant phytosterols found in plants. These compounds can compete with dietary cholesterol during absorption by the intestines, thereby reducing cholesterol absorption.
Avocados contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that are especially concentrated in the tissues in the eyes where they provide antioxidant protection to help minimize damage, including from ultraviolet light. As the monounsaturated fatty acids in avocados also support the absorption of other beneficial fat-soluble antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, adding avocados to your diet may help to reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
Half of an avocado provides approximately 25 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K. Vitamin K is often overshadowed by calcium and vitamin D when thinking of nutrients important for maintaining healthy bones, however, eating a diet with adequate vitamin K can support bone health by increasing calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.
Avocados may even have a role to play in cancer treatment, with some research finding that phytochemicals extracted from avocado can selectively inhibit the growth of precancerous and cancerous cells and cause the death of cancer cells, while encouraging the growth of immune system cells called lymphocytes. These phytochemicals have also been shown to decrease chromosomal damage caused by cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug.
One-half of a raw avocado contains 82 mcg of folate, or about 21% of what you need for the entire day. Folate is one of the B-vitamins and is needed to make red and white blood cells in the bone marrow, convert carbohydrates into energy, and produce DNA and RNA. Adequate folate intake is extremely important during periods of rapid growth such as pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence. Folate is extremely important for a healthy pregnancy. Adequate intake reduces the risk of miscarriage and neural tube defects.
Despite its creamy texture, an avocado is actually high in fiber with approximately 6-7 grams per half fruit. Eating avocados regularly can help prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and lower the risk of colon cancer. Adequate fiber promotes regular bowel movements, which are crucial for the daily excretion of toxins through the bile and stool. Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may also play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation. Fiber is indigestible plant matter that can contribute to weight loss, reduce blood sugar spikes and is strongly linked to a lower risk of many diseases.
About 25% of the fiber in avocado is soluble, while 75% is insoluble. Soluble fiber is known for feeding the friendly gut bacteria in your intestine, which are very important for optimal body function.
Substances called saponins, found in avocados, soy and some other plant foods, are associated with relief of symptoms in knee osteoarthritis, with further research planned to determine the long-term effects of isolated extracts.
Avocados contain substances that have antimicrobial activity, particularly against Escherichia coli, a leading cause of food poisoning.
One study looked at the dietary habits and health of people who eat avocados. They analyzed data from 17,567 participants in the NHANES survey in the US. Avocado consumers were found to be much healthier than people who didn’t eat this fruit. They had a much higher nutrient intake and were half as likely to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that are a major risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
People who ate avocados regularly also weighed less, had a lower BMI and significantly less belly fat. They also had higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
(Correlation does not imply causation, and there is no guarantee that the avocados caused these people to be in better health. But, avocados ARE good for you!)
Avocados contain a chemical called persin which in large quantities can be toxic to most animals including dogs. In large amounts, it can cause vomiting and diarrhea though in small enough amounts, persin shouldn’t cause any problems. This means that many dogs can eat some avocado but it shouldn’t be a regular treat.
How to Buy
You can tell how ripe an avocado is by gently pressing into the skin. If the avocado is firm and does not budge, you will need to let it ripen for a few days before consuming.
Avocado can be used in a number of different forms, many of which are available to purchase online, including avocado oil. Avocado oil may be used for cooking, or for moisturizing the skin or hair, so check the product information before purchasing.
How to Store
Do not refrigerate your avocados, at least not initially. Once picked from the tree, avocados, much like bananas, produce ethylene, which triggers the ripening process. The best temperature is 68 F. Avocados should ripen under these conditions within three to six days.
How to Cook
Soft avocados make great guacamole or dip, while firmer avocados are great for slicing and adding to a salad or a sandwich.
- Spread avocado on toast in the morning instead of butter.
- Use avocado instead of mayonnaise or as a spread on a sandwich.
- The soft, creamy texture of an avocado and its mild taste make it a perfect first food for babies
- Use to thicken a smoothie