Avocados are a stone fruit with a creamy texture that grow in warm climates. The avocado is a rather unique type of fruit. Most fruit consists primarily of carbohydrate, while avocado is high in healthy fats. Their potential health benefits include improving digestion, decreasing risk of depression, and protection against cancer.
There are many kinds of avocados, and the shape (from pear-shaped to round) and color (from green to black) can vary between them. They can also weigh anywhere from 8 ounces (220 grams) to 3 pounds (1.4 kg). The most popular type is called Hass avocado. It is often called “alligator pear,” which is very descriptive because it tends to be shaped like a pear and have green, bumpy skin… like an alligator. The yellow-green flesh inside the fruit is eaten, but the skin and seed are discarded.
Here are a dozen reasons why you need to incorporate avocado in your diet.
1. Avocados are nutrient rich
Avocados are very nutritious and contain a wide variety of nutrients, including 20 different vitamins and minerals. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one serving (one-fifth of an avocado, approximately 40 grams) contains:
almost 6 grams of fat
3.4 grams of carbohydrate
less than a gram of sugar
almost 3 grams of fiber
Avocados are a great source of vitamins C, E, K, and B-6, as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and potassium. They also provide lutein, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. Although most of the calories in an avocado come from fat, avocados are full of healthy, beneficial fats that help to keep you full and satiated. 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.
2. Healthy for the heart
77% of the calories in avocados are from fat, making it one of the fattiest plant foods in existence, majority of the fat in avocado being oleic acid. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid that is also the major component in olive oil and believed to be responsible for some of its beneficial effects. It has been linked to reduced inflammation and has been shown to have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer. The fats in avocado are also pretty resistant to heat-induced oxidation, making avocado oil a healthy and safe choice for cooking. Avocados also 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.
3. Aids nutrients absorption from plant foods
When it comes to nutrients, the ability to move them from the digestive tract and into the body, where they can be used is as important as the quantity you take in. Some nutrients are “fat soluble,” meaning that they need to be combined with fat in order to be utilized. This includes vitamins A, D, E and K and antioxidants like carotenoids. One study showed that adding avocado or avocado oil to either salad or salsa can increase antioxidant absorption by 2.6 to 15-fold. So, not only is avocado highly nutritious, it can dramatically increase the nutrient value of other plant foods that you are eating.
4. Great for vision
Not only do avocados increase antioxidant absorption from other foods, they are also high in antioxidants themselves. This includes nutrients called Lutein and Zeaxanthin, which are incredibly important for eye health. These two phytochemicals are especially concentrated in the tissues in the eyes where they provide antioxidant protection to help minimize damage, including from ultraviolet light. Studies show that these nutrients are linked to a drastically reduced risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, which are common in the elderly.
5. Prevent Cancer
Adequate intake of folate from food has shown promise in protecting against colon, stomach, pancreatic, and cervical cancers. Although the mechanism behind this apparent reduction in risk is currently unknown, researchers believe that folate protects against undesirable mutations in DNA and RNA during cell division. Phytochemicals extracted from avocado can selectively inhibit the growth of precancerous and cancerous cells and cause the death of cancer cells, while encouraging the proliferation of immune system cells called lymphocytes. These phytochemicals have also been shown to decrease chromosomal damage caused by cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug. There is limited evidence that avocado may be beneficial in preventing cancer.
6. Lower risk of depression
Foods containing high levels of folate may help to decrease the risk of depression because folate helps to prevent the build-up of homocysteine, a substance that can impair circulation and delivery of nutrients to the brain. Excess homocysteine can also interfere with the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate mood, sleep, and appetite.
7. Osteoporosis prevention
Vitamin K is essential for bone health. 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.
8. Improved digestion
Despite its creamy texture, an avocado is actually high in fiber with approximately 6-7 grams per half fruit. Fiber is the indigestible plant matter that can contribute to weight loss, reduce blood sugar spikes and is strongly linked to a lower risk of many diseases. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is known to be able to feed the friendly gut bacteria in the intestine, which are very important for the optimal function of our bodies. About 25% of the fiber in avocado is soluble, while 75% is insoluble. Eating foods with natural fiber can help prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and lower the risk of colon cancer.
9. Natural detoxification
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.
10. Osteoporosis treatment
Multiple studies have shown that extracts from avocado and soybean oil, called Avocado and Soybean unsaponifiables, can reduce symptoms of arthritis of the bones, called osteoarthritis. Whether avocados themselves can have this effect, and not just the extract, remains to be seen.
11. Antimicrobial action
Avocados contain substances that have antimicrobial activity, particularly against Escherichia coli, a leading cause of food poisoning.
12. Protection from chronic disease
According to the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program of the University of Kentucky, high fiber intakes are associated with significantly lower risks of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases. Increased fiber intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for obese individuals.
Potential health risks of consuming avocados
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and for achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health. If you are taking blood-thinners, such as Coumadin (warfarin), it is important that you do not suddenly begin to eat more or less foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting.
At the end of the day, avocados are an awesome food. They are loaded with nutrients, many of which are lacking in the modern diet. They are weight loss friendly, heart healthy and… last but not least, taste incredibly incredible!.