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Superfood: Why Avocados are Nutritional Powerhouses

Some foods are good for you, others not so much, and some are simply stupendous. The avocado, once largely ignored except for those who enjoyed Mexican and other Latin cuisines, has become haute. You can’t swing a palm leaf without hitting an avocado featured on the menu or in a healthy treat. Although, interestingly, there was another seemingly unrelatable avocado smash hit in the kitchen, although not on the plate: the unforgettable 1970s kitchen appliances in “avocado green” pretty much defined that era’s style and colorway.

According to the California Avocado Commission, the fruit (technically a large berry) is indigenous to Mexico, Central and South America; it was first cultivated in Mexico around 500 BC. Its formal American debut came in 1871 in Santa Barbara with avocado trees transplanted from Mexico. By the 1950s, there were more than 25 avocado varieties growing commercially in California. Production was ramped up in the 1970s, when the Hass avocado, the King of Avocadoes, surpassed the Fuerte variety as the leading variety. Hass’ smooth, creamy texture and pleasing taste has won over many a palate since.

Those individuals who eat avocados regularly tend to consume significantly more key nutrients often found lacking: dietary fiber, vitamins K, and E, potassium, and magnesium. This same research also suggests that such individuals have higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, lower risk of metabolic syndrome, lower weight and BMI than those who don’t eat avocados.

Your typical avocado is like a daily multivitamin, but with rich amounts of macronutrients as well. It has about 160 calories, 2 grams of proteins, 15 grams of healthy fats, 7 grams of fiber, and 2 net carbs. It contains significant daily values (DV) such as: vitamin K (39%), folate (30%), vitamin C (25%), vitamin B6 (19%), vitamin E (16%), as well as potassium (21%). Other nutrients include copper, manganese, magnesium, and phytosterols.

Heart Healthy

Avocados are indeed good for the heart, as several studies attest. One study sought to examine how avocados affected plasma lipid concentrations. The three-diet trial involved 16 healthy individuals.

The three diet plans include: rich in monounsaturated fatty acids using avocado as the major source with low saturated fats and less than 300 mg of cholesterol per day (RMF); a free-monounsaturated diet including the same amount of avocado (FME); and a low-saturated fat diet without avocado (LSF). The researchers found that there were similar reductions in the plasma total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in both (RMF) and (LSF) diets. HDL cholesterol levels significantly decreased after 2 weeks of the LSF and FME diets. The plasma triacylglycerol levels lessened after RMF and FME diets, while LSF diet increased them. In total cholesterol and in LPL cholesterol levels, there were statistically significant differences between the FME and the LSF diets. The researchers concluded, “Avocado is an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acid in diets designed to avoid hyperlipidemia without the undesirable effects of low-saturated fat diets on HDL-cholesterol and triacylglycerol concentrations.”

Another study also looked at the effects of a diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MFA) on cholesterol profiles in 30 healthy adults and 37 adults with higher cholesterol levels (hypercholesterolemia). In the study, 15 healthy volunteers and 30 with high cholesterol (15 of whom also had associated diabetes type 2) consumed an avocado-enriched diet, while seven non-diabetic hypercholesterolemic individuals ate an isocaloric control diet for seven days. The results showed that healthy volunteers on the avocado-enriched diet showed a significant 16% reduction in serum total cholesterol but rose after the control diet. In hypercholesterolemic subjects a significant decrease of serum total cholesterol (17%), LDL-cholesterol (22%) and triglycerides (22%), and increase of HDL-cholesterol (11%) levels occurred with the avocado diet, while no significant changes were noticed with the control diet. The researchers noted that regular avocado consumption can improve lipid profiles.

Yet another randomized diet trial showed similar benefits of eating avocados. This study sought to compare effects of a diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids, enriched with avocado (AE), and a high-complex-carbohydrate diet (AHA-III) on blood lipid concentrations in 15 middle-aged women who followed both diets for three weeks each. They found that the avocado-enriched diet was more effective, with an 8.2% decrease while AHA-III was associated with a 4.9% decrease. Further, the researchers found that LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B decreased significantly while consuming AE but not from the AHA-III diet. However, HDL concentrations remained the same from AE while it was reduced by AHA-III.

Avocadoes Enhance Nutrient Absorption

Precious vitamins A, D, E and K as well as the rich world of carotenoid antioxidants are fat soluble, and need dietary fat to be absorbed and utilized. And, what better source of dietary fat than the avocado?

According to researchers, “avocado has a unique unsaturated oil and water matrix naturally designed to enhance carotenoid absorption.”

One study looked more precisely at how avocado or avocado oil on salads or salsas affect antioxidant absorption. Previous research has suggested that dietary fats greatly assist in carotenoid bioavailability, yet most produce rich in carotenoids are low in fats—creating a bit of a nutrition conundrum. The objective of the study was to see if adding avocado with carotenoid-rich foods helped the body to absorb more.

Eleven healthy individuals participated in two crossover, postprandial studies. The effect of avocado addition (150 g) to salsa on lycopene and beta-carotene absorption was examined in Study 1, and the absorption of lutein, alpha-carotene, and beta-carotene from salad was assessed in Study 2, which also looked at the effects of avocado amount (75 g and 150 g), as well as source—fruit versus oil—on carotenoid absorption.

The researchers found that the addition of avocado to salsa enhanced lycopene and beta-carotene absorption, and in study 2, adding avocado and avocado oil to salad also enhanced alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lutein absorption. The researchers summarized, “In conclusion, adding avocado fruit can significantly enhance carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa, which is attributed primarily to the lipids present in avocado.”

This is truly great news—because if you like the taste and texture of the highly versatile avocado, adding it to your salsas or your salads is a tasty no-brainer!

Additionally, while avocado can significantly increase the nutritional bioavailability of other plants, imagine combining it with Greek yogurt to make a delicious, nutritious pudding – the added probiotics are always body benevolent. Adding avocados regularly can also help manage weight, as one study showed that even one half a Hass avocado during the day can curb afternoon cravings by promoting post-meal satiety for three to five hours in overweight adults.

Conclusion

Being health-minded and eating nutritiously today is so easy with the wide availability of fresh, wholesome and exotic foods, spices, grains and herbs. There is a true plethora of recipes and ideas, ranging from complex to simple. Typing “avocado recipes” in Google instantly yields “about 199,000,000 results.” Diving into the culinary-nutritious world of avocados can be a health-promoting (and tasty) avocation.

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