Avocados are a creamy delicious stone fruit that add a sense of something special to every meal they’re included in. Though people once thought that they were unhealthy, it turns out that the monounsaturated fat that they contain is healthy, helping to cut cholesterol, and the risk of heart disease. They’re also packed with vitamins, nutrients, and fiber that give all kinds of amazing benefits including increased brain activity, healthy skin, and lots of energy.
What Are Avocado
Avocados are a stone fruit that has been used as food in Central and South America and the West Indies for thousands of years. Today, most avocados come from Mexico and Chile, though they are also grown in the United States, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, and other locations around the world. They are also known as alligator pears because of their dark green, bumpy skin. They grow on trees, and each fruit is actually a single large berry that contains a seed.
Avocados have a unique texture and mild flavor that has made it popular as a meal ingredient, a substitute for heavy creams and unhealthy fats in sauces and baking, and eaten on its own.
There are several different varieties of avocado, including:
The various types represent different growing regions, and come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and skin textures. Some have more or less oil, some take longer to ripen, but all are excellent sources of nutrients.
Though avocados are high in calories and fat content, the fat that they provide offers health benefits, and they also contain important nutrients, including soluble fiber and many minerals. One cup of raw avocado contains:
Calories – 240, 184 of which come from fat
Fiber – 10.1 grams (40% of RDV)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – 165 grams
Omega-6 Fatty Acids – 2534 mg
Protein – 3.0 grams
Vitamin K – 31.5 mcg (39% of RDV)
Folate – 122 mcg (30% of RDV)
Vitamin C – 15.0 mg (25% of RDV)
Pantothenic Acid – 2.1 mg (21% of RDV)
Potassium – 727 mg (21% of RDV)
Vitamin B6 – 0.4 mg (19% of RDV)
Vitamin E – 3.1 mg (16% of RDV)
Copper – 0.3 mg (14% of RDV)
Niacin – 2.6 mg (13% of RDV)
Magnesium – 43.5 mg (11% of RDV)
Manganese – 0.2 mg (11% of RDV)
Riboflavin – 0.2 mg (11% of RDV)
Phosphorus – 78.0 mg (8% of RDV)
Thiamine – 0.1 mg (7% of RDV)
Zinc – 1.0 mg (6% of RDV)
Iron – 0.8 mg (5% of RDV)
Vitamin A – 219 IU (4% of RDV)
Calcium – 18.0 mg (2% of RDV)
In addition to these vitamins and minerals, avocados contain beneficial sterols, phytochemicals and other plant-derived nutrients that are extremely important for keeping you healthy.
2. Avocado Is Excellent for Cardiovascular Health
Though avocado is high in fat, the fat that it contains is healthy monounsaturated fat. This type of fat is encouraged for use as a substitute for unhealthy processed vegetables oils that create inflammation in the body and raise the risk of heart attack and heart disease. Avocado is rich in fatty acids such as oleic acid, which has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and increase beneficial HDL cholesterol. Additionally, the fruit also has high levels of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps fight cholesterol, and potassium which helps control high blood pressure.
In addition to these benefits, avocado also has high levels of folate. Folate has been shown to cut the levels of certain biomarkers that are predictors of cardiovascular disease. And the plant sterols and fiber in avocados help to move cholesterol out of the body.
Bottom Line: Though it sounds strange to eat fats to lower cholesterol, the healthy fatty acids in avocados can lower the amount of fat in your system, raising good cholesterol levels and getting rid of the bad.
3. Eating Avocado Can Help You Lower Your Blood Pressure
Avocados are an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that your body needs to regulate blood pressure. People who don’t get enough potassium in their diet are at risk for blood pressure going up, raising the chances that they will be victims of stroke, heart attack, or even kidney disease. It doesn’t take much avocado to give your potassium intake a big boost
Bottom Line: Taking in adequate potassium can keep your blood pressure under control, and lower it for those who are hypertensive.
4. Avocados’ Antioxidants and Nutrients Help Protect Against Cancer
Antioxidants help protect against and reverse the damage that the environment and stress can cause to our cells. Avocados contain several potent antioxidant carotenoids, including lutein, beta-carotene and others, that help to protect against these harmful changes to cell structures. One of the antioxidants that is most active, alpha-carotene, has been shown to significantly lower the risk of cancer death when it is present in high levels in your bloodstream. And one study went so far as to say that for treating oral cancer, the phytochemicals found in avocados are just as powerful as chemotherapy.
Avocados are especially effective at delivering these nutrients because their fat content helps the body absorb carotenoids. It also has been shown to protect against specific types of cancer, including breast cancer. Many of the other nutrients found in avocados have also been identified as cancer fighters, including Vitamin C, which protect against non-hormonal cancers, and Vitamin E, which has also been named as protective against breast cancer.
Bottom Line: The nutrients in avocados have been shown to prevent and stop cancer cells from growing. They’ve also been shown to call cancer cell death.
5. Avocado Beautifies Your Skin’s Appearance
Many of the things that damage our skin’s cells can be healed by the omega-9 fatty acids that are found in avocado flesh. The fruit’s fats help to keep moisture levels in the layers of the skin high. This makes it feel soft and smooth and reduces redness and irritation caused by dryness and damage from the sun or chemicals. Those same fats can only help control the production of oils in the skin. This helps to prevent blackheads and acne. Avocados’ contain carotenoids, which are antioxidants that can help prevent wrinkles. Their Vitamin E guards against sun damage while their Vitamin C helps the skin build new collagen, keeping your skin supple and firm.
Bottom Line: Avocados contain fat soluble vitamins and monounsaturated fats that help to keep your skin soft and glowing.
6. Avocados Are an Important Food for People Who Have Diabetes, As Well as Those at Risk for the Disease
Diabetes is a very serious disease that puts its victims at risk for many other health conditions that can make their situation even worse. Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest risks for diabetics, and one of the most important steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease is to lower your levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). The fats in avocados do that while raising levels of good cholesterol. They also help cut triglyceride levels and may improve blood glucose levels. Other nutrients in avocados include Vitamin C, which helps boost both your blood vessel’s strength and your immune system. The fruit’s high levels of potassium also help regulate blood sugar and strengthen your heart health.
Additionally, by regulating hormones, avocados can help prevent metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that increase your risk of diabetes. People who eat avocados are 50% less likely to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. In fact, studies show that they tend to be healthier overall, including having lower risk of many diseases, lower body mass index, weight, and waist circumference and have higher HDL levels.
Bottom Line: Avocados are one of the best foods for Type 2 diabetes because they help prevent blood sugar spikes and contain healthy fats that improve heart health and improve insulin sensitivity.
7. Avocados Can Help Lessen the Pain of Arthritis and Other Inflammatory Conditions
The combination of antioxidants, phytosterols and mononunsaturated fats found in avocados has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect that eases the pain of arthritis. One study showed that the inflammatory effects that certain foods have can be completely offset simply by eating avocado at the same time.
Bottom Line: Some people who suffer from painful inflammatory conditions have found pain relief from eating avocado, and other inflammatory responses can be reduced by adding them to your diet.
8. The Folate in Avocados Can Help Prevent Birth Defects
Avocados have higher levels of folate than any other fruit. Folate is a B-vitamin that has been found to prevent birth defects. Infants born with folate deficiencies are 30% more likely to have certain birth defects. Avocados also contain high levels of Vitamin K, an important nutrient for newborns that prevents a condition in which their blood can’t clot.
Bottom Line: Avocados are an excellent addition to your diet during pregnancy.
What You Need to Know About Buying Avocados
Avocados in the market are generally quite hard, but they are not ripe until they yield slightly to pressure. You can leave avocados on the counter to ripen and then, once ripe, put them into the refrigerator where they will keep for at least a week. You can use avocado instead of most baking fats like butter, as well as in place of butter in pasta sauces. Avocado is a delicious addition to salads, poultry and fish dishes, and is the primary ingredient in guacamole.
Studies have shown that most of the avocado’s nutrients are close to the leathery, dark green skin. The best way to cut up an avocado is:
- Slice it in half and remove the stone
- Place cut side down on a cutting board and cut it into three or four sections
- Peel off the skin
- Cut fruit into desired size and shape