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Avocados: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts

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Credit: Tomboy2290 | Dreamstime

Rich, creamy and flavorful, avocados are a versatile fruit that add heft and health to many dishes. While avocados have a high fat content, they are also packed with nutrients and are a great way to add healthy fat to your diet.

Healthy fat — sometimes called monounsaturated fat in the form of oleic acid — accounts for about three-quarters of the calories in an avocado. Monounsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol and improve heart health. Avocados also have a higher percentage of protein — about 4 grams — than other fruits. Their sugar levels are also comparatively low.

Avocados contain many essential vitamins and minerals. They are a good source of vitamins K, B9, B6, B5, C and E. They are also high in magnesium, phosphorus, iron and potassium, containing even more potassium per gram than bananas. Additionally, avocados are a good source of fiber, which aids digestion and helps keep you regular. Fresh avocados contain important carotenoid antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene, the highest concentration of which is located in the dark green flesh closest to the peel. [Related: Could an Avocado a Day Keep the Doctor Away?]

Here are the nutrition facts for avocados, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling through the National Labeling and Education Act:

Nutrition Facts

Serving size:
1/5 medium California
(1.1 oz / 30 g)

Calories 50
  Calories from Fat 35

*Percent Daily Values (%DV)
are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Amt per Serving %DV*   Amt per Serving %DV*  
Total Fat 4.5g 7%   Total Carbohydrate 3g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%     Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sodium 0mg 0%      Sugars 0g  
Potassium 140mg 4%   Protein 1g  
Vitamin A 4%   Calcium 0%
Vitamin C 4%   Iron 2%


 Health benefits of avocados

Heart

Avocados’ amounts of vitamin E, glutathione and monounsaturated fat all help to keep your heart healthy. Eating avocados may also lower the risk of heart disease. High levels of homocysteine is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, but the vitamin B6 and the folic acid found in avocados can help regulate it. One seven-year study published in 2013 found that avocados were associated with a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome, which refers to a group of symptoms shown to increase the risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.

Anti-Inflammatory agent

There are five ways that avocados act as anti-inflammatory agents, which can reduce the risk of inflammatory and degenerative disorders such osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Avocados’ phytosterols, carotenoid antioxidants, other antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols are all associated with preventing and reducing inflammation.

Lowering cholesterol

Avocados may not only help lower bad cholesterol, but they may also increase levels of good cholesterol. One 1996 study found that patients with mild hypercholesterolemia who incorporated avocados into their diet for one week had a 22 percent decrease in bad cholesterol and triglycerides and an 11 percent increase in good cholesterol. Avocados also improved cholesterol for people that already had good lipid levels, but were shown to be especially effective in those with mild cholesterol problems. Avocados can help in this way because of their high amount of the beta-sitosterol compound, which is associated with lowering cholesterol.

Regulating blood sugar

This is another way that avocados’ high fat content is good for you. The monounsaturated fats can help stop insulin resistance, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Furthermore, the soluble fiber in avocados can help keep blood sugar levels steady and the low carb and sugar levels in avocados help maintain blood sugar in comparison to other fruits.

Regulating blood pressure

Avocados’ high levels of potassium can help keep your blood pressure under control. Potassium is a mineral electrolyte that keeps electricity flowing throughout your body, which is required to keep your heart beating in the proper way — which helps maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Vision

Avocados are an excellent source of the carotenoid lutein, which reduces the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.

Immune system

Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight free radicals, promoting immune system and nervous system health. Avocados are a good source of this substance.

Pregnancy and preventing birth defects

Avocados are full of folic acid, providing about 23 percent of the recommended daily value. Folic acid is essential to preventing birth defects like spina bifida and neural tube defect.

Cancer

The phytochemicals in avocados may help prevent certain cancers, especially prostate, mouth and skin cancers. The oleic acid in avocados may help prevent breast cancer. Excessive inflammation is a cancer risk, so avocados’ anti-inflammatory properties can help with that. Furthermore, a 2007 study found that the phytochemicals in avocados encourage cancer cells to stop growing and die.

Digestion and curing bad breath

The fiber in avocados helps keep your digestion on track, encouraging regular bowel movements. It also cleanses the intestine, which is a cause of bad breath and coated tongue. The vitamin C in avocados also helps keep your intestinal tract strong and healthy by promoting collagen growth.

Skin

The vitamin C and vitamin E in avocados helps keep your skin nourished and glowing. Avocados are commonly used to help treat psoriasis.

Health risks

As with many other fruits, avocados’ primary risks are related to overconsumption. Because of their high fat and caloric levels (about 200 calories per 100 grams), eating too many avocados can lead to weight gain. They are also quite filling, meaning that eating too many avocados may not leave you enough room to get other essential nutrients, such as protein.

Additionally, avocado allergies, while uncommon, do exist. Symptoms include a stuffy nose, wheezing, coughing and edema. If you experience any of these symptoms after eating an avocado, try cutting the fruit out of your diet to see if the symptoms disappear. If they persist or are severe, consult a doctor.

Avocado facts

  • Avocados, native to Central and South America, have been cultivated in these regions since 8000 B.C.
  • The major commercial producers of avocados are the United States, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Colombia.
  • California produces 95 percent of all avocados grown in the United States.
  • The avocado is colloquially known as the alligator pear because of its shape and the leather-like appearance of its skin.
  • There are dozens of varieties of avocados, including the Hass, Fuerto, Zutano and Bacon varieties.
  • The Hass variety is the most popular type of avocado in the United States. The average California Hass avocado weighs about 6 ounces (170 grams) and has a pebbled, dark green or black skin.
  • The Fuerte avocado, usually available during winter months, has smoother, brighter green skin.
  • The word "avocado" is derived from the Aztec word "ahuacatl," meaning testicle.
  • Avocados are the fruit from Persea americana, an evergreen tree that can grow up to 65 feet.
  • Avocados vary in weight from 8 ounces to 3 pounds (226 grams to 1.3 kilograms), depending upon the variety.
  • An avocado is ripe and ready to eat when it is slightly soft, but it should not have dark sunken spots or cracks. An avocado with a slight neck, rather than a rounded top, was probably tree-ripened and will have better flavor.
  • Because healthy carotenoids lie just under the skin, the best way to peel an avocado is what the California Avocado Commission calls the "nick and peel" method. Cut the avocado lengthwise. Hold both halves and twist them in opposite directions until they separate. Remove the seed and cut each of the halves lengthwise into long quarter sections. Using your thumb and index finger, grip the edge of the skin on each quarter and peel it off, the same way you do with a banana skin.

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