Avocados: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts
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.
“Avocados are very high in omega 3 fatty acids, the good kind of fat, in the form of alpha-linolenic acid,” said San Diego-based nutritionist Laura Flores. It 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. Flores said that they are a good source of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin K and fiber, which aids digestion and helps maintain regularity. Additionally, avocados are high in magnesium, phosphorus, iron and potassium, containing even more potassium per gram than bananas, according to the New York University Langone Medical Center.
Fresh avocados contain lycopene and beta-carotene, which are important carotenoid antioxidants. The highest concentration of these antioxidants is located in the dark green flesh closest to the peel, according to the California Avocado Commission. Antioxidants help reduce cell damage.
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:
Health benefits of avocados
“Avocados are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and decrease risk for heart disease,” said Anne Mauney, a dietitian based in Washington, D.C.
High levels of the amino acid homocysteine are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, but the vitamin B6 and the folic acid found in avocados can help regulate it.
A seven-year study published in 2013 in Nutrition Journal 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.
“Avocados have great anti-inflammatory properties,” said Flores. She listed avocados’ “phytosterols, carotenoid antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids and polyhydroxolated fatty alcohols” as being able to “help both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.”
Avocados may help not only lower bad cholesterol, they may also increase levels of good cholesterol. A 1996 study in the journal Archives of Medical Research found that patients with mild hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) 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 who 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
According to Reader’s Digest, avocados’ high levels of 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. In comparison to other fruits, the low carb and sugar levels in avocados also help maintain blood sugar.
Regulating blood pressure
Avocados’ high levels of potassium can help keep blood pressure under control. The American Heart Association reported that potassium helps regulate the effects of salt, which can increase your blood pressure.
According to Avocado Central, the website of the Hass Avocado Board, avocados are an excellent source of the carotenoid lutein, which reduces the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant associated with immune system health. A 2000 report in the journal Proceedings of the Nutrition Society stated, “The immune system works best if the lymphoid cells have a delicately balanced intermediate level of glutathione.” Avocados are a good source of this substance, according to American National University.
Pregnancy and preventing birth defects
According to the California Avocado Commission, avocados are a great choice for moms-to-be. Avocados contain a significant amount of folic acid, which is essential to preventing birth defects like spina bifida and neural tube defects.
“Avocados have been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers, including cancers of the mouth, skin and prostate,” said Flores. This is “due to the unusual mix of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics.” Furthermore, a 2007 study in the journal Seminars in Cancer Biology found that the phytochemicals in avocados encourage cancer cells to stop growing and die.
The fiber in avocados helps keep digestion on track, encouraging regular bowel movements, healthy intestines and a healthy weight, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The vitamin C and vitamin E in avocados help keep skin nourished and glowing, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Avocado and B12 cream may be useful in treating psoriasis, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
As with many other fruits, avocados’ primary risks are related to overconsumption. “Consuming too many avocados may lead to weight gain because of the fat content, even though it is an unsaturated fat,” said Flores. “It can also lead to nutritional deficiencies, since fat is digested slower and leaves you feeling fuller longer than [do] other nutrients.”
Additionally, avocado allergies, while uncommon, do exist. They are typically associated with latex allergies, according to the Mayo Clinic. 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.
- 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 leatherlike 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 lbs. (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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