The Many Health Benefits of Avocado
By Dr. Mercola
You probably know that avocados are an excellent source of healthful fats, but this whole food may also have other unique health benefits.
To learn more, the Hass Avocado Board (HAB) is supporting clinical research to investigate various health effects of avocado consumption, particularly its benefits for cardiovascular disease, weight management, diabetes, and its ability to enhance your body's absorption of nutrients.
The first of these HAB-supported studies was published in November, 2012.1 The small UCLA-led pilot study found that eating one-half of a fresh medium Hass avocado with a hamburger (made with 90 percent lean beef) significantly inhibited the production of the inflammatory compound Interleukin-6 (IL-6), compared to eating a burger without fresh avocado.
According to lead author David Heber, MD, PhD, the findings offer "promising clues" about avocado's ability to benefit vascular function and heart health. As reported by Medical News Today:2
"The researchers observed a significant peak (approximately a 70 percent increase), of IL-6 four hours after the plain burger was eaten, but less effect on IL-6 (approximately a 40 percent increase) over the same time period when fresh avocado was eaten with the burger.
Additionally, the study found that when fresh Hass avocado was eaten with the burger it did not increase triglyceride levels beyond what was observed after eating the burger alone, despite the extra calories and fat from the fresh avocado...
The pilot study also reported that the difference in peripheral arterial blood flow (the movement of blood to different parts of the body, as measured by PAT), a predictor of vascular health, after eating the hamburger meal compared to the hamburger-fresh avocado meal was approaching statistical significance...
PAT scores significantly decreased (signifying reduced blood flow) only after the plain burger was eaten (approximately a 27 percent drop, on average) compared to a burger with fresh avocado (approximately a 4 percent drop, on average, signifying less reduction in blood flow)."
Avocados – A Real 'Super Food'
Avocados, which are actually classified as a fruit, are rich in monounsaturated fat that is easily burned for energy. Personally, I eat a whole avocado virtually every day, which I usually put in my salad. This increases my healthy fat and calorie intake without seriously increasing my protein or carbohydrate intake. (See Nutrition Facts Panel below.) It is also very high in potassium and will help balance your vitally important potassium to sodium ratio.
As I've mentioned before, eliminating grain carbs is one of the best ways to support your health and maintain your weight, but when you cut down on carbs, you need to increase your intake of healthy fats. Avocados are an excellent source, along with organic raw butter, coconut oil, and organic pastured eggs, just to name a few.
There's also evidence suggesting that limiting your intake of protein can be helpful for long-term good health and the prevention of cancer. At the very least, most people are consuming far too much poor-quality protein, such as beef and animal products from livestock raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Here again, if you cut down on protein, you need to replace lost calories with healthy fats such as avocados, coconut oil, olives, olive oil, butter and nuts.
Overall, most people would do well to get upwards of 50-70 percent fat in their diet (along with high amounts of vegetable carbs, moderate-to-low amounts of high-quality protein, and very little, if any, carbs). According to the California Avocado Commission, a medium Hass avocado contains about 22.5 grams of fat, two-thirds of which is monounsaturated. They're also very low in fructose, which is yet another boon, and provide close to 20 essential health-boosting nutrients, including:
- Potassium (more than twice the amount found in a banana)
- Vitamin E
- Folic acid
Avocados are one of the safest fruits you can buy conventionally-grown,and most experts do not believe you need to purchase organic ones. Their thick skin protects the inner fruit from pesticides. Additionally, it has been rated as one of the safest commercial crops in terms of pesticide exposure,3 so there's no real need to spend extra money on organic avocados, unless you can afford it.
The Many Health Benefits of Avocados
Avocados have a long list of potential health benefits. For example, besides its anti-inflammatory properties, previous research from Japan suggests this powerful fruit may also help protect against liver damage. In one study,4 laboratory rats were fed avocado and 22 other fruits. The rats were then given D-galactosamine, a potent liver toxin that interferes with cell synthesis and results in cell death. The rats fed avocado suffered the least amount of liver damage. The chemical-induced liver injuries resemble those caused by viruses, so the researchers suggested avocado could potentially offer support in the treatment of viral hepatitis. According to one lead author Hirokazu Kawagishi, Ph.D:
"Besides offering taste and nutrition, avocados seem to improve liver health. People should eat more of them."
One 2005 study,5 found that adding avocado to salad allowed the volunteers to absorb three to five times more carotenoids antioxidant molecules, which help protect your body against free radical damage. Other research has found that avocados:
- Contain compounds that appear to inhibit and destroy oral cancer cells.6, 7
- Can help improve lipid profiles in both healthy individuals and those with non optimized HDL/ total cholesterol levels). In one study,8 healthy individuals saw a 16 percent decrease of serum total cholesterol level following a one-week long diet high in monounsaturated fat from avocados. In those with elevated cholesterol levels, the avocado diet resulted in a 17 percent decrease of serum total cholesterol, and a 22 percent decrease of both LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, along with an 11 percent increase of the so-called "good" HDL cholesterol.
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The Best Way to Peel an Avocado
Did you know there are many ways to skin an avocado? Well, there are, and how you de-skin your fruit can have a bearing on the nutrients you get from it. In 2010, the California Avocado Commission issued guidelines for getting the most out of your avocado by peeling it the right way:9
"California-grown avocados contain 11 carotenoids. According to USDA's Agricultural Research Service, avocados contain a complex package of phytonutrients, including carotenoids that may provide numerous health benefits. Carotenoids appear to protect humans against certain cancers, heart disease and age-related macular degeneration.
The UCLA research showed that in California avocados, the greatest concentration of beneficial carotenoids is in the dark green fruit of the avocado closest to the peel.
'The Commission's public relations outreach to encourage consumers to 'nick and peel' their California avocados and to eat that dark green area of the fruit has resulted in 33 million consumer impressions,' said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for CAC. 'This 'nick and peel' message is also valuable information for produce departments to share with their shoppers.'"
To preserve the area with the greatest concentration of antioxidants, you basically want to peel the avocado with your hands, as you would a banana:
- First, cut the avocado length-wise, around the seed
- Holding each half, twist them in the opposite directions to separate them from the seed
- Remove the seed
- Cut each half, lengthwise
- Next, using your thumb and index finger, simply peel the skin off each piece
How to Get More Avocado into Your Diet
While avocado is commonly eaten raw, on salad or alone, with nothing but a dash of Himalayan salt and some ground pepper, for example, there are many other ways to include avocado in your diet. For example, you can use avocado in the following ways:
- Use as a fat replacement in baking. Simply replace the fat called for (such as oil, butter or shortening) with an equal amount of avocado
- Use as a first food for babies, in lieu of processed baby food
- For hundreds of unique recipes that include avocado–from salads to dessert whip and everything in between – check out the California Avocado Commission's website10