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The Selling of the Avocado

Avocado Fruit

Story at-a-glance -

  • In the early 20th century avocados were called “alligator pears” and were not widely consumed in the US
  • As recently as the ‘80s and ‘90s, physicians recommended avoiding avocados due to their high fat content
  • As of 2014, two-thirds of US consumers purchased avocados in the past year

By Dr. Mercola

Avocados are one of the most popular fruits in the US; two-thirds of US consumers purchased avocados in the past year, according to the Hass Avocado Board 2014 tracking study.1

Among them, 60 percent fell into the "lovers/enthusiasts" category, which means they purchased at least 37, and in some cases more than 120, avocados a year.

This is particularly striking when you consider that during the 1920s – and as late as the 1970s – avocados were thought of more as a luxury item or delicacy than an everyday food.

In fact, the avocados of the early 20th century weren't known as avocados at all. They were still called "alligator pears," due to their green bumpy skin, which hardly enticed eaters. In an intriguing article in The Atlantic, it's revealed that avocados' rise into "mainstream" meals was not a matter of happenstance.2

From receiving a new name to starring in brilliant PR campaigns, avocados were able to rise up out of obscurity, beat the low-fat craze of the '80s and '90s, and find their way into the hearts… and stomachs… of Americans.

Avocado Growers' Long Fight to Boost Avocados' Reputation

According to a trade group in 1927, "That the avocado, an exalted member of the laurel family, should be called an alligator pear is beyond all understanding."3

The California Avocado Growers' Exchange was pivotal in removing the word "alligator" from the avocado lexicon, and getting them known to the public as avocados instead (a word that, ironically, comes from an even worse association, the Aztec "ahuacacuahatl" or "testicle tree").

However, avocados, due to their limited growing climate, were an expensive fruit, selling at $1 each in 1974 (which would be like $4.80 today). They were marketed as a gourmet food, and most considered them to be a delicacy, not something for everyday meals.

"I vividly remember my mom serving [avocado] in the 1960s when she wanted to be fancy and impress our guests," Jeffrey Charles, a professor of Food History at California State University at San Marcos told The Atlantic.4

Then, in the 1980s, public health organizations began to push low-fat diets. The avocado, with its high level of healthy fats, did not fit the bill, and even physicians "warned" against their consumption. Jan DeLyser, vice president of Marketing with the California Avocado Commission, told The Atlantic:5

"I can remember seeing a fact-sheet that came from a doctor my husband went to years ago… It was a heart-health type message. It said, 'Do not consume avocados.'"

Around this time, avocado growers fought back against the low-fat movement. They funded research studies to prove that the fat in avocados was healthy and enhanced nutrient absorption, and launched TV ads showing fit celebrities, like Angie Dickinson, eating avocados.

Ad Campaigns and the Super Bowl Take Avocados to the Next Level

The California Avocado Commission, with the help of PR firm Hill & Knowlton, introduced "Mr. Ripe Guy," a mascot for the avocado industry. Along with having Mr. Ripe Guy appear at various events, in 1995, they orchestrated a nationwide search for "Ms. Ripe," which prompted contestants from across the country to vie for the title.

However, the greatest game changer of all may have been avocados' entrance into the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, many avocado growers' crops ripen in January, so Hill & Knowlton held a "Guacamole Bowl" in the '90s by gathering recipes from NFL players and taste-testing them among fans and reporters.

"No other single American event impacts the sale of avocados like the Super Bowl," former California Avocado Commission President Mark Affleck said in the early '90s. "In fact, Super Bowl week trails only Cinco de Mayo as the most important week of the year for California avocados." 6 As The Atlantic7 reported:

"The effort behind the avocado is an example of viral marketing before there was virality… It's not clear whether the avocado would have blown up without all of these machinations, but other obscure fruits have not managed to pull off a similar rise.

…Food marketing is rarely purely good or purely evil, but it is often surprisingly powerful. The saga of the avocado shows how food promotion can—when it coincides happily with changing demographics, fortuitous economic policy, and favorable scientific knowledge—work almost eerily well. It can change the way we eat, sometimes forever."

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Why the Growing Popularity of Avocados Is a Very Good Thing

This is one case when PR spin worked in favor of public health. Compared to the 1990s, when the average American ate about 1.5 pounds of avocados a year, in 2012 that had risen to 5 pounds.8 Avocados are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Personally, I eat one almost every day.

Avocados are rich sources of monounsaturated fat that your body can easily burn for energy. Because they are so rich in healthy fats, avocados help your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients from other foods.

One study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that consuming a whole fresh avocado with either an orange-colored tomato sauce or raw carrots significantly enhanced absorption of the carotenoids and conversion of them into an active form of vitamin A.9

A 2005 study similarly found that adding avocado to salad allowed the volunteers to absorb three to five times more carotenoid antioxidant molecules, which help protect your body against free radical damage.10

Avocados Are Satiating and May Help with Weight Management

Avocados also provide close to 20 essential health-boosting nutrients, including potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins, and folate, and, according to research published in the Nutrition Journal, eating just one-half of a fresh avocado with lunch may satiate you if you're overweight, which will help prevent unnecessary snacking later.11

Those who ate half an avocado with their standard lunch reported being 40 percent less hungry three hours after their meal, and 28 percent less hungry at the five-hour mark compared to those who did not eat avocado for lunch. The study also found that avocados appear helpful for regulating blood sugar levels.

Avocado is also beneficial for maintaining optimal cholesterol levels. Healthy individuals saw a 16 percent decrease in 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.12

Personally, I eat one avocado a day and have for many years. I also have three avocado trees in my backyard and harvest the fruit from them when I can. I even take them when travelling making sure to take really hard ones, as they will ripen during the trip.

One of my favorite ways to consume them is to put 1/3 of an avocado into 12 ounces of water with my Vegan or Pure Power Protein, shredded coconut, along with my organic greens mix, and my organic psyllium. This really is super delicious and allows me to bypass junk food at the hotels.

Why You Should Put Avocado on Your Burgers…

The next time you're in the mood for a grass-fed burger, add a few thick slices of avocado. One study found that eating one-half of a medium avocado with a hamburger significantly inhibited the production of the inflammatory compound Interleukin-6 (IL-6), compared to eating a burger without fresh avocado.13

According to lead author David Heber, MD, PhD, the findings offer "promising clues" about avocado's ability to benefit vascular function and heart health. In fact, there's good reason to add avocado to virtually any meal, as their healthy fats are vital for optimal brain function, and the prevention of degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer's disease. As noted in Scientific American:14

"The brain thrives on a fat-rich, low carbohydrate diet, which unfortunately is relatively uncommon in human populations today," reports David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain. "Mayo Clinic researchers showed that individuals favoring carbohydrates in their diets had a remarkable 89 percent increased risk for developing dementia as contrasted to those whose diets contained the most fat.

Having the highest levels of fat consumption was actually found to be associated with an incredible 44 percent reduction in risk for developing dementia." ...'Good' fats include monounsaturated fats, found abundantly in olive oil, peanut oil, hazelnuts, avocados, and pumpkin seeds, and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 and omega 6), which are found in flaxseed oil, chia seeds, marine algae oil, and walnuts."

You Can Grow Your Own Avocado Tree

The seed from an avocado can be used to grow your own tree, although it's not as simple as just planting it in the ground. To get an avocado seed to grow, its "pointy" end needs to face the sun while the flat end needs to be kept wet at all times. One way to accomplish this is by placing three or four toothpicks into the outer layer of the seed. Use the toothpicks as support structures to "float" the seed on the top of a glass of water. If done properly, roots should begin to sprout within one or two months.

A Kickstarter campaign has also been launched for a device called the AvoSeedo. It keeps the seed properly immersed in water and automatically adjusts as the water level in your container goes down. This makes the germination process much easier and more foolproof, because if your seed dries out the germination process might stop permanently. If you're interested in growing your own avocado tree, you may want to check it out.

How to Peel an Avocado (Yes, It Matters)

If you scoop out the flesh of an avocado using a spoon, you could be missing out on valuable nutrition, because how you de-skin your avocado can affect how much of its valuable phytonutrients you get out of it. UCLA research has shown that the greatest concentration of beneficial carotenoids, for example, is located in the dark green fruit closest to the inside of the peel. In 2010, the California Avocado Commission issued guidelines for getting the most out of your avocado by peeling it the right way.15 To preserve the area with the greatest concentration of antioxidants, you're best off using this method:

  1. First, cut the avocado length-wise, around the seed
  2. Holding each half, twist them in the opposite directions to separate them from the seed
  3. Remove the seed
  4. Cut each half, lengthwise
  5. Next, use a spoon to scoop out the avocado make sure to get the fruit close to the skin as that has many of the nutrients.
  6. You can cut the skin into small pieces and put it in your compost pile rather than throw it into the trash.

You're probably used to using avocado in salads and guacamole, but you can eat them in many other ways as well. Try avocado:

  • As a fat replacement in baking. Simply replace the fat called for (such as oil, butter, or shortening) with an equal amount of avocado
  • As a first food for babies, in lieu of processed baby food
  • In soups. For examples, see Lucy Lock's Chilled Mediterranean Soup or her Raw Creamy Carrot Soup
  • Added to smoothies or your protein shake, as I mention above, is one of my favorites

Avocados have been rated as one of the safest commercial crops in terms of pesticide application, and their thick skin protects the inner fruit from pesticides. So there's no real need to spend extra money on organic avocados. I've even had my own team test avocados from a variety of growers in different countries, sold in several major grocery stores, and they all tested free and clear of harmful chemicals. Want to know even more about what avocados are good for? Check out the infographic below…

Avocado Uses Health Benefits Infographic Preview

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