Avocados

avocado01

(Along with their “Sidekicks:” Asparagus and Artichokes)

A source of:

  • Monounsaturated fatty acids
  • Fiber
  • Magnesium
  • Folate
  • Vitamin E
  • Carotenoids
  • Beta-sitosterol
  • Chlorophyll
  • Polyphenols
  • Lutein

Copyrighted Material*

How about a buttery green fruit that you can spread on a sandwich, dice into a salad, or mash into America’s favorite dip? If avocados were only delicious and versatile, they would still be a treat worth serving frequently. Recent research has demonstrated that avocados also offer some surprising and powerful health benefits. One of the most nutrient-dense foods, avocados are high in fiber and, ounce for ounce, top the charts among all fruits for folate. potassium, vitamin E, and magnesium. Indeed, the very impressive health benefits of eating avocados regularly have encouraged me to adopt them as a new SuperFood.

  • Avocados…contain more folate, potassium, vitamin E, and magnesium than any other fruit. In fact, they contain more magnesium, which is essential for healthy bones and cardiovascular health, than any of the twenty most commonly eaten fruits. In addition, research has shown that some other nutrients, including the carotenoid antioxidants lycopene, lutein, and beta-carotene, are absorbed more efficiently when eaten with avocados. (from SuperFoods Rx For Pregnancy)

The delicious healthy monounsaturated fat in the avocado is one of its biggest SuperFood health claims. The only other fruit with a comparable amount of monounsaturated fat is the olive. The monounsaturated fat in avocados is oleic acid, which may help lower cholesterol. One study found that after seven days on a diet that included avocados, there were significant decreases in both total and LDL cholesterol as well as an 11 percent increase in the “good” HDL cholesterol. Half a California avocado has a really excellent overall nutrient profile. At 145 calories it contains approximately 2 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and 13 grams of fat, most of which (8.5 grams) is monounsaturated fat.

Avocados are also rich in magnesium. Magnesium is an essential nutrient for healthy bones, the cardiovascular system (particularly in the regulation of blood pressure and cardiac rhythms), prevention of migraines, and prevention of type II diabetes. Ounce for ounce, avocados provide more magnesium than the twenty most commonly eaten fruits, with banana, kiwi, and strawberry in second, third, and fourth place, respectively.

Avocados are also rich in potassium, which is a critical nutrient that up until recently has not gotten deserved attention. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, and an adequate intake of this mineral can help prevent circulatory diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.  (See much more about Potassium Power in SuperFoods HealthStyle)

Avocados are also a rich source of folate. Once cup of avocado contains 23 percent of the daily value for folate. Various studies have shown a correlation between diets high in folate and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

In addition to their other heart-healthy qualities, avocados are rich in beta-sitosterol, a so-called phytosterol. Along with peanut butter, cashews, almonds, peas, and kidney beans, avocado is one of the best sources of beta-sitosterol from whole foods. A phytosterol is the plant equivalent of cholesterol in animals. Because beta-sitosterol is so similar to cholesterol, it competes for absorption with cholesterol and wins, thus lowering the amounts of cholesterol in our bloodstream. Beta-sitosterol also appears to inhibit excessive cell division, which may play a role in preventing cancer-cell growth. In both animal and laboratory studies, this phytonutrient helps reduce the risk of cancer.

Perhaps the most interesting research on avocados demonstrates that it is a powerful “nutrient booster”: Avocados actually improve the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from foods. It’s important to remember that it’s not just the presence of nutrients in foods that matter—it’s also our body’s ability to absorb these nutrients. In one study, adding about half an avocado (75 grams) to a carrot/lettuce/spinach salad increased the absorption of the following nutrients in the subjects who ate the salad: alpha-carotene by more than 8 times, beta-carotene by more than 13 times, and lutein by more than 4 times compared with the absorption rate of the same salad without avocado.

Interesting recent research shows that avocados seem to be a potent warrior in the fight against prostate cancer. Avocados contain the highest amount of the carotenoid lutein of all commonly eaten fruits. In addition, they contain related carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene, and beta-carotene, as well as significant amounts of vitamin E. A very recent study showed that an extract of avocado containing these carotenoids and tocopherols inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells. Interestingly, when researchers used lutein alone, the cancer cells were unaffected, thus demonstrating once again that it’s the synergy of health-promoting nutrients in whole foods that makes the difference.

Avocados can play a role in a weight-loss diet if eaten in moderate amounts. While high in calories—at 48 calories per ounce, avocados are equivalent to skinless roast chicken breast—avocados help fight obesity because they boost satiety. Satiety is the feeling of fullness that signals us to stop eating and thus helps us control our calorie intake. Perhaps more interesting, research suggests that exercise burns monounsaturated fat more rapidly than saturated fat. This means that even though an avocado is high in monounsaturated fat, this fat will be burned more quickly than saturated fat. The body prefers to burn this fuel over the saturated fat found in meat and dairy.

*This brief summary contains copyrighted material from SuperFoods HealthStyle by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews. Copyright © 2006 by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews Inc., published by HarperCollins; and from SuperFoods Rx For Pregnancy by Steven Pratt, M.D. Copyright © 2013 by SuperFoods Partners, LLC, published by Wiley. All rights reserved.