What fruit do Americans eat 7 pounds of per year?
Answer: Avocados. And that’s great, since they are nutritional powerhouses.
Avocados went from being a guac-only fruit to having their own restaurants. Avocaderia first opened in Brooklyn is valued at $2 million and now has plans to and financial backing from Shark Tank to expand throughout the United States[*][*].
Avocados are one of the most nutritious foods on earth, benefiting everything from heart health to cancer prevention and flawless skin. Want proof?:
- A 2013 study published in the Nutrition Journal concluded that avocado consumption is positively linked to better dietary intake, better nutrient absorption and a decreased risk in developing metabolic syndrome[*].
- Researchers at Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communication in 2011 found that compounds in avocados have been inhibit the proliferation of oral cancer cells. This study was supported by 25 other studies[*].
- A review of data from the NHANES study showed that avocado consumption decreased the risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 50%[*].
They’re clearly worth the market price of $3+, especially if eating half an avocado a day keeps the oncologist away.
What Are Avocados?
Avocados are a stone fruit, which means they have a large seed in the middle like a nectarine or peach. They’re known as nature’s butter because they are largely composed of fat. Roughly 75% of avocado’s calories come from fat.
This fat content gives avocados a smooth, creamy texture — perfect for making dips, spreads and smoothies.
There are 3 types of avocados:
- Mexican (aoacatl)
- Guatemalan (quilaoacatl)
- West Indian (tlacacolaocatl)[*].
In the U.S. we most commonly reference avocados as either California or Florida avocados.
California avocados, also known as Hass (Persea Americana), are the most popular in America. They are small with bumpy skin. They begin green and turn dark brown as they ripen, which seems to be two seconds before they go bad.
Florida avocados are larger with a smooth rind. They too turn darker as they ripen, but not as dramatically as Hass avocados. They also have a higher water content and are less sweet.
The Interesting History of Avocados
While popularity in America is relatively new, there is cave evidence of avocados enjoyed over 10,000 years ago[*]. By 500 BC humans were cultivating avocados in Central America, where they were originally called ahuacatl, the Nahuatal word for testicle, referencing the appearance of avocados when they grow in groups of two[*][*].
By the 1600s Ahuacatl had caught on with the Spanish who called the fruit aguacate, still meaning testicle. Around 1915 the fruit got the English name we now know it by, avocado. Occasionally they are called alligator pears.
The word guacamole comes from blending aguacate and mole the Nahuatal word for sauce[*].
The Hass avocado that accounts for 95% of avocados in America and 80% globally began as a failed science experiment[*].
In 1926, a postman named Rudolf Hass brought some avocado seeds home and tried to graft them with the avocado species called Fruete (Spanish for strong).
The grafts weren’t taking and in a moment of frustration Hass tried to hack down the tree. Good thing this attempt failed, as it went on to produce the first Hass avocados and be used to propagate many more Hass avocado trees until the tree perished due to root rot in 2002.
The Fruete variety was prettier, but the Hass avocado has a thicker rind and better flavor. Its trees bear fruit sooner than the Fruete and for longer periods of the year. Better flavor, resiliency, quicker fruition and more availability made the Hass perfect mass consumption.
The Nutrition of Avocados
Avocados are one of the most nutrient dense foods on earth, commanding the title of superfood.
Nutrient dense means a lot of nutrients in a small amount of the food — think maximum nutrients per bite.
Avocados are loaded with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and phytochemicals, each one playing a major role in health.
In half of a Hass avocado, there is:
- 161 Calories
- 8.55 g Total Carbohydrate
- 6.75 g Fiber
- .65 g Sugar
- 14.75 g Total Fat
- 4.85 g Monounsaturated Fat
- 1.85 g Polyunsaturated Fat
- 2.15 g Saturated Fat
- 110.5 mg Omega 3 Fatty Acids
- 2 g Protein
- 10 mg Vitamin C (16.75% DV)
- 2.1 mg Vitamin E (10.5% DV)
- 21.1 mcg Vitamin K (26.5% DV)
- .25 mg Vitamin B6 (13% DV)
- 81.5 mcg Folate (20.5% DV)
- 1.4 mg Pantothenic Acid (14% DV)
- 487.5 mg Potassium (14% DV)
- .2 mg Copper (10% DV)
Avocados have the least amount of sugar of any fruit, making it one of the only ketogenic or low carb friendly fruits. When you subtract the high fiber content of an avocado from the the total carbohydrates an avocado has only 1 net carb.
Why half an avocado instead of a fifth? Because while the recommended serving size is a fifth of an avocado — the serving size happened to be determined during the era of fat phobia — the NHANES study showed that the most common serving size is half an avocado[*].
Avocados boast phytochemicals that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting effects. These phytochemicals are beta-sitosterol, glutathione, beta-carotene and lutein.
5 Amazing Health Benefits of Avocados
Avocados are famous for beauty benefits. Consumption and topical application of avocados is has been shown to boost the health of hair, skin and eyes.
But they offer so much more.
#1: Nutritional Team Player
Avocados offer 19 vitamins and minerals, healthy monounsaturated fats and phytochemicals, which increase the absorption of other nutrients from other foods.
The fat composition of avocados, namely the monounsaturated fats, increase the absorption and utilization of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These are the 4 vitamins needed for human health that require fat to be absorbed and utilized.
One study showed avocados increased the absorption of carotenoids when consumed with salad and salsa. The absorption of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, was 15.3 times higher. The study also looked at the absorption of alpha-carotene and lutein, which were 7.2 and 5.1 times higher respectively[*].
In the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey results from 2001 to 2008, avocado consumption was positively correlated with eating a healthier diet, which lead to better overall health.
Avocado consumers were shown to have significantly lower body weight, BMI and waist circumferences[*].
#2: Heart Health
Ischemic heart disease has been the number one cause of death worldwide for over 15 years[*].
Avocados contain several nutrients that help boost heart health — monounsaturated fats, beta sitosterol, potassium and the B vitamin folate.
Their healthy fats benefit the entire cardiovascular system. On average the fat makeup of an avocado is 71% monounsaturated fats (MUFA), 13% polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) and 16% saturated fats.
The MUFA of highest interest in avocados is the heart healthy oleic fatty acid — the same heart healthy fat that gave rise to the popularity of olive oil.
As avocados ripen, the saturated fat content decreases and the oleic fatty acid content increases[*]. The key is to catch the avocado in the brief window of being perfectly ripe.
Oleic fatty acid helps boost heart health by reducing levels of LDL cholesterol, often called bad cholesterol. LDL cholesterol plays a role in the developing of plaque on the arterial walls and arterial stiffening known as atherosclerosis.
By decreasing LDL levels oleic fatty acid helps block the development and/or the progression of atherosclerosis when included as part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle[*].
Avocados also contain a concentrated amount of heart health supporting phytochemical called beta sitosterol. 100 grams of avocado (about half and avocado) contains 76.4 mg of beta sitosterol, a plant sterol known for balancing and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels[*].
Animal studies have shown that dietary avocado consumption enhances the antiatherogenic properties of HDL cholesterol, often called good cholesterol[*]. HDL picks up the fats accumulating in plaques in the arteries.
That same half of an avocado contains 487.5 mg of potassium, which is 14% of the 4700 mg recommended daily value (DV), making it an excellent food for supporting heart health[*].
Potassium is a mineral that is needed for all neurological electrical conduction (electrolyte), muscle movement and for vasodilation.
Consuming potassium rich foods can decreasing blood clotting, heart attacks and even strokes, the brain equivalent of a heart attack.
Most education to reduce blood pressure hyper focuses on the reduction of sodium intake exclusively. All-too-often we overlook potassium, which we need 3x as much of.
Avocados contain the B vitamin folate. Half an avocado contains 81.5 mcg of folate, which is 20.5% of the recommended DV. Folate is known for preventing spine-related birth defects, but it is also essential for heart health your entire life.
Folate (folic acid) breaks down homocysteine, a compound made as a metabolic byproduct to stress — both good and bad stress. High levels of homocysteine are related to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease — this affects blood flow to extremities[*].
#3: Lower Risk of Developing Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a name given to a group of risk factors that put you at a high risk for developing heart disease, stroke or diabetes.
These risk factors are large waistline, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, high blood pressure and high fasting blood glucose. Having 3 of the 5 symptoms qualifies for a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome[*].
Consumption of avocados has been linked with a reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome[*].
Looking at the 2001-2008 NHANES study data, researchers noted that individuals who ate avocados were 50% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome.
The study showed that individuals who ate avocados had a better quality of diet defined as eating less sugar and more produce, MUFAs, PUFAs, dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium and vitamins E and K. All of those nutrients promote healthy weight, heart health and blood glucose regulation[*].
#4: Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight
The healthy fats and dietary fiber in avocados can help you maintain a healthy body weight.
The healthy fats in an avocado, as well as the dietary fiber, help you feel full sooner and longer, leading to lower caloric consumption.
Half an avocado packs about 7 grams of fiber which is a third of the daily recommended fiber intake for women daily and fifth of the fiber recommended for men. It is recommended to consume 7 g of fiber per 1000 calories consumed[*].
The healthy fat and fiber combo of avocados, in addition to the nutritional makeup, has been shown to increase satiety and thus decrease caloric consumption[*].
A 2013 comprehensive review of the health benefits of avocados showed that avocado consumption aided in both weight loss and maintenance of a healthy weight thereafter[*].
#5: Cancer Treatment and Prevention
Studies have shown avocados induce cell cycle arrest (stop cells from doing anything), inhibit cellular growth and induce apoptosis (death of cells) in both precancerous and cancerous cells. They also mitigate the unpleasant side effects of certain chemotherapy drugs[*][*].
Avocado consumption has been shown to halt the proliferation of oral cancer cells[*]. The lutein in avocados has been shown to lower the rates of breast cancer in women who eat avocados versus those that don’t[*]. And the oleic fatty acid in avocados showing potential at preventing cancer through it’s potent anti-inflammatory properties[*][*].
The synergistic effect of the avocados many nutrients — especially the phytochemicals and monounsaturated fatty acids — have been found to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells[*].
Don’t eat avocados in lieu of prescribed treatment, but they can be a part of the nutritional component of your treatment plan.
How to Buy and Store Avocados
Avocados are picked before ripening because once they’re ripe there’s a small window before they go bad. As they ripen the oleic fatty acid content increases and this healthy fat goes rancid quickly.
Choose your avocado based on how soon you’ll eat it. Hard avocados that are brilliant green in color will take a few days to ripen. You can reduce this down to a couple of days by placing them in a brown paper bag to trap the ethanol coming off the avocados, which will ripen the fruit.
Store the avocado at room temp or slightly chilled away from other fruits or vegetables to prolong the time before it ripens.
Ripe avocados will be dark in color, heavy, and give when pressed. You can also tug on the remaining stem to check for ripeness. If it resists, the avocado isn’t ready. If it pops off easily and exposes green flesh, you’re good to go. If it pops off and displays brown avocado flesh with an off putting odor, it’s gone bad.
Mixing fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice into your guacamole or avocado spread is a great way to keep it from turning brown. Throwing the seed into the guac is said to help as well.
Avocados Safety Concerns
If you have a latex or banana allergy you may also have an allergy to avocados as they’re all related.
Avoid feeding them to your pet. All parts of the avocado plant contain a toxin called persin, which isn’t poisonous to dogs or cats, but can cause vomiting and diarrhea. This substantiates the warnings not to feed avocados to your pets[*]. They are poisonous for birds.
Pet owners practice caution on growing avocado plants from the pits indoors as the persin toxin is most concentrated in the leaves. Cats and dogs have a knack for eating houseplants.
3 Delicious, Nutritious Avocado Recipes
Besides guacamole, there are other ways to enjoy avocados.
Lemon Chicken Avocado Boats
This delicious recipe has minimal ingredients and maximum flavor. Enjoy all the healthy fats, fibers and nutrients of avocado paired with the protein of chicken. The lemon brings it all together and increases nutrient absorption. Get the recipe HERE.
Avocado Breakfast Bowl
Start your day with one of the most nutritious foods around. This small but mighty breakfast brings a load of nutrition and flavor plus it will stick with you for hours. With such a rich flavor profile, it’s hard to believe this recipe only has 5 ingredients. Get the recipe HERE.
Easy Keto Chicken Salad
Who says you can’t enjoy family gathers while following the keto principals? This keto approved chicken salad is delicious and will leave you satiated for hours. The nutrition in the avocado plays well with all the other ingredients making this one of the healthiest dishes around. That’s far more than can be said about your standard chicken salad. Click HERE to get the recipe.
Make Avocados Part of Your Daily Intake
If you’ve been avoiding avocados, you’ve been missing out. They’re loaded with nutrition that has both short term and long term benefits.
In the short term you can enjoy it’s healthy fats and dietary fiber keeping you satiated for hours and a glowing complexion. In the long term avocados can help prevent diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
Sheila Amir is an experienced health and nutrition writer. After 8 years of practice she hung up her hat as a nutritionist to help a larger audience through writing and presenting. She’s the Sheila of NutritionSheila.com, a long-time yogi, major food enthusiast and outdoor junkie.