We know that eating fruits and vegetables are key to disease prevention and overall wellness. Making sure that you get a wide variety (aka – “Eating the Rainbow”) ensures that our bodies get all the important nutrients, vitamins and minerals we need as well as the antioxidant power to fight free radical damage in our bodies. Some fruits and vegetables however offer more powerful benefits than your average head of iceberg lettuce (not to pick on iceberg lettuce but it is scant in nutrients compared to many other options). One of those ‘superfoods’ is the Avocado. Many people view avocados as a vegetable, but this mighty superfood is a fruit and it belongs to the berry family. Yes, that’s correct, that yummy bowl of guacamole is a bowl of fruit! And this fruit offers a powerful combination of healthy fats, fiber, quality protein, cancer fighting immune boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
The avocado is extremely nutrient dense, offering 20 different vitamins and minerals per serving including B vitamins- B6 and niacin, Vitamin C and E which support your immune system and bone-boosting vitamin K. Packed with folate along with antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene which all support eye health, an avocado also has loads of potassium (even more than a banana) which means it helps to lower blood pressure. This fruit has a good amount of amino acids, making it one of the highest protein fruit sources. Avocados have very little sugar, so they contain very little carbs; they are high in fiber and provide us with a high amount monosaturated fats (MUFAs). Monosaturated fats (MUFAs) are good fats that help lower LDL bad cholesterol, improve good cholesterol (HDL) and may help your blood vessel function as well as benefit insulin levels and overall blood sugar control. An interesting phenomenon in the makeup of this wonder fruit is that these MUFAs are created in a water-based matrix of the fruit and this has an enhancing effect on the nutrients in the avocado, making them easier for your body to uptake, absorb and utilize.
Why do researchers name the avocado a “Superfood”? The health benefits of eating avocados include the following:
With their high level of MUFAs, avocados can help lower cholesterol levels and have a positive effect on blood lipids. Avocados are linked to lowering total cholesterol, lowering LDL (bad cholesterol), boosting HDL (good cholesterol), lowering triglycerides. This healthy fruit also contains a good amount of a natural plant sterol called beta-sitosterol which has been shown to help maintain healthy cholesterol level. With over 690mg of potassium, avocados help to regulate blood pressure, prevent strokes, improve muscle contractions and heart function as well as help with water retention.
Healthy fats help weight loss and accelerate fat loss. For many years it was thought that avoiding fats made you lose weight and was healthy for your heart, but that myth has been long busted. MUFAs like the ones in avocados are especially linked to significant weight loss when compared to eating the same amount of fat from other sources. Healthy fats help slow down digestion and keep you full longer, so you don’t eat as often or as much. Carbs cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to spike and rise, then crash just as quickly and you get hungrier more quickly and are apt to eat more as well as feel cranky and moody. There is a hormone released in your digestive system when you eat fats called CCK which signals the brain to turn off the hunger drive. This hormone is not activated when you eat carbs, which means you don’t feel full and continue to seek more and more food. The healthy monosaturated fats (MUFAs) and the fiber in avocados slow down digestion, fill you up longer, promote fat loss and improve your blood lipid profiles.
Avocados are packed with fiber, more than almost any other kind of fruit. One whole avocado contains anywhere from 11 -17 grams of fiber depending on the size of the fruit. Fiber helps the balance of good bacteria in your gut- an essential component in your immune function, mood and health. iber also helps to keep you regular so that you better eliminate toxins from your body. Because it provides such a healthy dose of fats along with the fiber it improves digestion and nutrient absorption. Many vitamins are called ‘fat soluble’ which means they need a fat present when you eat them for you to be able to absorb the vitamin. These healthy fats also nourish the lining of your gut.
Avocados contain a dynamic duo of antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin which help protect against macular degeneration. Studies show that people with low levels of both of these antioxidants to be have an increased risk of age-related eye dysfunction. Lutein is a carotenoid which is a group of antioxidants that are known for protecting us from pollution and UV damage from the sun.
There is research indicating the benefits of eating avocados include anti-cancer properties, especially cancers of the larynx, pharynx and mouth. The National Cancer Institute found that an avocados glutathione levels are very much higher than most any other fruit and this may be the key to its anti-cancer properties. Avocados have also been studied for their positive protection against both breast cancer and prostrate cancer.
Those with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease and strokes and these conditions are the leading cause of death of diabetics according the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Along with their ability to create healthy blood lipid profiles, monosaturated Fats (MUFAs) have been shown to improve fasting insulin levels and help to lower blood sugar levels. The combination of healthy fats and high fiber make avocado a great choice for diabetics as well as for anyone with blood sugar imbalances (pre-diabetes and insulin resistance).
The nutrients in avocados are linked to a decreased risk of joint damage from osteoarthritis. The monosaturated fats and Vitamin E that avocados provide are highly anti-inflammatory; and the antioxidants provide relief from oxidative stress. Avocados also contain a compound called saponins which studies show has been associated with relief from knee osteoarthritis.
Avocados are high in folate and eating foods that contain folate help to lower the risk of depression. Folate lowers levels of homocysteine which is an amino acid in your blood. Homocysteine levels rise when you eat meat and high levels of this amino acid in your blood are linked to heart disease as well as to impaired circulation in the body and in the brain. High homocysteine levels interfere with your ability to produce serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help to regulate your sleep, mood and appetite.
Avocados are a rich source of Vitamin K. When most of us think about bone health and osteoporosis prevention we think about Vitamin D and calcium, but Vitamin K levels are crucial for bone health. This is because Vitamin K helps to direct calcium to the bones for bone building. Without the help of Vitamin K, calcium levels can build up in the blood, leading to calcification inside the blood vessels which is a leading cause of heart disease and atherosclerosis.
This versatile fruit offers a multitude of health benefits and adding avocado as a healthy fat to your diet is easy. Switch out unhealthy fats like mayonnaise and use an avocado as a condiment instead. Add to salads, smoothies, and as a side. Avocados can easily be a switch for the fat in baking or cooking and are a great way to reduce the overall calorie count. For example, 2 tablespoons of avocado have about 48 calories while the same serving size of butter would contain about 200 calories. Try spreading it on whole grain toast instead of butter or cream cheese. Of course, you can always indulge in everyone’s favorite way to enjoy an avocado as guacamole or just eat it right as it’s sliced. Eating an avocado is just one way to enjoy the health benefits. The fatty acids, vitamin E and antioxidants are nourishing inside and out. Avocados can also be used topically on the skin, hair and nails for as a moisturizer.
By: Cindy Luisi, WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach