Health Benefits of Eating Avocados
Avocados – you’ve seen them just about everywhere this year. On your toast, in your brownies and as the star of your guacamole. But, did you know that avocados contain both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are considered to be healthy fats? According to the American Heart Association, eating avocados can help keep bad cholesterol levels at bay. Are avocados a superfood? Can you get too much of a good thing?
To address our speculations, we had Dr. Alison Duncan, professor in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph in Canada, weigh in on the topic.
What are the health benefits of eating avocados?
Dr. Duncan: “Avocados are a type of fruit (also known as the alligator pear) and there are well-established benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables including enjoyment of a tasty diet, an improvement in diet quality and a reduction in risk of many diseases.”
I understand that avocados are high in fat, but are considered to be good for you. How does that work?
Dr. Duncan: “Avocados are a heart-healthy, nutrient-dense with many essential vitamins — vitamin A, folate, vitamin B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, choline, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K — and minerals — copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc — phytochemicals — lutein, zeaxanthin, phytosterols — and dietary fiber.
“They also contain a high amount of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), which makes them higher in calories than other fruits. But we should care more about the quality of our calories, and avocados have a high nutritional quality. MUFA is a healthy type of fat that has been shown to promote healthy blood lipid profiles. The fat in avocados can also improve our ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins from avocados and other fruits and vegetables we may be consuming with the avocados. We should care about the quality of fat we consume, and avocados provide us with a high-quality fat that is healthy for us.”
Monounsaturated fats are considered to be healthy because they can help develop and maintain your cells. Medline Plus provides a list of foods and oils that have higher amounts of monounsaturated fats. Some of those foods and oils include:
- Canola oil
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil and butter
- Sesame oil
Even if avocados are healthy, is there a concern about overindulging in them?
Dr. Duncan: “Moderation and variety are the cornerstones of a healthy diet. Like any other food, we want to aim for moderation so we can spread out our sources of nutrients and be more likely to have the best diet quality we can. So although there is no urgent concern about over-consuming avocados, you should always keep moderation in mind and allow yourself to enjoy many different healthy foods.”
We’ve seen that you can substitute avocados into recipes in place of butter. Do you recommend this?
Dr. Duncan: “Yes, that is a great idea. There many ways to alter recipes to make them more nutrient-dense and avocados are a fun and creative way to do this. You can mash the avocados and substitute it for the butter in a 1:1 ratio. You can experiment with how much butter to substitute but you could aim for about half of the butter. The avocados tend to make for a chewier food as well, which could be appealing depending on the recipe.”
The pit of an avocado must have a purpose. Should I be doing anything with it?
Dr. Duncan: “If you want to get creative, there are many things you could do with an avocado pit. You could use it to grow your own avocado plant, you could make a dye, you could make a tea, you can even cut it up and put it in a smoothie.”
What are the best practices for storing and selecting avocados?
Dr. Duncan: “Avocados start to ripen after they are picked from the tree (which is good as they can be shipped in their unripe, hard and more durable form.) Avocados produce ethylene which facilitates the ripening process, and this is best done at room temperature but happen faster if you put the avocado in a paper bag to concentration the ethylene gas. You can tell an avocado is ripe if it is firm yet gently yields to the pressure of your hand. Then you can maintain the avocado in this state best by storing it in the fridge as the lower temperature will slow down the ripening process.”
Do you have any favorite avocado recipes?
Dr. Duncan: “After writing this piece, I am even more motivated to explore the endless possibilities of cooking with avocado. I think right now my favorite is adding them to smoothies for a huge nutrient-booster. I think chocolate pudding or mousse is also a tasty treat to include avocado. You can buy avocado in frozen chunks and this is the way I have been consuming them lately as it is convenient and fast and enjoyable!”
With proven health benefits, rich flavor and versatile uses, maybe we should change the saying to “an avocado a day keeps the doctor away.”