Avocado: The Misunderstood Fruit
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Avocado: The Misunderstood Fruit

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The nutrient-packed avocado, while often dismissed for its high fat content, is making a comeback. Today, millions of Americans enjoy the avocado in a variety of meals. Avocados do contain fat, but it is mostly the monounsaturated kind—which studies show may increase HDL (the “good”) cholesterol and generally improve heart health. In addition, avocados contain many vitamins and minerals, and they’re cholesterol free.

The Awesome Avocado

The avocado is believed to have originated in Mexico and Central America thousands of years ago. Its exact ancestry is unknown, but anthropologists have confirmed that both the Incas and Aztecs cultivated and ate the fruit.

Today, hundreds of varieties of avocado exist. Hass avocados, which make up 85% of California's crop volume (California produces 95% of all avocados in the U.S. market), are by far the most popular. Avocados, which in the U.S. are grown only in California and Florida, range in size from a few ounces to several pounds, and have skins which can be anywhere from bright green to black in color, and smooth to pebbly in texture. The California varieties (which include Hass, Fuerte, Bacon, and Zutano) are considerably higher in fat (and thus tend to be creamier and more flavorful). Florida avocados (including the Donnie, Miguel, and Ruehle varieties) are larger than most California varieties. They are more watery than California varieties, and gram for gram, contain less fat (and as a result, are thought to contain less flavor).

Health Benefits

No matter how you slice it, the avocado has plenty of health benefits. Here’s a closer look at some of the nutrients found in avocados.

  • Monounsaturated fat: As mentioned, avocados are high in monounsaturated fat. Unlike other fats, this type of fat raises levels of good HDL-cholesterol and lowers harmful triglycerides without raising harmful LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Fiber: Avocados are high in fiber, particularly soluble fiber, which promotes regularity, helps regulate the body's use of sugars, and lowers blood cholesterol levels.
  • Vitamins: Avocados are a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E as well as the B vitamin folate.
  • Minerals: gram for gram, avocados provide more potassium than bananas. Potassium is critical for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and heart function. Avocados also provide a fair amount of magnesium, which your body needs to metabolize carbohydrates and fats.

The table below shows the nutrient content of 100 grams of an avocado from California as compared to an equal amount of an avocado from Florida.

Comparison of 100 grams of California to 100 grams of Florida avocado

Nutrient

Avocados from California (100 grams)

Avocados from Florida (100 grams)

Calories

167120

Total fat

15 grams (g)10 grams (g)

Monounsaturated fat

10 g6 g

Carbohydrate

9 g8 g

Protein

2 g2 g

Dietary fiber

7 g6 g

Vitamin E

2 milligrams (mg)3 milligrams (mg)

Vitamin C

9 mg17 mg

Vitamin A

7 micrograms (µg)7 micrograms (µg)

Folate

62 µg35 µg

Potassium

507 mg351 mg

Magnesium

29 mg24 mg

Iron

0.6 mg0.2 mg

Calcium

13 mg10 mg

Sodium

8 mg2 mg

Phosphorous

54 mg40 mg

Because it's not always easy to figure out how many grams are in a fruit. Here is a direct comparison of the basic nutrient content of one whole avocado from California to one whole avocado from Florida. Keep in mind that the Florida varieties are much bigger than those from California (and therefore have more total calories and fat) but per serving size, contain fewer calories and fat.

Comparison of one whole California avocado to one whole Florida avocado

Nutrient

Avocados from California (1 fruit = 173 grams)

Avocados from Florida (1 fruit = 304 grams)

Calories

289365

Total fat

27 grams (g)31 grams (g)

Monounsaturated fat

10 g17 g

Carbohydrate

15 g24 g

Protein

4 g7 g

Dietary fiber

12 g17 g

Note that avocados also contain:

  • Lutein, a carotenoid, which is thought to help protect against prostate cancer and eye disease such as cataracts and macular degeneration
  • Beta-sitosterol (a plant sterol), which is currently being studied for its ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer

Moderation Is Key

Although they taste great and are good for you, avocados should be eaten in moderation, as part of a balanced diet. Because of the fat content, avocados are relatively high in calories. The recommended serving size is two tablespoons, or roughly one-fifth of an avocado (which provides about five grams of fat and 55 calories).

How to Choose, Prepare, Store, and Eat Avocados

Selection: When purchasing avocados, look for fruits that are firm, heavy for their size, and bruise-free.

Preparation: Test for ripeness with a gentle squeeze. The fruit is ripe when it yields to gentle pressure but doesn't remain dented. A firm avocado will ripen in a few days sitting on a kitchen counter. To shorten the ripening time, put the avocado in a paper bag. Wash it before you eat it.

To cut an avocado, slice it lengthwise around the seed and rotate the halves to separate them. Lift the seed out with a spoon and then peel the fruit with a knife (or your fingers). Or, you can just scoop the fruit out with a spoon and eat it that way.

Storage: Cut avocados will turn brown. To minimize this, squeeze lemon or lime juice on the exposed area. When you next eat the avocado, simply scrape off the brown parts. Store the fruit in the refrigerator for three to four days in Tupperware or covered in plastic wrap.

Uses: The avocado is not used simply to make guacamole (though most would agree that it is delicious that way). Avocados can be a healthy substitute for butter or cream cheese (on bread, toast, bagels or English muffins) and for other commonly used ingredients (e.g., sour cream). Avocados also go well in sushi rolls, soups, salads, and as a side dish.

RESOURCES:

California Avocado Commission
http://www.avocado.org

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
http://www.cfsan.fda.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition
http://www.ccfn.ca

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca/

References:

The Avocado. University of Florida. Available at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG213 Accessed May 14, 2008.

Avocados Contribute to a Healthy Lifestyle. American Dietetic Association. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/Public/NutritionInformation/92_nfs0300a.cfm Accessed August 6, 2003.

California Avocado Commission. Available at: http://www.avocado.org/consumer.phtml Accessed May 14, 2008.

Food Storage Information. Food Marketing Institute. Available at: http://www.fmi.org/consumer/foodkeeper/search.htm Accessed August 6, 2003.

Lopez LR, Frati AC, Hernandez BC, Cervantes Montalvo S, Hernandez Luna MH, Juarez C, Moran Lira S. Monounsaturated fatty acid (avocado) rich diet for mild hypercholesterolemia. Arch Med Res . 1996;27(4):519-23.

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Available at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgi-bin/nut_search.pl Accessed May 14, 2008.



Last reviewed April 2008 by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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