Alan Frischer, MD, MPH
I just love avocados. If my goal for today’s column were to solicit avocados from those among my readers who have trees, than I would be content to stop here. However, this is a column about health, so let’s explore what they can do for us.
First of all, avocados are a stone fruit, not a vegetable. They have a creamy texture and grow in warm climates. Some of us know them as alligator pears or butter fruit. They vary in shape and color – from pear-shaped to round, and from green to black. The most popular variety around here is the Haas avocado.
Avocados are loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Yes, they are a high fat food. In fact, 77% of their calories are from fat, making them one of the highest fat plant foods (most fruit is far higher in carbohydrates then in fat). However, the majority of this fat is oleic acid, which is also the major component in olive oil. When monounsaturated fats are eaten in moderation in place of saturated and trans fat, they help to reduce the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, raise the “good” cholesterol (HDL), and lower triglycerides. They are highly recommended as a part of the DASH diet created by the American Heart Association.
Avocados are incredibly nutritious. They contain vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, potassium (more than a banana), vitamin B5, vitamin B6, and vitamin E. A 3.5-ounce serving includes 160 calories, 2 grams of protein and 15 grams of healthy fats. Avocados contain no cholesterol or sodium (which can raise blood pressure), and are low in saturated fat.
Avocados are loaded with fiber. Fiber is indigestible plant matter and can help with weight loss, reduce blood sugar spikes, and lower the risk of a number of diseases. Of the nine grams of carbs in a 3.5 ounce serving, seven grams are fiber, which is more than a quarter of the daily requirement. 25% of this fiber is soluble, which helps to maintain our friendly gut bacteria.
Avocados are loaded with antioxidants, and also enable greater absorption of antioxidants from other foods. Antioxidants likely protect against a number of diseases, including the formation of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Avocados are diabetes friendly because they are low in carbs and sugar, and are high in healthy fat and fiber. Eating a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus by about 20%.
Best of all, avocados are delicious and very easy to add to salads and sandwiches, eat on toast, make into guacamole, and toss into smoothies. They are loaded with nutrients, and are weight-loss friendly and heart healthy. If your New Year’s resolutions include improving your diet, you may want to start with the avocado.