Now you can feel better about eating a burger. If, that is, you top it with a couple slices of avocado.
This tropical fruit is chock-full of nutrients that can make eating red meat a bit less unhealthy for your heart. Scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) just released this ground-breaking research.
Eleven healthy men were fed either an 8-ounce hamburger patty or same-size burger in combination with half a medium-sized Hass variety avocado on two separate occasions. Three hours after this meal, the UCLA researchers found there was a significant reduction in the potentially harmful after-meal effects of eating a burger — namely inflammation and narrowing of the blood vessels — in the men who ate the beef-avocado combination.
Inflammation is a risk factor associated with heart disease. Over time, inflammation can play a role in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. The maintenance of normal blood vessels ensures there is sufficient flow of blood throughout the body and that there is enough oxygen and nutrients delivered to all of the body’s organs, tissues and cells.
What’s more, the UCLA researchers also discovered that the extra calories and fat in the beef-avocado meal wasn’t necessarily bad. The plain burger meal used in this study supplied 436 calories and 25 grams of fat, while the burger-avocado combination provided 550 calories and 36 grams of fat.
The addition of avocado didn’t increase triglyceride levels beyond what was seen when just the burger was eaten. High triglycerides, especially in combination with low HDL (good) cholesterol and high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, are a potent risk factor for heart disease.
One of the avocado’s magic ingredients responsible for the heart-healthy effects seen in this study is, ironically, fat. Like extra virgin olive oil, avocados contain healthful monounsaturated fats. When eaten in moderation and used to replace saturated or trans fats in the diet, monounsaturated fats can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and lower other risk factors for heart disease.
That’s not all.
Hass avocados, which are smaller than the smooth green-skinned varieties and have a bumpy skin that turns black when ripe, provides nearly 20 vitamins and minerals. They also contain a host of beneficial plant compounds. These include 81 micrograms of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin per serving, which can help protect eyesight as we age. Avocados are also cholesterol and sodium free.
Perhaps the best part of all is that an avocado-topped burger is not only good healthwise, it tastes good, too. The better-for-you burger trend, which includes everything from pineapple, mushroom and sweet onion to avocado and guacamole as toppings, is found on menus from fast-food to celebrity chefs.
The Hass Avocado Board (HAB) funded the UCLA nutrition research. As a result of the findings, HAB has devised a list of three-minute burger toppers, including:
* Substitute avocado for toppings that contain saturated fat, such as cheese.
* Use avocado in place of mayonnaise or other condiments high in saturated fat such as butter and cheese spreads.
* Mash fresh avocado and mix with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of pepper. Top burgers with this mixture.
* Simply layer slices of avocado atop a burger or inside a wrap.
* Dice avocado and tomato. Toss with fresh cilantro, mint or basil and a dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce and spoon this on top a burger.
* Cube avocado and add it to fresh or store-bought salsa. Use this mixture as a condiment on burgers, sandwiches or wraps.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.