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Enjoy avocados in moderation to get benefits without guilt

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The creamy green flesh of the avocado has the mouthfeel of a bad-for-you food. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, it’s the rich content of monounsaturated fat plus nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins and folic acid that makes this tasty tropical fruit a superfood. What’s more, a survey of more than 500 registered dietitians conducted by Today’s Dietitian and Pollock Communications have pegged avocados as one of the top healthy choices for 2015.

Scientific studies conducted over the past few years shows there are at least three good reasons to eat avocados regularly.

Enjoy but limit avocado intake. PHOTO FROM DEAN BARNES

Enjoy but limit avocado intake. PHOTO FROM DEAN BARNES

First, research published in 2014 by researchers at Loma Linda University in California revealed that when 26 overweight participants added half an avocado to their lunch, they felt full longer and were able to eat less at the next meal. Specifically, the avocado eaters reported a 40 percent decrease in their desire to eat over the next three hours compared to when they skipped this fruit.

The researchers said that even though the avocado added calories and carbohydrates to the lunch, this was followed by no increase in blood sugar levels compared to the same meal avocado free. They add that this may explain, in part, why the avocado’s satiety effect could potentially aid in weight management.

Plus, unlike other fruits, avocados contain only 7 grams of carbohydrates and less than 2 grams of natural sugar in a half-fruit serving. The best way to put this research into effect is to add avocado to an already healthful lunch. Tuck slices in a turkey sandwich or sprinkle on a vegetable salad or thick bowl of vegetable soup.

Second, in 2013, nutrition scientists in Michigan found that people who regularly eat avocados have an improved overall diet quality, nutrient intake and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. This result came from looking at the 24-hour dietary recalls of nearly 18,000 U.S. adults spanning from 2001 to 2008.

Specifically, the avocado eaters had higher overall intakes of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), dietary fiber, vitamins E and K, magnesium and potassium, and lower consumption of added sugars.

Body weight, body mass index and waist circumference was also lower in the avocado eaters compared to the non-eaters. This means that in addition to guacamole and on soups, salads and sandwiches, it’s a good idea to incorporate avocados into your diet in other ways such as blended in smoothies or in place of butter when making breads, muffins and pancakes.

Third, a 2014-published study by researchers at Ohio State University indicates that eating an avocado with other foods can actually boost absorption of essential vitamins. In particular, 12 healthy men and women ate a fresh avocado with either tomato sauce or carrots. Results showed that eating avocado and tomato sauce together more than doubled beta-carotene absorption and more than quadrupled the conversion of inactive vitamin A to the active form.

Similarly, the avocado-carrot combination increased beta-carotene absorption over six times, more than quadrupled alpha-carotene absorption and increased the activation of vitamin A from its inactive form by a whopping 12 times.

What this shows is that it’s not just the foods we eat, but how and with what else we eat them that can provide a real nutritional boost. Consider enriching a tomato-based pasta sauce or carrot-raisin salad with chunks of fresh avocado.

There is a word of caution. Avocados do contain more calories than other fruits and vegetables. One medium-size Hass avocado (the type with the pebbly dark green-black skin) provides 250 calories. This means that adopting the more-is-better approach could backfire in weight gain.

The best tip is to add a 1-ounce serving of avocado to meals, serving up only 50 calories. Plus, you can also substitute avocados for less healthy fats such as butter or mayonnaise on bread and creamy dressings on salads.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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