Take It In: by Carol Bareuther
No one food has all the nutrients needed for a healthful diet and healthy body. However, some definitely do provide many more nutrients than others. Avocados are one of these.
Dubbed a “superfood” – a term that doesn’t have a legal meaning but is defined by the Oxford dictionary as a “nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being” – avocados provide nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. The key to getting the most out of this fruit is eating it often – meaning morning, noon, night and for snacks.
Native to south central Mexico, the avocado was cultivated in that region, as well as Central and South America, as early as 2,000 years ago. Spanish conquistadors brought the fruit to the West Indies, where they then were taken north to the U.S., east to Europe and beyond. Today, supplies grown in New Zealand are igniting Asians’ favor, making the avocado one of the most in-demand fruits in the world.
There are several varieties of avocado, however, the most popular and most widely planted is the Hass variety. This fruit is small, usually pear-sized, and the bumpy dark green skin when ripe gives it the nickname “alligator pear.” The other well-liked type is the “green-skinned” avocado, a larger, lighter green, smooth-skinned fruit that grows abundantly throughout the Caribbean.
Both varieties are chock-full of cholesterol-lowering dietary fiber, nervous system protecting folate and vitamin E, minerals like magnesium that aid muscles and can help to prevent osteoporosis, and phytonutrients such as vision-helping carotenoids, blood-clotting chlorophyll, skin-saving lutein and cancer-preventative polyphenols.
Where Hass and green-skin avocado varieties differ is in their fat content. A 2-tablespoon serving of Hass avocado contains 4.6 grams of fat, while the same size serving of the green-skin variety offers only 3 grams. The benefit is that avocados contain “good” fat – the heart-healthy, monounsaturated form.
The key to cultivating the real value of avocados is to eat the fruit often and to use it to replace other types of fat. For example, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2015, overweight but otherwise healthy adults who included one fresh Hass avocado in their diet daily had lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol at the end of the five-week study than those eating low-fat and moderate-fat diets without avocado. More specifically, fats in the non-avocado diets came from butter, mayonnaise and polyunsaturated oils.
Those who can’t imagine finding enough tasty ways to eat an avocado a day have only to look to the world’s first two avocado-only restaurants for inspiration. Both opened last year. The Avocado Show in Amsterdam serves eggs baked in pitted avocado halves with a bagel on the side, and for lunch there’s an Avo Poke Bowl with sushi rice, salmon and edamame. Those with a sweet tooth can order a Blind Date – an avocado mousse with dates, nuts, citrus and anise seeds served in an avocado shell. Meanwhile, at the Avocaderia in New York City, there are selections like a Guacamole Rap (green wrap stuffed with guacamole, chicken or tofu, and a variety of veggies), a Caesar salad topped with avocado cubes, and a lychee-dragon fruit smoothie with avocado, ginger and coconut water.
If these ideas are a little too ambitious, the Hass Avocado Board, based in Mission Viejo, California, offers five quick tips to use avocados: First, just scoop the flesh out of its shell and sprinkle with a little lemon juice or balsamic vinegar; second, simply mash and spread on bread with favorite toppings; third, whip up some guacamole; fourth, toss chunks in a green salad; and fifth, tuck into sandwiches or a burger. This way, an avocado a day can keep the doctor away.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.