What’s baseball sized, great tasting sliced or smashed, and green both inside and out? An avocado.
This tropical fruit might not be one of the traditional romantic foods that come to mind for St. Valentine’s Day, but it’s one you should consider adding to your plate this holiday and every day. Nutrition researchers have linked regular consumption of avocados, along with a mostly plant-based diet, to the prevention of heart disease, type II diabetes, obesity and possibly even cancer.
You don’t have to travel far to find the fruit the ancient Aztecs considered an aphrodisiac. The top 10 avocado-producing countries in descending order are Mexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Colombia, Peru, the United States, Kenya, Brazil and Rwanda, according to 2011 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The most common variety of avocado grown commercially is the Hass. Haas avocados are oval-shaped, have a thick, bumpy skin and turn from dark green to almost black when ripe. Their taste is rich and nutty.
Less prevalent, yet still popular, is the smooth, green-skinned variety of avocado grown in Florida and throughout the Caribbean. These are twice the size of Hass and pear-shaped with a mild (some say watery) flavor.
The biggest differences nutritionally between these two avocado varieties are calories and fat. Compared ounce for ounce to the Hass, the green-skinned avocado has 28 percent fewer calories and 34 percent less fat, as calculated from figures provided on the USDA’s National Agricultural Library database.
Fat is one of the more interesting nutrients in avocados. More than 75 percent of the fat is in the heart-healthy monounsaturated form with the remainder provided by polyunsaturated fats. Both mono- and polyunsaturated fats are heart healthy while saturated fats, like the type found in chicken skin and marbling beef, can boost your risk of heart disease.
What’s more, because avocados are a plant rather than an animal food, they are cholesterol free. Only animal foods contain cholesterol.
In addition, avocados contain a natural plant sterol called beta-sitosterol that can help maintain healthful blood levels of cholesterol. These facts are why it’s good to substitute fats like mayonnaise and butter for avocado in your diet. Spread mashed avocado on bread while making a turkey sandwich in place of mayonnaise, for example. Or layer thin slices of avocado on whole-grain toast instead of butter at breakfast.
Better yet, avocados are nutrient dense, meaning that they pack nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients into every mouthful. You sure can’t say that about mayonnaise or butter. In terms of specific nutrients, one Hass avocado provides more than three quarters of an adult’s daily value (DV) for the heart-helping, birth-defect-preventing, B vitamin folate.
The same-sized serving serves up more than half an adult’s DV for fluid-balancing potassium, eyesight-saving vitamin A and the energizing B vitamins: pyridoxine and pantothenic acid. One-fourth of the DV for healing vitamin C, the B-vitamin niacin, and trace nutrients magnesium and copper are also found in one avocado. This fruit is virtually sodium-free and is rich in fiber too, containing 6 to 8 grams of dietary fiber per fruit.
When selecting avocados, choose those that are slightly soft for immediate eating. If avocados are purchased rock hard, place them in a brown paper bag, set them out at room temperature on the galley counter and they will ripen in one to two days. Avocados will ripen no further once they are cut and once they have been refrigerated.
One of the best ways to enjoy an avocado is by cutting it in half lengthwise, removing the center pit, scooping out the soft flesh with a spoon and eating it immediately either plain or with a squeeze of lemon or French dressing. The avocado’s soft texture blends nicely in cold creamed soups and in spreadable dips such as guacamole. Avocados have become one of the more popular ingredients in today's many salsa variations.
This fruit is better used in uncooked dishes than in cooked ones, but slices nicely complement grilled fish or chicken. Avocados are also a favorite ingredient in salads ranging from mixtures with citrus fruits to combinations with seafoods and vegetables.
Finally, for dessert, avocado mousse and avocado cheesecake may seem uncommon – but they are both uncommonly good.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at email@example.com.