Also known as an alligator pear or butter fruit, the versatile avocado is the only fruit that provides a substantial amount of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). Avocados are a naturally nutrient-dense food and contain nearly 20 vitamins and minerals.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is written by MNT's qualified nutritionist and forms part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. In the article we take an in-depth look at the possible health benefits of eating avocados as well as a nutritional breakdown of the avocado. To maintain balance, we will also look at the possible health risks of consuming avocados.
Contents of this article:
Possible health benefits of avocados
Eating a diet that contains plentiful fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Numerous studies have found that a predominantly plant-based diet that includes foods such as avocados can help to decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
Healthy for the heart
According to registered dietitian Patricia Groziak, MS, RD, with the Hass Avocado Board, avocados contain 25 milligrams per ounce of a natural plant sterol called beta-sitosterol. Regular consumption of beta-sitosterol and other plant sterols has been seen to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.1
Great for vision: Avocados contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that are especially concentrated in the tissues in the eyes, where they provide antioxidant protection to help minimize damage, including from ultraviolet light.
As the monounsaturated fatty acids in avocados also supports the absorption of other beneficial fat-soluble antioxidants such as beta-carotene, including avocados as part of a healthy diet may help to reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.6
Half of an avocado provides approximately 25% of the daily-recommended intake for vitamin K, a nutrient that is often overlooked, but which is essential for bone health.
Vitamin K is often overshadowed by calcium and vitamin D when thinking of nutrients important for maintaining healthy bones, however, eating a diet with adequate vitamin K can support bone health by increasing calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.3
H, low levels of which have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer in women. Adequate intake of folate from food has also shown promise in protecting against colon, stomach, pancreatic and cervical cancers.
Although the mechanism behind this apparent reduction in risk is currently unknown, researchers believe that folate protects against undesirable mutations in DNA and RNA during cell division.
Folate is also extremely important for a healthy pregnancy, with adequate intake reducing the risk of miscarriage and neural tube defects.
Recent research from McGill University also found a 30% higher incidence of a variety of birth defects in baby mice conceived using sperm from mice with a folate deficiency compared to mice conceived using sperm from mice without a folate deficiency.4
Lower risk of depression
Foods containing high levels of folate may help to decrease the risk of depression as folate helps to prevent the build-up of homocysteine, a substance that can impair circulation and delivery of nutrients to the brain.
Excess homocysteine can also interfere with the production of the serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate mood, sleep and appetite.5
Despite its creamy texture, an avocado is actually high in fiber, with approximately 6-7 grams per half fruit.
Adequate fiber promotes regular bowel movements, which are crucial for the daily excretion of toxins through the bile and stool.
Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may also play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation.
Protection from chronic disease
According to the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program of the University of Kentucky, high fiber intakes are associated with significantly lower risks of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases. Increased fiber intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for obese individuals.
Nutritional breakdown of avocados
Avocados are naturally nutrient-dense and contain around 20 vitamins and minerals.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one serving (one-fifth of an avocado, approximately 40 grams) contains 64 calories, almost 6 grams of fat, 3.4 grams of carbohydrate, less than a gram of sugar, almost 3 grams of fiber and almost 1 gram of protein.
Avocados are a great source of vitamins C, E, K, and B-6, as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium and potassium. They also provide lutein, beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids.
Although most of the calories in an avocado come from fat, don't shy away! Avocados are full of healthy, beneficial fats that help to keep you full and satiated. When you consume fat, your brain receives a signal to turn off your appetite. Eating fat slows the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugar, which helps to keep sugar levels in your blood stable.
Fat is essential for every single cell in your body. In fact, over sixty percent of your brain is made of fat. Eating healthy fats supports skin health, enhances the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, and may even help boost your immune system.
Do not be fooled by fat-free and low-fat products, or shy away from foods like avocados and nuts that are full of healthy fats. Ever since the low-fat fad started in the 1950s, we have only become fatter. Manufacturers often just replace the fat in reduced and fat-free products with sugar.
This does not mean you should eat loads of bacon cheeseburgers and fried foods, because not all fats are created equal. Eating healthy fats daily (like mono- and polyunsaturated fats in avocados) can improve heart health, lower cholesterol, keep you full and satiated and curb your cravings for fried, greasy foods. On the flip side, fried foods, processed meats and cheeses contain saturated fats that can clog arteries, increase cholesterol and lead to higher levels of inflammation.
How to incorporate more avocados into your diet
You can tell how ripe an avocado is by gently pressing into the skin. If the avocado is firm and does not budge, you will need to let it ripen for a few days before consuming. Soft avocados make great guacamole or dip, while firmer avocados are great for slicing and adding to a salad or a sandwich. To speed up the ripening process, place an avocado in a paper bag with a banana.How to cut, slice, peel and pit avocados
Avocado can be mashed and spread on toast instead of butter or sliced and added to a sandwich or salad.
- Spread avocado on toast in the morning instead of butter
- Use avocado instead of mayonnaise in chicken or egg salad, or as a spread on a sandwich
- The soft, creamy texture of an avocado and its mild taste make it a perfect first food for babies.
Try these healthy and delicious recipes using avocado:Coconut kale smoothie
Roasted Brussels sprouts with toasted pecans and avocado
Chipotle mango guacamole.
Potential health risks of consuming avocados
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
If you are taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), it is important that you do not suddenly begin to eat more or less foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting.
Substances called saponins, found in avocados, soy and some other plant foods, have been associated with relief of symptoms in knee osteoarthritis, with further research planned to determine the long-term effects of isolated extracts.7
Avocados also contain substances that have antimicrobial activity, particularly against Escherichia coli, a leading cause of food poisoning.8
Avocados may even have a role to play in cancer treatment, with some research finding that phytochemicals extracted from avocado can selectively inhibit the growth of precancerous and cancerous cells and cause the death of cancer cells, while encouraging the proliferation of immune system cells called lymphocytes. These phytochemicals have also been seen to decrease chromosomal aberrations induced by cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug.9
Information about other fruits
If you've enjoyed reading this article about avocados, why not read some more from our collection about the health benefits of popular foods?