Avocados are a stone fruit with a creamy texture that grow in warm climates and are often a feature of Mexican and South American cuisine.
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.
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.
Avocados are naturally nutrient-dense and contain around 20 vitamins and minerals.
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
Osteoporosis prevention: 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
Cancer: 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.
Healthy babies: 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
Improved digestion: Despite its creamy texture, an avocado is actually high in fiber, with approximately 6-7 grams per half fruit. Eating foods with natural fiber can help to prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract and lower the risk of colon cancer.
Natural detoxification: 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.
On the next page we look at the nutritional breakdown of avocados, how to incorporate more avocados into your diet and the possible health risks of consuming avocados.