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Avocados may have a range of health benefits, including improving digestion, decreasing the risk of depression, and protecting against cancer.

Also known as an alligator pear or butter fruit, avocados are actually a type of berry. They grow in warm climates.

Avocados provide a substantial amount of monounsaturated fatty acids and are rich in many vitamins and minerals. Incorporating them into a varied, healthy diet can provide a number of benefits.

Below, we take an in-depth look at the nutritional makeup of avocados, 12 ways that they may benefit our health, and some risks to consider.

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A diet that contains a variety of fruits and vegetables can provide numerous health benefits. It may, for example, reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and weight moderation.

Here are 12 reasons why avocados can contribute to a healthy diet:

1. Rich in nutrients

Avocados are a source of vitamins C, E, K, and B6, as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and potassium. They also provide lutein, beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Avocados contain high levels of healthy, beneficial fats, which can help a person feel fuller between meals. Eating fat slows the breakdown of carbohydrates, which helps keep blood sugar levels stable.

Roughly half an avocado, or 100 grams (g), contains:

Fat is essential for every single cell in the body. Eating healthy fats supports skin health, enhances the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and even helps support the immune system.

Learn more about the different types of fat here.

2. Healthy for the heart

In every 100 g of avocado there are 76 milligrams of a natural plant sterol called beta sitosterol. Regularly consuming beta sitosterol and other plant sterols may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels, which are important for heart health.

3. Great for vision

Avocados contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals present in eye tissue. They provide antioxidant protection to help minimize damage, including from UV light.

The monounsaturated fatty acids in avocados also support the absorption of other beneficial fat-soluble antioxidants, such as beta carotene. As a result, adding avocados to the diet may help reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.

4. May help prevent osteoporosis

Half an avocado provides approximately 18% of the daily value of vitamin K.

This nutrient is often overlooked but is essential for bone health. Taking in enough vitamin K can support bone health by increasing calcium absorption and reducing the urinary excretion of calcium.

5. Components may prevent cancer

Studies have not yet assessed a direct link between avocado consumption and a reduction in cancer risk. However, avocados do contain compounds that may help prevent the onset of some cancers.

Research has associated an optimal intake of folate with a reduced risk of developing colon, stomach, pancreatic, and cervical cancers. However, the mechanism behind this association remains unclear. Half of an avocado contains roughly 59 mcg of folate, 15% of the daily value.

Avocados also contain high levels of phytochemicals and carotenoids, which may have anticancer properties. Studies have shown that carotenoids, specifically, may protect against cancer progression.

A 2013 review highlighted the potential benefits of avocado consumption in relation to breast, oral, and throat cancers. However, these associations are typically the result of test tube studies, not controlled human trials. Further research is necessary to confirm these associations.

6. Supporting fetal health

Folate is important for a healthy pregnancy. Adequate intake reduces the risk of miscarriage and neural tube abnormalities. Consume at least 600 micrograms (mcg) of folate per day when pregnant. One avocado may contain as much as 160 mcg.

Avocados also contain fatty acids that are integral to a healthy diet and fetal development.

7. Reducing depression risk

Avocados are a good source of folate, which plays an important role in overall dietary health. Studies have also found links between low folate levels and depression.

Folate helps prevent the buildup of homocysteine, a substance that can impair circulation and delivery of nutrients to the brain. Reviews of past research have linked excess homocysteine with cognitive dysfunction, depression, and the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate mood, sleep, and appetite.

8. Improving digestion

Avocados are high in fiber, containing approximately 6–7 g per half fruit.

Eating foods with natural fiber can help prevent constipation, maintain digestive tract health, and lower the risk of colon cancer.

Learn more about the importance of fiber here.

9. Natural detoxification

Adequate fiber promotes regular bowel movements, which are crucial for the excretion of toxins through the bile and stool.

Studies have shown that dietary fiber also promotes good gut health and microbial diversity. This helps the body maintain a healthy bacterial balance. This can reduce inflammation and aggravation of the digestive tract.

10. Osteoarthritis relief

Avocados, soy, and some other plant foods contain saponins. These substances may have a positive effect on knee and hip osteoarthritis symptoms. However, researchers have not yet confirmed the long-term effects of saponins in people with osteoarthritis.

11. Antimicrobial action

Avocados and avocado oil contain substances that have antimicrobial properties. Research shows that avocado seed extracts can help defend the body against both Streptococcus agalactiae and Staphylococcus aureus infections, for example.

12. Protection from chronic disease

The monounsaturated fatty acids in avocados may be beneficial in preventing chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.

Meanwhile, research suggests that an optimal intake of fiber may reduce the risk of stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases, and avocados are rich in fiber.

The right fiber intake can also lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for people with obesity.

A person can incorporate avocados into their diet in a variety of ways. Soft avocados, for example, make delicious guacamole, while firmer avocados are great for slicing and adding to a salad or sandwich.

To tell how ripe an avocado is, gently press the skin. If the skin is completely firm, the avocado needs to ripen further. If the skin gives way to pressure, the avocado is ready to eat.

People can use avocados in many other forms, such as an oil for cooking or moisturizing the skin or hair. Check product information before making a purchase, to avoid misuse.

A range of avocado oils is available for purchase online.

A person’s overall diet is key in achieving good health and preventing illness. For this reason, it is better to focus on having a diet with plenty of variety than to concentrate on the benefits of individual foods.

There is little risk in eating avocados in moderation. But as with all foods, overdoing it can lead to unwanted outcomes. For example, avocado has a high fat content, so adding too many to the diet might lead to unintended weight gain.

Avocados also contain vitamin K, which can affect how blood thinners work.

It is important for people taking blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), to keep their vitamin K levels constant. For this reason, it is not a good idea to suddenly eat more or fewer foods containing vitamin K, which plays an important role in blood clotting.

Learn more about which foods to avoid when taking warfarin.