Over the last few decades avocados have slowly been working their way into our life, so that they no longer are a rare treat from an exotic land but instead are treated like a dietary staple, purchased from literally any supermarket, piled right alongside apples and bananas. Whether you’ve noticed them making their way into your salads, or maybe you’ve noticed an increased consumption of guacamole, there are a thousand reasons why upping your avocado consumption is good for your health, inside and out.
Until rather recently, avocados were shunned as a fatty food, to be consumed rarely and in moderation, but science has made an about-face in its opinion on fats and their role within the diet, and now nutritionists consider some fats to be vital to human health and extremely beneficial for many biological processes. Avocado benefits are powerful. Avocados contain roughly 20 vitamins and minerals, tons of healthy fats, and tons of essential dietary fiber. They are extremely nutrient dense. Because of this, avocados are back on the menu, and with all the health benefits, five of which are summarized below, there is even more reason to eat more smashed avocados on toast! Not that we needed any encouragement.
Avocados provide all 18 essential amino acids necessary for the body to form a complete protein. Unlike the protein in most meats, which is difficult for some people to digest, expensive and obviously not vegetarian friendly, avocado protein is readily absorbed by the body. This is because avocados also contain fiber. If you are trying to cut down on animal sources of protein in your diet, or if you are already a vegetarian, vegan or raw foodist, seeking more protein, avocados are a great nutritional ally to include not merely as an occasional treat, but as a regular part of your diet.
2. Beneficial Fats
Avocados provide the healthy kind of fat that your body needs. Like olive oil, avocadoes boost levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol). HDL cholesterol can help protect against the damage caused by free radicals. This type of cholesterol also helps regulate triglyceride levels, which can help prevent diabetes. A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that a vegetarian diet, which includes HDL fats, can reduce levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) as effectively as statin drugs. Many people struggling to reduce their cholesterol levels many not even consider there is a dietary solution that may not require any drugs whatsoever.
Avocados are an excellent source of carotenoids. Although many people associate carotenoids only with red and orange colored produce, avocadoes are also an excellent source of this phytonutrient. Avocadoes offer a diverse range of carotenoids including not only the better-known ones such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lutein, but also lesser known varieties of this type of phytonutrient such as neoxanthin, zeaxanthin, chrysanthema xanthin, neochrome, beta-cryptoxanthin and violaxanthin. Every time you consume foods rich in carotenoids, you deliver high quality vitamin A to your body, thereby protecting eye health. Carotenoids also enhance the functioning of the immune system and promote healthy functioning of the reproductive system. Since carotenoids are fat soluble, eating avocados optimizes the absorption of these nutrients, after all a 100g of avocado provides you with 22 grams of fat.
The combined effect of this deluxe package of nutrients contained in avocados offers powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. Avocados’ unique combination of Vitamins C and E, carotenoids, selenium, zinc, phytosterols and omega-3 fatty acids help guard against inflammation. This means avocados can help prevent or mitigate against both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis.
5. Heart Health
The fat content, which used to guarantee that avocados were always labeled as fatty and unhealthy, actually provides protection against heart diseases. Studies have shown that oleic acid improves cardiovascular health. Oleic acid is the primary fatty acid in avocados. Many people now take supplements in order to consume more omega-3 fatty acids to lower their risk of heart disease. Avocados are also rich in omega-3, delivering 160 milligrams per cup of alpha-linolenic acid.
Choosing the Perfect Avocado and Storage
To get the most nutritional value from avocados, avoid those which have become over-ripe. There is really nothing worse than cutting open an avocado to find out it is overly ripe. You can identify these at the store because they feel like they have air pockets, have visible dents and feel overly soft when you hold them. A ripe avocado should have no dents in its skin and will only feel slightly soft when squeezed. You can also buy unripe avocados, which feel very hard when gripped, and permit them to ripen at home. Store any rock-hard avocados you do not plan to use for a while in the fridge. Remove 2-3 days before you plan on eating.
The portion of the avocado closest to the skin is the most dense in nutrients, so be sure to scrape the skin clean before discarding it. If you are making guacamole, or saving half the avocado for later, a good tip is to keep the pit attached or tucked in the bowl. The pit will prevent discoloration.