Beware of popular health myths. For instance, throughout the 1990s and into the first few years of this century, popular health “experts” often warned against eating coconut oil or coconut milk, causing many people to eschew a food now known to offer many health benefits. Another lingering popular health myth warns against avocados, which wrongly labels them as a dietary culprit because of their caloric and fat content. Yet, the truth is avocados can boost health in at least 5 ways:
Avocados provide all 18 essential amino acids necessary for the body to form a complete protein. Unlike the protein in steak, which is difficult for most people to digest, avocado protein is readily absorbed by the body because avocados also contain fiber. If you are trying to cut down on animal sources of protein in your diet, or if you are 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, preventing diabetes. A study published early this year 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.
Avocados are an excellent source of carotenoids. Although many people associate carotenoids only with red and orange produce, avocadoes are also an excellent source of this phytonutrient. Avocadoes, also known as alligator pears, 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, chrysanthemaxanthin, 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.
The combined effect of the 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 helps guard against inflammation. This means avocados can help prevent or mitigate against both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis.
5. Heart Health
The fat content, which causes some uninformed health “experts” to deem avocados as 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 rich in omega-3, delivering 160 milligrams per cup of alpha-linolenic acid.
Choosing and Eating
To get the most nutritional value from avocados, avoid those which have become over-ripe. You can identify these at the store because they will have dents and feel overly soft when you hold them. A ripe avocado should have no dents in its skin and will feel slightly soft when squeezed. You can also buy unripe avocados, which feel very hard when gripped, and permit them to ripen at home. 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.