The nutrient-packed avocado is often dismissed for its high fat content. Avocados do contain fat, but it is mostly the monounsaturated kind—which studies show may increase HDL (the “good”) cholesterol and generally improve heart health. In addition, avocados contain many vitamins and minerals, and they’re cholesterol-free.
The avocado is believed to have originated in Mexico and Central America thousands of years ago. Its exact ancestry is unknown, but anthropologists have confirmed that both the Incas and Aztecs cultivated and ate the fruit.
Today, hundreds of varieties of avocado exist. Avocados range in size from a few ounces to several pounds, and have skins which can be anywhere from bright green to black in color, and smooth to pebbly in texture. In the US, avocados are grown in California, Florida, and Hawaii. Each variety of avocado has its own distinct flavor.
No matter how you slice it, the avocado has plenty of health benefits. Here’s a closer look at some of the nutrients found in avocados.
- Monounsaturated fat—As mentioned, avocados are high in monounsaturated fat. Unlike other fats, this type of fat raises levels of good HDL-cholesterol and lowers harmful triglycerides without raising harmful LDL cholesterol levels.
- Fiber—Avocados are high in fiber, particularly soluble fiber, which promotes regularity, helps regulate the body's use of sugars, and lowers blood cholesterol levels.
- Vitamins—Avocados are a good source of many vitamins such as B vitamins and folic acid.
- Minerals— Gram for gram, avocados provide more potassium than bananas. Potassium is critical for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and heart function. Avocados also provide a fair amount of magnesium, which your body needs to metabolize carbohydrates and fats.
Note that avocados also contain:
- Lutein, a carotenoid, which is thought to help protect against eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Beta-sitosterol (a plant sterol), which is currently being studied for its ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Although they taste great and are good for you, avocados should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Because of the fat content, avocados are relatively high in calories. A 3.5 ounce serving has about 177 calories and 0.6 ounces of fat.
When purchasing avocados, look for fruits that are firm, heavy for their size, and bruise-free.
Test for ripeness with a gentle squeeze. The fruit is ripe when it yields to gentle pressure but doesn't remain dented. A firm avocado will ripen in a few days on a kitchen counter. To shorten the ripening time, put the avocado in a paper bag. Wash it before you eat it.
To cut an avocado, slice it lengthwise around the seed and rotate the halves to separate them. Lift the seed out with a spoon and then peel the fruit with a knife or your fingers. Or, you can just scoop the fruit out with a spoon and eat it that way.
Cut avocados will turn brown. To minimize this, squeeze lemon or lime juice on the exposed area. When you next eat the avocado, simply scrape off the brown parts. Store the fruit in the refrigerator for 3-4 days in plastic food storage containers or covered in plastic wrap.
The avocado is not used simply to make guacamole—though most would agree that it is delicious that way. Avocados can be a healthy substitute for butter or cream cheese on bread, toast, bagels or English muffins and for other commonly used ingredients such as sour cream. Avocados also go well in sushi rolls, soups, salads, and as a side dish.
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Last reviewed March 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
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