Who doesn’t love a fresh avocado? Okay, some people don’t. But for everyone else, what can be better than knowing that favorites like guacamole and even avocado toast not only taste good but are also good for you? In fact, avocados—and avocado oil—are considered by many to be a superfruit. And when you get to know a little bit about them, it’s easy to see why. So come with us as we dig into all things avocado and find out what makes this fruit so super.
A Short History of the Avocado
Avocados (Persea americana) are the berries of flowering trees native to Mexico. The name avocado actually comes from an Aztec word meaning testicle (yeah, we can see it). Avocados, which are also known as alligator pears, are one of the oldest foods on the planet, with archaeological evidence suggesting they’ve been on the human menu for at least 10,000 years.
However, avocados weren’t grown in the United States until the 20th century, when the first avocado trees were planted in California.
Avocado Nutrition Facts
Avocados are packed with an amazing amount of nutrition. In fact, they’re like nature’s very own vitamin and mineral supplement, with just one avocado containing:
|8% of the RDA of protein||6% of the RDA of vitamin A|
|26% of the RDA of vitamin B6||33% of the RDA of vitamin C|
|21% of the RDA of vitamin E||53% of the RDA of vitamin K|
|9% of the RDA of thiamine||15% of the RDA of riboflavin|
|17% of the RDA of niacin||41% of the RDA of folate|
|28% of the RDA of pantothenic acid||6% of the RDA of iron|
|15% of the RDA of magnesium||10% of the RDA of phosphorus|
|28% of the RDA of potassium||9% of the RDA of zinc|
|19% of the RDA of copper||14% of the RDA of manganese|
What’s more, avocados are low in sugar, contain no sodium or cholesterol, and offer a rich source of dietary fiber, with one avocado providing a whopping 13.5 grams of fiber, or 54% of the RDA.
Avocados are also good sources of phytochemicals, including the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin; phytosterols, including beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol; and the flavonoids epicatechin and epigallocatechin.
Phytochemicals are biologically active compounds in plants that give them their characteristic color, taste, and smell. When ingested by us, these beneficial plant chemicals have been shown to boost the immune system, neutralize carcinogens, regulate hormones, and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, chronic levels of which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
Avocados are also known for their high fat content—one avocado contains 45% of the RDA—but their fatty acids are in the form of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (including the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid), like those found in olive oil.
Interestingly, avocados are also a good source of the antioxidant glutathione. Known as the body’s master antioxidant, glutathione plays an essential role in the natural detoxification process.
Health Benefits of Avocados
When it comes to health benefits, it’s hard to beat avocados. Their potent combination of vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, and phytochemicals makes them a veritable superfood—a status multiple studies have documented as well.
The fiber and fatty acids in avocados are well known for their ability to lower levels of so-called bad cholesterol and benefit heart health.
However, a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association comparing the cholesterol-lowering effects of a low-fat diet with moderate-fat diets that included either one Hass avocado a day or a similar amount of oleic acid from sources chosen to “match the fatty acid content of one avocado” demonstrated that the benefits of avocados on heart health go beyond their fatty acid content.
While researchers found that both higher fat diets were better at decreasing LDL cholesterol levels than the low-fat diet, they also found that the diet that included avocados decreased levels of bad cholesterol by an astounding 60% more than the comparable oleic acid diet.
While you may think a fruit that contains as much as 50% of your daily value of fat would be the last thing you should eat if you’re concerned about weight loss, it turns out that eating avocados may actually be a smart move.
A long-term study in the journal Nutrients that assessed weight changes over a period of 11 years found that people who ate avocados gained significantly less weight than those who didn’t.
Another study published in the same journal found that overweight and obese adults who ate Hass avocados with a meal experienced reduced postprandial blood sugar and blood pressure. This is an important finding because elevated blood sugar is associated with both metabolic syndrome and the development of type 2 diabetes, while elevated blood pressure is a known risk factor for heart disease.
As mentioned, avocados are a good source of important carotenoids, including those known to decrease the risk of macular degeneration. Not only are avocados rich in these important phytochemicals, but a study published in the Journal of Nutrition also found that the addition of either avocados or avocado oil to salads and salsa resulted in significant increases in the absorption of carotenoids from these foods.
Studies have found that higher levels of the carotenoid lutein are associated with better cognitive function. And a study in the journal Nutrients found that participants who ate one avocado a day for 6 months experienced a 25% increase in serum levels of lutein. What’s more, eating avocados led to increased attention span as well as improved working memory and efficiency in approaching problems.
As stated earlier, phytochemicals are associated with a decreased risk of cancer. And the phytonutrients in avocados have specifically been found in studies to stop the growth of cancer cells and induce cancer cell death.
For example, a study published in the journal Acta Medica Iranica found that extracts of avocados effectively inhibit the growth of both esophageal cancer and colon cancer. Similarly, a study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that avocado extracts are effective at inhibiting the growth of prostate cancer cells.
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of avocados can also make them potentially beneficial in the treatment of joint pain. A study in the journal Cartilage found that an extract of avocado and soybean oil not only reduced pain and stiffness and improved joint function but also prevented the progression of symptoms of osteoarthritis.
One of the factors that keep skin looking young and wrinkle-free is the concentration of carotenoids in the skin. In addition, a higher intake of green and yellow veggies is associated with fewer skin wrinkles, and higher dietary fat intake is associated with greater skin elasticity.
As you might imagine, all this means that avocados may be able to help prevent premature skin aging. What’s more, a study published in the Archives of Dermatological Research found that avocado extracts protected skin from damage and inflammation due to UVB radiation and enhanced DNA repair.
Choosing the Right Avocado
All these amazing avocado health benefits probably have you ready to add more of these ancient fruits to your diet. But if you rarely come in contact with avocados outside your local Mexican restaurant, you might like to know how to properly choose the right one.
While an unripe avocado is quite firm, once it ripens, it will give a little when squeezed. So if you’re ready for that avocado right away, look for fruits that give slightly to gentle pressure. However, if you’re interested in buying now and eating over the next several days, look for firmer fruits. Then you can just leave them out at room temperature until they’re ripe and ready to eat.
Besides squeezing, another trick to determine ripeness involves wiggling the stem. If it gives immediately and falls out, you have a ripe avocado.
And don’t worry if your avocados ripen before you’re quite ready because they store very easily in the refrigerator, especially when left whole to protect the flesh from oxidizing on contact with air (though you can also sprinkle the exposed flesh with lemon juice to help stave off browning).
The Right Way to Peel an Avocado
When you’re ready to peel your avocados, remember that there’s a right way and a wrong way. That’s because the majority of the phytochemicals in avocados are located just beneath the peel. So the best way to take advantage of these important nutrients is to use what’s called the nick-and-peel method.
Instead of cutting into the avocado and slicing the flesh out with a knife or scooping it out with a spoon like you would a cantaloupe, cut the avocado all the way around, down to the pit, and twist the two halves to separate. Then simply remove the pit and peel the halves like an orange.
It may be a rather messy task, but peeling your avocados is the best way to ensure you get the most out of the avocado’s beneficial phytochemicals.
Cooking with Fresh Avocados and Avocado Oil
Few things taste better than fresh guacamole, and salads and sandwiches just aren’t complete without the creamy texture of fresh avocados. But avocado oil? That’s a newer addition to the market, so in case you’re not familiar with it, we’ve got you covered.
Because avocado oil is produced by pressing the flesh of avocados, it retains a mild avocado flavor. Yet it’s considered more neutral than olive oil. In addition, whereas high-quality olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, avocado oil is suitable for both grilling and baking. But, like olive oil, avocado oil can also be added to smoothies, salad dressings, and even homemade mayonnaise.
What’s more, avocado oil makes an effective treatment for dandruff and can even protect the hair against wind, sun, heat, and harsh hair care products. Avocado oil also makes a great moisturizer and can help soothe irritating skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. And its anti-inflammatory properties make it a useful ally in the fight against acne and rosacea.
However, to get the most out of avocado oil, be sure to look for cold pressed oil. Unlike oils produced using heat or chemicals, cold pressed oils are made using manual presses, which means all the beneficial nutrients are left intact.
With all the good things avocados have to offer, it really doesn’t matter whether you prefer fresh avocados or avocado oil—or both. Either way, you can’t go wrong!