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What You May Not Know about Avocado But Should

Avocado health benefits

You may think of the avocado, if you think of it at all, as the main ingredient in guacamole. But researchers have uncovered a wealth of information about this fruit, now available in a new review, and it’s likely there’s much you may not know about avocado but should.

Can you name the top avocado?

The avocado (Persea americana) has a long history, being first cultivated in Mexico about 500 BC. When we jump ahead several millennia to the 1950s in California, there were more than 25 varieties of avocado in the state.

Although the Fuerte used to be the main variety of California avocado, the Hass cultivar has since taken over as the main global variety, and it also is the subject of the new study appearing in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. This review sheds light on some important and surprising facts about this green fruit.

Nutritional value of Hass avocado
Just one-half an avocado provides 4.6 grams of fiber and excellent levels of the following nutrients (Daily Values in parentheses): 345 mg potassium (10%) 1 mg vitamin B5 (10%), 6 mg vitamin C (10%), 14.3 micrograms vitamin K (18%), 0.2 mg vitamin B6 (10%), 60 micrograms folate (15%), and impressive amounts of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin (185 micrograms).

Although it’s true avocado has a high amount of fat (about 10 grams), nearly three-quarters of that fat is monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). The MUFAs are considered beneficial fats because they promote healthy blood lipid levels and boost the body’s ability to utilize fat soluble vitamins.

Avocado and weight control
Although avocado is not a low-calorie food (about 115 calories for one-half fruit), eating avocado seems to promote weight loss and healthy weight. Analysis of data from the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) 2000-6 indicated that people who eat avocado have a lower body weight and body mass index,, a higher level of the good cholesterol (HDL), a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, and a smaller waist size than do people who don’t eat avocados.

Avocado may help with weight control in other ways. A randomized study of overweight adults found that those who ate one-half an avocado at lunch reported significantly reduced hunger and desire to eat when compared with a control meal.

Avocado and cardiovascular health
The authors reviewed eight clinical trials involving avocado and cardiovascular health issues. Eating avocados was associated with improving lipid levels (triglycerides and cholesterol levels) in healthy adults as well as patients with type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol.

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Because these trials were small and did not last longer than 4 weeks, the authors noted that longer and larger trials are needed to confirm these findings. However, avocados fit into heart-healthy dietary plans, such as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) because of its high monounsaturated fatty acid and fiber content.

Avocados also are the richest known source of phytosterols in fruit. Phytosterols are cholesterol-like substances found in plants and have been shown to reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, which suggests they are helpful in supporting cardiovascular health.

Avocado and osteoarthritis
A combination of avocado and soy unsaponifiables (ASU) is used to help manage osteoarthritis because of the compound’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and pain-relieving abilities. Numerous randomized, controlled trials using ASU in hip and knee osteoarthritis have been conducted, and the results have been generally positive.

All studies have involved 300 mg daily of ASU. In a 2010 review appearing in The Physician and Sportsmedicine, the author noted that overall, “300 mg of ASU per day (with or without glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate) appears to be beneficial for patients with hip or knee OA.”

Avocado and cancer
Thus far, research into the ability of avocado components to aid in the fight against cancer is in the preliminary stages and has involved in vitro studies in human cancer cell lines. However, avocados contain various phytochemicals that have demonstrated some anticancer activities, such as phenols, glutathione, carotenoids, terpenoids, and persenone A and B.

Avocado and eye health
Avocado contains significant levels of two potent antioxidants—lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients are specifically taken up into the macula of the eye, the area involved in the eye disease known as macular degeneration.

Data collected from the Women’s Health Initiative Observation Study showed that diets rich in MUFA help protect against age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration. Since avocados contain both MUFA and lutein/zeaxanthin, they appear to be good candidates for supporting eye health.

The next time you’re at the supermarket or farmer’s market, be sure to pick up a few avocados. Besides being great in a salad, sandwich, or with a twist of fresh lemon, or of course in guacamole, the avocado offers a wealth of important health benefits as well.

Chong EW et al. Fat consumption and its association with age-related macular degeneration. Archives of Ophthalmology 2009 May; 127(5): 674-80
Dinubile NA. A potential role for avocado- and soybean-based nutritional supplements in the management of osteoarthritis: a review. The Physician and Sportsmedicine 2010 Jun; 38(2): 71-81
Dreher ML, Davenport AJ. Hass avocado composition and potential health effects. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 2013 May; 53(7): 738-50
Fulgoni VL et al. Avocado consumption associated with better nutrient intake and better health indices in US adults: NHANES 2011-2006. Experimental Biology 2010b. Abstract 8514, Anaheim, CA.

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