Avocados are considered a ‘superfood’ and are ranked near the top of the list as one of the world’s most healthiest food.
Also known as Butter Fruit and Alligator Pear, this versatile fruit grows on trees (Persea americana) native to Mexico and Central America and is at home on a sandwich, in a smoothie, served in a dip, used as skin moisturizer or grilled and paired with filet mignon.
Whatever you call and however you use it, know you are doing your body good with this amazing superfood. Read on to discover the multitude of avocado benefits and uses.
Types of Avocados
There are two types found in the United States: the Florida avocado and the California avocado.
Florida avocados are large and have smooth skin and the California type (called Hass variety) are smaller and have a pebbly skin that turns from green to a purplish-black when ripe.
The biggest nutritional difference between Florida and California types is the fat content. A Florida avocado averages 3 grams of fat per serving while the same amount of a California avocado contains 4.8 grams of fat.
Health Benefits of Avocados
1. Reduces arthritis symptoms and joint damage with its high content of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fat. Avocados are also rich in the carotenoid lutein and vitamin E, which is a micronutrient with anti-inflammatory effects. Diets high in these compounds are linked to decreased risk of the joint damage seen in early osteoarthritis.
2. Improves digestion with its high fiber content. An average of 6-7 grams of fiber per half fruit helps prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and lower the risk of colon cancer.The high fiber content enables the body to detoxify itself naturally by promoting regular bowel movements, which are crucial for the daily elimination of toxins through the bile and stool.
3. The healthy fats also nourish the lining of the digestive tract and promote nutrient absorption from foods eaten. The fruit also contain substances that have antimicrobial activity, particularly against E. coli bacteria, which is a leading cause of food poisoning.
4. Reduce risk of depression. Studies have shown that foods containing high levels of folate (folic acid) may help to decrease the risk of depression. Folate helps to prevent the build-up of homocysteine, an amino acid which can impair circulation and delivery of nutrients to the brain. Excessive amounts of homocysteine can also interfere with the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate mood, sleep, and appetite.
5. Cancer risk reduction and treatment via the use of avocados are being studied and are producing promising results.
Deriving adequate amounts of folate from food has shown promising results in providing protections against certain types of cancers, like colon, stomach, pancreatic, and cervical cancer. The connection between folate and the reduction in cancer risk is currently unknown, but researchers believe that it protects against undesirable mutations in DNA and RNA during cell division.
The fruit may have a future medical role to play in the treatment of cancer. Current research is discovering that phytochemicals extracted from avocados can selectively inhibit the growth of precancerous and cancerous cells. The research has also shown the extracted phytochemicals cause the death of cancer cells, while encouraging the rapid growth of healthy immune system cells called lymphocytes.
Phytochemicals extracted from avocados have also been shown to decrease chromosomal damage caused by chemotherapy drugs, like cyclophosphamide.
6. Improve heart health with the 25 milligrams per ounce of a natural plant sterol called beta-sitosterol. Regular consumption of beta-sitosterol and other plant sterols has been shown to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
They also improve heart health by balancing blood lipiare known to prevent hardening of the arteries known as arteriosclerosis. Blood flow is impaired when arteries harden, causing the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
High fiber content, beta-sitosterol compounds, magnesium and potassium found in avocados have been shown to help reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure to promote heart health.
7. Reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Eating avocados helps regulate hormones associated with risk factors for diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, including insulin, triglycerides and cholesterol. By keeping the hormones regulated, the risk of developing metabolic syndrome is significantly reduced.
8. Skin, hair and eyes can remain youthful in function and appearance with a daily serving of avocado. The superfood contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that are especially concentrated in the tissues in the eyes where they provide antioxidant protection to help minimize damage from ultraviolet light and reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
The antioxidant-rich phytochemicals and fatty acids help keep skin glowing and supple and hair shiny and strong.
9. Weight loss is accelerated when this superfood is included in the diet. Avocados have the ability to make you feel full sooner and keep the feeling of fullness longer, so you eat less.
Also, diets typically restrict and/or eliminate certain foods so by adding half an avocado to the daily meal plan helps ensure you are getting proper nutrients while dieting.
10. Regulates glucose levels by regulating glucose levels and improving insulin sensitivity. As a monounsaturated-rich food, this fruit can help decrease glucose and insulin concentrations for hours after consuming. The high fiber, low carb content will not cause a sudden spike blood sugar levels.
Beta-sitosterol, glutathione and lute are three of the powerful antioxidant phytochemicals found in avocados. These phytochemicals work hard to protect against various age related eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts. Antioxidant phytochemicals also protect against free radical damage throughout the body. Free radicals, when left unchecked, have the power to change DNA and will result in cell mutations.
Carotenoids are chemical compounds that give certain fruits and vegetables their bright yellow, orange or red color. Beta-carotene is one of the most common carotenoids and is found in carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. Carotenoid benefits include reducing inflammation, promoting overall healthy growth and development, and strengthening the immune system. Avocados are rich in oleic acid that enable the body with carotenoid absorption so you can derive all the health benefits from eating bright yellow, orange and red foods.
Avocados are rich in folate (also called folic acid), containing more folate than any other fruit. This nutrient has been found to protect against strokes and prevent certain types of birth defect, like spina bifida.
Folate is a key prenatal nutrient which produces and maintains new cell growth for the developing baby. During the first trimester of pregnancy it’s vital for a pregnant woman to get an adequate amount of folate because the baby’s central nervous system forms during this stage of pregnancy. Although an obstetrician will prescribe a prenatal vitamin that contains the vital nutrient, it’s also good to eat foods that are rich in folic acid during pregnancy. Half an avocado each day will boost the folic acid level and provide an abundance of other heath benefiting nutrients for both mom and baby during pregnancy.
Fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K
You may have heard the two terms ‘good fat’ and ‘bad fat’ pertaining to certain foods. Bad fats are like those found in sugar-laden baked or fried treats that offer no nutritional value and increase the waistline along with increasing the risk of various types of diseases.
Then there is good fat. That’s the kind avocados contain. This type of fat helps our body absorb and assimilate vitamins A, E and K, plus this ‘good fat’ actually helps us to lose weight.
Our bodies not only require these vitamins to function properly, but they also work together in an integrated way with essential minerals, like magnesium and zinc, to impact metabolic factors, like carbon dioxide and thyroid hormones. The impact on the metabolic factors boost the rate at which our body burns calories and enables us to drop a few pounds by simply adding a nutritious avocado half to our daily diet.
Avocados contain more soluble fiber than most any other food and this type of fiber helps keep blood sugar levels stable, promotes regular and complete bowel movements and aids in weight loss and/or maintenance.
Fiber comes in various forms and is categorized based on how it interacts with water as it passes through the digestive tract. The forms that break down in water are soluble, while those that bind to water are insoluble. Each fiber type is associated with specific health benefits. Soluble fiber, like that found in avocados, prevents blood sugar levels from rising too quickly and promotes healthy cholesterol levels.
Not all fats are created equal and the monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) found in avocados are good for you. Shown to reverse insulin resistance and regulate blood sugar levels, these good fats also provide protection against heart disease, cancer and cognitive decline as we age.
Monounsaturated fats have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of breast cancer, aid in weight loss, promote the loss of stubborn belly fat and reduce the pain and joint stiffness of those who suffer with rheumatoid arthritis.
Potassium is a well-known trace mineral and most people eat bananas to help them keep their potassium level normal. However, you would need to eat two bananas to meet the potassium content in just one whole avocado. In addition to being rich in potassium, avocados also contain other trace minerals like copper, iron and magnesium. Low copper intake may have adverse effects on heart health, so by increasing copper intake you can improve cardiovascular health. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the entire body. If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Magnesium helps to calm nerves, increases energy, promotes heart health and helps you sleep better.
Avocados have the highest protein and lowest sugar content of any fruit, plus they offer a unique balance to building lean muscle mass and burning fat. A vital part of a vegan diet, protein rich avocados are an ideal source of protein for anyone who can’t or won’t eat meat or diary products.
While they don’t contain all of the amino acids required in the body’s protein-building process, avocados do have all 18 of the important ones. All of the fruit’s protein is readily available for the body to use, while some of the protein you might get from meat sources is not.
Anti-inflammatory compounds like phytonutrients are key to reducing the risk of inflammatory and degenerative disorders that can impact joints, heart, brain, internal organs, skin and connective tissue.
A recent study conducted at UCLA shows that the phytonutrients in avocados can work together to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells. Other studies have shown promising results in ability of the phytonutrients in avocados to help combat other forms of cancer too.
Phytonutrients also enable the body to discourage insect attacks and protect itself against damaging UV rays from the sun. If you spend a lot of time outdoors and want to ward off sunburn, mosquitos, gnats, bees and other stinging insects naturally, enjoy eating half an avocado each day to boost your body’s own defense system.
Water-soluble vitamins B and C
B-complex vitamins and vitamin C must be replenished every day because the body is unable to store them. Avocados are rich in both B and C vitamins and will provide your body with most of the recommended daily allowance it needs to function smoothly.
Vitamin B-6 is a water-soluble vitamin that helps the immune system produce antibodies that are needed to fight many diseases. Vitamin B-6 also helps maintain normal nerve function and form red blood cells. The body also needs vitamin B-6 to help break down proteins.
Vitamin C is another water-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that is necessary for normal growth and development throughout the body. It’s necessary to form collagen, which is an important protein used by the body to create skin, scar tissue, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels.
One medium-size avocado contains around 200 calories. But don’t let that number scare you and prevent you from consuming this health benefiting fruit. Because of the healthy fat, fiber and phytochemical content, this super nutrient-dense food can actually help you lose weight when eaten regularly and in moderation.
One-half of an avocado contains:
* 110 calories
* 4.6 grams of dietary fiber
* 10 grams of fat
* 6 grams of carbohydrates
* 2 grams of protein
* 0.2 grams of sugar
* 14 milligrams of vitamin K
* 60 milligrams of folate
* 6 milligrams of vitamin C
* 343 milligrams of potassium
* 2 milligrams of pantothenic acid
* 0.4 milligrams of vitamin B6
* 1.3 milligrams of vitamin E
* 19.5 milligrams of magnesium
That list just scratches the surface of what this creamy fruit has to offer. There are still several more nutrients found in its green flesh.
8 Uses for Avocados
The most well-known use of avocados is in guacamole. This easy to make Mexican dip shows up parties, family get-togethers and restaurants. Everyone has their own favorite recipe for this versatile, delicious dip, but it all starts with mashed avocados then onions, jalapeños, tomatoes, fresh spinach and/or lime juice are added as desired. A good way to get kids to eat avocados, as well as other fresh vegetables, is to pair a bowl of guacamole with carrot sticks, celery stalks and apple slices for a fresh after school snack.
With its creamy texture, avocados can be used to thicken the consistency of your favorite smoothie recipe. Blend half an avocado with your favorite fruits and vegetables for a filling and nutritious breakfast or lunch smoothie.
3. Mayonnaise Replacement
The creamy texture and fat content make avocados a healthy replacement for mayonnaise. Place thin slices on sandwiches to replace mayonnaise and use one-half the amount of avocado in chilled recipes that call for mayonnaise. Chicken salad, turkey salad and egg salad all get a boost of creamy flavor by replacing the mayonnaise with avocado.
4. Butter Substitute
We all enjoy a sweet, homemade treat occasionally, and those special treats can be made healthier by substituting half the amount of required butter with avocado. You’ll get the same consistency in the finished product with less ‘bad’ fat.
5. Homemade Baby Food
A healthy alternative to processed baby food, a mashed avocado makes an instant and nutrient-packed meal for your baby. Very portable too, just place the fruit in a paper bag and toss it in the diaper bag as you head out the door with baby.
6. Skin and Hair Moisturizer
The high fat content makes this superfood as great to use on the outside of the body as it is to put inside the body. Avocados are inexpensive and effective for use as a facial mask or hair conditioner.
Mash an avocado and gently rub it onto face and leave in place for 20 minutes, then rinse and pat face dry. Do the same for your hair and shampoo out to get a quick and easy conditioning treatment for even the most damaged ends. Both your face and hair with have a renewed shine and younger appearance and texture.
7. Foot Scrub
An avocado foot scrub will remove rough and callused skin from feet and leave them feeling soft and smooth. To make this foot scrub, save the pit and let it dry for two days. Place dried pit in a food processor and grind it up until it’s a gritty powder. Place half an avocado and a teaspoon of cornmeal in a bowl and mash them together. Add the pit powder and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Massage the mixture on your feet and toes, then rinse with warm water.
Still have stubborn calluses? Rub the inside of the avocado peel on the callused area between foot scrubs to soften the skin and remove the callus. Essential oils are inside of an avocado peel and work wonders on hard, dry skin. Rub the inside of peels on rough elbows, knees and hands too.
8. Organic Soap
Leave the chemical and perfume laden soaps and body washes on the retailers shelf and make your own safe, organic soap at home with this simple soap recipe.
Place avocado purée, water, coconut oil, olive oil, and lye (sodium hydroxide) in a slow cooker and let simmer until melted. Add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil for fragrance. Pour into a mold and let the soap harden for a few weeks before using. The soap creates a creamy lather that is safe for sensitive skin and promotes healing for those who suffer with skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema.