Monday, January 30, 2012

Food Worship #10: Avocado

For my tenth article praising the miracle that is healthy food, I'd like to bring to mind one of my favorite fruits of all time: Avocado.  This green, creamy, delicious food is truly loaded with health benefits.  It's nutrient dense, heart healthy, and goes great with all sorts of recipes (Guacamole, anyone?)  Let's explore further what makes these little alligator skin fruits so darn good for you (and so darn tasty!)

First, a little background about the avocado.  The name "avocado" actually refers to the tree that this fruit is grown on, though the fruit itself has adopted the name.  It's also called the "alligator pear," for obvious reasons. Technically, the avocado is actually a berry because it only contains one large seed (I honestly thought it was a vegetable for the longest time, so don't feel bad if this comes as a surprise to you.)  Want to know something reeealllyyy weird though?  The name avocado comes from the ancient Nahuatl word ahu├ícatl which actually means......get ready......testicle.  Yeah, try looking at an avocado the same way again, I bet it'll be hard (thanks Wikipedia!)  These things are grown all over the world in warm climates and are therefore readily available in the USA, which is great because these things can do your body more good than you'd realize.  Let's talk about some of the health benefits of avocado, and why you should try some diced ones on your next salad.

Healthy Fats:  Avocados, like most nuts, are loaded with some of the healthiest fats you can find.  Each fruit contains about 30 grams of monounsaturated fat.  Now I know you're saying "thirty grams...THAT'S A LOT OF FAT!"  Well, honestly it is.  But you know what?  It's all heart healthy fat that will lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.  In fact, avocados and heart health kind of go hand in hand.  Remember that fat doesn't make you fat, excess calories make you fat.  Plus, all that healthy unsaturated fat makes avocados extremely delectable, and anyone who's had a few bites will tell you that the fruit basically melts into your mouth, turning into a buttery texture that's absolutely heavenly (the avocado is also called the "butter pear" for this reason).  It also makes these things easy to mash up and make into guacamole, a dip that when prepared in a calorie conscious manner is quite good for you, not to mention ridiculously tasty.  Don't fear the fat, many people eat multiple avocados a day and still remain lean and fit.

Added Heart Health: Avocados also contain another equally potent heart healthy nutrient: folate.  Diets high in folate are conducive to healthy hearts and reduced rates of heart disease.  Avocados actually contain between 20-25% of your daily recommended folate, so eat up and keep that heart beating strongly and consistently!  The risk of stroke is also reduced by consuming avacados on a regular basis.

Vitamins/Minerals:  The alligator pear is also quite dense with other vitamins and minerals, specifically vitamin E, which amazingly is ALSO conducive to a healthy heart, as well as normal neurological activity. Vitamin E also acts as a powerful anti-oxidant, protecting your cells from free radical oxidation (a very damaging process that can cause disease as people age.)  Avocados also contain about 20% of your daily recommended vitamin B6 and vitamin C, as well as many other helpful nutrients like copper and manganese.

Cartenoids:  Avocados have an unusually HIGH amount of cartenoids, and this combined with their high fat content make them an excellent anti-inflammatory food.  Foods like this will allow your body to heal faster by preventing the swelling of tissues around damaged areas, so that blood may refresh at a faster rate and bring nutrients and oxygen to the source of distress.  This will speed up the healing process, sometimes drastically.

Better nutrient absorbtion:  Now this one is quite cool, if I don't say so myself.  Avocados have actually been shown to increase our ability to absorb certain nutrients from other fruits and vegetables!  That's right, when avocados are consumed along with other vegetables, we'll get more out of the entire meal, ON TOP of the already nutrient dense avocado.  Cool!  Here's a little clip from an article I read on the subject that discusses an interesting test regarding this subject:

"Researchers at Iowa State University and Ohio State University conducted a study to find out more about this unique benefit. Six males and five females ate 300 grams of tomato salsa. About half of the group was given salsa that contained 150 grams of avocado (about five tablespoons), and the others ate salsa without avocado. After a period, the test was repeated but the subjects were given the opposite type of salsa they were given in the first phase.

In the second part of the study, the subjects ate a salad of carrots, spinach and lettuce. Half the group enjoyed their salad with 150 grams of avocado, and the other half without. The process was then repeated after some time and they ate the opposite type of salad.

Blood was drawn from each subject several times after each meal to determine changes in nutrient levels for up to nine and a half hours after the meals. The results were:

* Subjects who ate avocado with salsa absorbed nearly 4.5 times more lycopene than those who didn't eat avocado.

* Subjects who ate avocado with salad absorbed 8.3 times more alpha-carotene and 13.6 times more beta-carotene than those who didn't eat avocado.

* More than four times as much lutein was absorbed by subjects who ate avocado with salad compared to those who ate only salad."

Pretty neat huh?  Another reason to put this rough skinned little guy in your diet a bit more often.  And if any of you are interested, I'll add the nutritional facts for an avocado right here for your viewing pleasure:

2 stars2 stars (?)Nutrition Facts
Calories 322(1344 kJ)
% Daily Value 1
Total Fat29.5g45%
Sat. Fat4.3g21%
Sodium14mg< 1%
Total Carbs.17.1g6%
Dietary Fiber13.5g54%

Yeah, I know what you're thinking, that's quite a few calories for just one fruit.  But you're going to have to believe me that every single one of those calories is extremely good for you.  Sometimes calories don't matter quite as much as the health factor of the food (I hate when people skip out on a healthy addition to a meal just because it's a few extra calories).

Still a little wary?  How about this.  Cut the thing in half, add half to your salad today, the other half to your salad tomorrow.  Or better yet, make some guacamole with the other half!  See? problem solved.

I personally LOVE avocados, and I really hope you can learn to love them as well.  They're such a unique fruit, both in appearance and in nutritional profile.  They have so much to offer, and definitely deserve a reserved spot in your diet.  I can almost guarantee you'll love the taste (and the texture....smooooth), and finding the big pit in the middle of it is kind of a novelty in itself.  So what are you waiting for?  Go out to your local store and grab one!

Love the avocado, enjoy the incredible flavor, and as always, GOOD LUCK!


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