The advantages of avocado

Health Matters

Guacamole, that flavourful concoction just made for salsa and chips, ideal for a giant plate of nachos and a beer … could it get any better? In fact, guacamole is but one use of the glorious avocado, and the benefits extend beyond ‘delicious as a dip’.

For most people, avocado is that vegetable found in guacamole and that’s about it. Wrong on two counts already. First, the avocado is a fruit, and it’s a much healthier ingredient to a healthy diet than nachos and beer — not that we have anything against those choices on occasion.

Though we see very few types in our grocery stores, there are actually hundreds of varieties of avocado. They differ in shape, size, texture, colour, flavour and even how they look when ripe. The one we find most is the Hass avocado with the familiar dark, rumpled skin.

Avocado is an energy dense food, that is, high calories by volume. It also offers other nutritional benefits including dietary fibre, vitamins A, C and K along with magnesium and potassium. Avocados are also rich in antioxidants and minerals.

One of the reasons for a high calorie count is that avocados contain a lot of fat, but that is also the source of their healthy advantage. The fats and oils in avocado are mostly monounsaturated, similar to those in olive and canola oil. Studies have shown that avocados help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol while boosting HDL (good) cholesterol along with reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests avocados may be good for your heart. Participants in the study were overweight and obese adults and were following one of three diets low in saturated fats. One was high-carb, low-fat; the second was moderate in monounsaturated fats mostly from vegetable oils; third was similar to second in composition but its monounsaturated fat came mostly from daily avocado. The participants who were on the avocado-dominated diet saw their cholesterol numbers drop the most (all three reduced cholesterol).

The calorie density of this fruit suggest some moderation; after all, a whole avocado contains 300 to 400 calories. Fortunately, using just a quarter or half a fruit adds plenty of flavour to a meal. Among the many options for eating avocado are some familiar ones such as adding them to a salad, cubed or sliced, or mashing them with lemon and spices into a spread. There’s no reason to limit the choices. Avocados can be used in soups, they can be grilled – and yes, they convert into guacamole very well, but it does not have to end up on chips or as a heavy nacho dish. Guacamole is a great dip for vegetables and crackers, too.

Research other healthy options to include this versatile fruit in your diet.

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