Avocado consumption has skyrocketed in the last two decades, from an average annual consumption of 1.5 pounds per person in 1998, to 7.5 pounds in 2017. In 2020, imports of avocados reached a record 2.1 billion pounds in part because with limited dining out, avocados were featured at grocery stores at lower prices.
This is good news for those eating a heart healthy diet!
In fact, researchers have found that avocados may protect the heart in a similar way as olive oil and nuts do in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.
A 2018 analysis of 10 studies found an increase in HDL (protective cholesterol) in people who consumed an average of 1 to 3.7 avocados daily. While this might seem like a lot of avocados, remember that most guacamole recipes utilize about one avocado per person. Avocados are also high in mono-unsaturated fat, fiber (9 grams for a medium avocado), and potassium – all of which are associated with cardiovascular health.
In addition to improving heart health by impacting your levels of cholesterol, new research indicates that avocados may further improve your heart health by impacting the gut biome.
A 2020 study that followed 163 overweight and obese subjects divided them into two groups: one group that included avocado in one of their three daily meals and the other group that didn’t. The avocado group experienced a greater abundance and diversity of gut microbes, a reduction in bile acids, and an increase in short-chain fatty acids – and that is believed to contribute to a reduction in the development of cardiovascular disease.
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Avocado calories and weight loss
Of course, anyone tracking their daily calorie intake on their phones or in a meal log probably knows that avocados are high in calories. But does that necessarily mean eating avocados will sabotage your weight loss goals?
The short answer is: No.
The National Health and Examination Survey study found that people who consumed avocados had significantly lower BMIs, waist circumference, and body weight, vs. non-consumers.
Additionally, the Adventist Health Study 2, which followed 55,000 participants for four to 11 years found that normal weight participants eating about one-fifth of an avocado per day had the lowest odds of becoming overweight or obese, while overweight or obese participants eating one-fifth of an avocado per day were more likely to achieve a normal BMI over time.
The ABCs of avocados
Avocados are unique fruits native to the highlands of Mexico, Guatemala, and the Pacific coast of Central America. They are a staple in diets where fatty meats, fish, or dairy foods are limited; in fact, avocado often is used as a substitute for meat in sandwiches. They’re also used in milkshakes in Eastern Asia.
Generally served raw – we all know about guacamole – Hass avocados can be cooked for short periods without becoming bitter; other varieties are rendered inedible by heat.
Ripe avocados should yield to gentle pressure when squeezed. If they squeeze too easily, they are likely overripe. The flesh is prone to browning, so it’s best to peel and cut avocados just before serving or sprinkle the cut slices with lemon or lime juice to prevent discoloration.
Avocados also are rich in potassium, fiber, and vitamins B, E, and C. In addition, they contain several plant-based nutrients, including:
- Phytosterols – When consumed in recommended amounts, this compound can lower cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.
- Leutin and zeaxanthin – These carotenoids function as antioxidants and protect healthy cells, especially in a person’s eyes.
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So, if you are eating avocados – whether it’s a guacamole dip or a bean and avocado burrito (see recipe below) – during the football playoffs or Super Bowl, you can feel confident that the avocados not only taste good but they are good for heart health, too.