As a doctor, I do my best to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. But I do allow myself the occasional splurge. Hey, even a doctor’s got to have some vices, right?
So imagine how excited I was to read about a new study linking one of my favorite high-fat splurges – avocados – with better health.
Researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2001 and 2008 and found that those who indulged in a daily serving of avocado weighed less than non-avocado eaters (on average, seven pounds less!).
The avocado eaters also had smaller waistlines and lower BMIs…
So, will eating more avocados have you slipping into your skinny jeans in no time? Well, not necessarily… Turns out the avocado eaters also ate better diets (more fruit and veggies, more fiber, and fewer added sugars) than those who didn’t eat the green stuff.1
What this means is that it might not be the avocados causing the weight loss. It might just be that avocado eaters also chose diets that were more likely to lead to weight loss than non-avocado eaters.
That being said, it does help advance the case that my decadent treat isn’t so degenerate after all. So I decided to do some research on this fascinating little fruit. Some fun facts I found:
• Avocados help keep your appetite in check. Oleic acid accounts for a significant chunk of the monounsaturated fatty acids in avocado — somewhere between 50 percent2 and 90 percent!3 And, according to emerging laboratory4 research, oleic acid may help curb appetite.
Not only that. The unsaturated fat in avocados may increase leptin, the hunger-halting hormone that lets your brain know you’re full. A study done at Loma Linda University found that subjects who incorporated avocado into a meal significantly increased post-meal leptin levels over the next three hours.5
This could be part of the reason why the avocado eaters weighed seven pounds less than the non-avocado eaters.
• Avocados are rich in dietary fiber. Another reason why the avocado eaters were thinner might be the avocado’s high fiber content. One serving contains about 4.6 grams of fiber, of which about 25 percent6 is soluble fiber. Eating a high-fiber diet also tends to make a meal feel meatier, and keeps you feeling fuller longer, which can help you lose weight.
And people who eat enough fiber have a significantly lower risk of developing a wide range of diseases, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and certain gastrointestinal diseases. Soluble fiber, in particular, helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and promotes insulin sensitivity.7
• Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. One serving contains about 10.5 grams of fat, of which about 60 percent is monounsaturated. And research suggests that diets rich in monounsaturated fats help lower “bad” LDL-cholesterol and increase “good” HDL-cholesterol, which reduces the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke.8
• Avocados can help improve absorption of certain antioxidants. Studies have found that adding avocado to a salad or salsa boosts the absorption of key carotenoids, including alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene.9
So, if you’d like to join me in some avocado debauchery, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Peel it right. Since the nutrient concentration increases as you get closer to the peel, you don’t want to take off any more of that dark green section of fruit than necessary. To best spare the nutrients, use the “nick and peel” method: Cut the fruit in half and pop out the pit. Then use your thumb and index finger to grip the outer dark layer of skin and pull it away from the inner green flesh of the fruit. If any of the darker portions of the skin remain, simply cut them away.10
• Gently squeeze the avocado in your palm, without applying pressure from your fingertips. If the avocado yields to firm gentle pressure, it’s ripe and ready to eat. If it feels mushy or very soft to the touch, it’s probably overripe. If it fails to yield to gentle pressure, it’s not ripened yet.
• If you want to speed up the ripening process after you get it home, place it with an apple in a brown bag. If it’s perfectly ripe, keep it in the fridge to slow down ripening, which can last for about seven to 10 days after it’s picked.
• Don’t worry about buying organic. The thick skin protects the inner fruit from pesticides. Avocado has been rated one of the safest commercial crops in terms of pesticide exposure (with only onion, sweet corn and pineapple ranking cleaner).12
If you want to experiment in the kitchen, you can do so much more with an avocado than just make guacamole
At breakfast. Top a protein-rich poached egg with thick slices of avocado to boost fiber and curb hunger.
At lunch. Slice fresh tomatoes and alternate with slices of avocado and mozzarella cheese. Top with basil. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Delicious.
At dinner. Start your meal with an avocado soup or garnish your favorite fish entrée with pureed avocado.
As a beverage. Blend avocado into your favorite protein smoothie to add creamy texture and a flavor punch.
This was a fun post to write! I love finding new information about my favorite foods, especially if the news turns out to be good. Anything about avocados you’d like to know? Or, any foods you’d like to learn about? Leave me a message and I’ll do some digging for you.
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?
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1. Fulgoni VL 3rd, Dreher M, Davenport AJ. Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutr J. 2013;12:1. PMID: 23282226
2. Takenaga F, Matsuyama K, Abe S, Torii Y, Itoh S. Lipid and fatty acid composition of mesocarp and seed of avocado fruits harvested at northern range in Japan. J Oleo Sci. 2008;57(11):591-597. PMID: 18838831.
3. Dreher ML, Davenport AJ. Hass avocado composition and potential health effects Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013. In press. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2011.556759.
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8. Kris-Etherton PM. AHA Science Advisory. Monounsaturated fatty acids and risk of cardiovascular disease. American Heart Association. Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 1999;100(11):1253-8. PMID: 10484550.
9. Unlu NZ, Bohn T, Clinton SK et al. Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil. J Nutr. 2005;135:431-436.
10. Lu QY, Zhang Y, Wang Y, et al. Hass avocado: profiling of carotenoids, tocopherol, fatty acid, and fat content during maturation and from different growing areas. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 ;57(21):10408-10413. PMID: 19813713.
11. Pick & Buy Hass Avocados. The Hass Avocado Board Web site. Available at: www.avocadocentral.com. Accessed March 13, 2013.
12. 2012 Shopper’s Guide t Pesticides in Produce. Environmental Working Groups Web site. Available at: www.ewg.org. Accessed March 13, 2013.