Avocados: The Perfect Fuel for your Fat-Burning Metabolism
Avocados are an amazing food. But until recently, you’d never know it.
Avocados were almost a casualty of the fat-phobia that swept the nation back in the 80’s. That fat-phobia has not yet died its much-deserved death, but there are promising signs that it’s sputtering out. Which is good news for those of us trying to redeem the reputation of this (and other) glorious high-fat foods that are really, really good for your health.
Here’s why avocados deserve to reclaim their place at the top of the pantheon of superfoods…
High in Good Fat…
Yes, avocados are high in fat. But that fat is largely monounsaturated fat, specifically oleic acid, an omega-9 fat which is found in high amounts in olive oil and macademia nut oil and many nuts.
Monounsaturated fat actually lowers cholesterol, though a case can be made against overestimating the importance of that metric.
But for the many who still consider cholesterol numbers important, it’s worth noting that research at the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social in Mexico found that 45 volunteers who ate avocados every day for a week experienced an average 17% drop in total blood cholesterol.1
Far more important, in my opinion, their cholesterol ratio also changed: their levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides both went down, while their HDL (“good” cholesterol) went up.
Avocados are also high in beta-sitosterol, a natural substance shown to significantly lower blood cholesterol as well as being highly protective of the prostate. In the December 1999 issue of the American Journal of Medicine, researchers pointed out that beta-sitosterol was shown to reduce cholesterol in 16 human studies.2
Protection Against Cancer and Diabetes…
Much more important than its ability to lower cholesterol, monounsaturated fat of the kind found in avocados has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer and diabetes.
Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and reprinted on the American Diabetes Association website3 demonstrated that people following a “modified low carb diet” high in monounsaturated fat lost more weight than a matched group of people following the standard National Cholesterol Education Program diet.
Monounsaturated fats are also a key component of the Mediterranean diet which in every major study has been linked with lower rates of heart disease.
Good for Your Eyes and Skin…
Avocados also contain lutein, a valuable member of the carotenoid family that is a natural antioxidant that helps your eyes stay healthy while maintaining the health of your skin.
According to David Herber, MD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California in Los Angeles and one of my favorite nutritionists, “California avocados rank highest in lutein, which acts as an antioxidant, and beta-sitosterol, which blocks cholesterol absorption compared ounce-per-ounce to other fruits. These attributes make the avocado an important fruit to choose, along with other fruits and vegetables, to protect your heart”.4,5
Plenty of HEALTHY Saturated Fat…
Though there are a few grams of saturated fat in an avocado, it’s precisely the kind of saturated fat I’m not afraid of. It’s from a natural whole food, and quite different from the saturated fat you might find in an order of fries. Not coming from a factory-farmed animal, it’s doesn’t contain a lot of toxins.
And as many nutritionists — myself included — have pointed out, saturated fat is necessary in the diet and may even be beneficial. The wonderful integrative neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, brilliantly makes the case for the importance of saturated fat and cholesterol in the brain in his New York Times best-seller, Grain Brain.
Politically incorrect though this may be, I’d like to point out that one recent study in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that in postmenopausal women who consumed a reasonable 25 percent fat diet, a greater amount of monounsaturated fat and a greater amount of saturated fat intake was associated with less progression of coronary atherosclerosis. Notably, high glycemic carbohydrate intake was associated with a greater progression.6
Avocados are also a great source of fiber (between 11 and 17 grams per avocado!) and potassium. They also contain folate, vitamin A, beta carotene, and beta cryptoxanthin, another healthy carotenoid.
Call me crazy, but I’ve been known to eat a whole one as a mini-meal right out of the skin. Couple of hundred calories, tons of heart-healthy fat, ⅓ to ½ of the day’s fiber, plus it’s filling and delicious. And avocados have almost zero effect on blood sugar.
But note, there’s a bit of a difference in the nutritional composition of California and Florida avocados. According to the USDA food database a California avocado has about 20% less calories (289 compared to 365 for the Florida variety), 13% less fat, and about 60% less carbohydrates.
California avocados are also the only avocados that contain a significant amount of lutein and zeaxanthin, two important carotenoids that are becoming the superstars of eye nutrition and are being studied for their ability to prevent macular degeneration.
On the other hand Florida avocados have 20% more potassium, plus a bit more calcium and phosphorus.
If you’re still worried about fat and calories go with the California version, but either way you can’t miss with this delectable superfood.
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
1 Lopez Ledsma R. et al. Monounsaturated fatty acid (avocado) rich diet for mild hypercholesterolemia. Arch Med Res. 1996. Winter; 27(4): 519–23.
2 Mohamed H. Moghadasian and Jiri Frohlich. Effects of dietary phytosterols on cholesterol metabolism and atherosclerosis: Clinical and experimental evidence. American Journal of Medicine. 1999.107: 588 – 594.
3 Aude YW. et al. The national cholesterol education program diet vs a diet lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and monounsaturated fat: a randomized trial. Arch Intern Med. 2004. Oct 25; 164(19): 2141–6.
6 Dariush Mozaffarian, Eric B Rimm, and David M Herrington. Dietary fats, carbohydrate, and progression of coronary atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004. 80(5): 1175–1184.
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