This tropical fruit boasts a myriad of nutrients and one heck of a long list of health benefits. But perhaps most surprising, many people don’t realize the avocado is even a fruit! Yes, the avocado is a giant pear-like fruit, with one large seed.
Regardless of what plant family you thought the avocado belongs to, there’s no denying that it has become a national favorite.
Avocado consumption has more than tripled over the last twenty years, rising from 2.23 pounds in 2000 to 7.1 pounds in 2016. I eat it by the truckload myself.
The avocado is so beloved that, in 2014, a financial report from the restaurant chain Chipotle almost caused a panic when they mentioned the possibility of pulling their guacamole out of restaurants due to rising avocado prices.
Fortunately, the avocado has never left us, and some say that’s a good thing because it may be the healthiest fruit on the planet. Let’s examine why…
Avocados are brimming with fiber—providing ten grams per cup—as well as vitamins B6, C, E and folate, plus magnesium and potassium—with even more potassium than a banana.
In total, the avocado contains 20 vitamins and minerals, but this fruit’s most prevalent nutrient is fat. One cup of avocado gives you a whopping 21 grams of fat.
That’s why some nutrition “experts” will still warn you to avoid it. Please pay no attention to them, because avocado fat is a healthy fat.
The skinny on avocado’s healthy fat
Avocado contains monounsaturated fat, which supports your nerves and boosts brain function, as well as builds cell membranes and helps clot blood.
These fats have wide-reaching benefits that are similar to those found in olive oil. For example, avocado’s monounsaturated fats are linked to lower levels of inflammation, a lower risk of heart disease, and the ability to fight cancer.
While research into the avocado’s cancer-fighting prowess is still in the early days, with studies mainly being performed in the laboratory rather than with live subjects, the results are nonetheless promising. The research shows that avocados:
- Block prostate cancer cell growth. Avocado contains carotenoids and tocopherols (forms of vitamin E). These components of the avocado inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells in a lab study.1 Additional research shows the avocado worked better than the nutrients alone.2
- Kill cancer cells.The same study showed that avocado’s phytochemicals inhibit and kill cancer cells. Suggesting that this delicious fruit helps protect against cancer.
- Trigger apoptosis (suicide) in precancerous cells.Researchers at Ohio State University studied a phytochemical rich extract from Hass avocados. They found that it killed or inhibited pre-cancerous cells that trigger oral cancer.3It triggered apoptosis, which causes cancer cells to self-destruct.
- Kill leukemia cells.A 2015 study found that avocatin B, a compound in avocado, can help kill leukemia cells.4
- Reduce risk of lung cancer by more than 30 percent.Avocados contain 11 carotenoids which protect against cancer and eye diseases. One of these, beta-cryptoxanthin, protects cells from free radical damage. It’s also a good source of vitamin A. In one study, beta-cryptoxanthin slashed lung cancer risk by over 30 percent.5
- Stop cancer-causing free radical damage. According to the American Chemical Society, the vitamin E in avocados may decrease the oxidative injury caused by free radicals (disease-causing molecules that cause oxidation).
- Are a good source of three nutrients which protect against breast cancer. The Nurses’ Health Study assessed 83,234 women for breast cancer over 14 years. It studied pre-menopausal women with a family history of breast cancer. Those who consumed lots of vitamin E enjoyed a 43 percent reduced breast cancer incidence. Women without a family history only saw a 16 percent reduction in breast cancer incidence. Lutein is another nutrient present in avocados, as well as in broccoli, kale, and spinach. Research shows that lutein reduces the risk of breast cancer.6,7 The oleic acid in avocados has an anticancer effect against many tumors. Studies also show that women consuming a diet rich in oleic acid have a lower risk of breast cancer.
- Detoxify your body safely. Glutathione is your body’s master antioxidant. It plays a major role in detoxifying your body and removing toxins that can trigger cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute,8 an avocado contains 38 mg of glutathione, several times as much as other fruits.9
- Are effective against ten different cancer cell lines. Studies show that avocados have cytotoxic properties against cancer cell lines including breast, colon, liver, lung, larynx, leukemia, esophageal, oral, ovary, and prostate cancers.10
Avocado’s health benefits go far beyond cancer
Avocados offer many additional health benefits that can help you fight other diseases of aging. For example, avocados:
- Boost brain health and memory. Their high levels of oleic acid help improve cognition.11
- Lower your risk of depression.12 Avocado’s brain-boosting monounsaturated fats along with folate increase output of dopamine and serotonin– the feel-good nervous system chemicals.13
- Reduce your risk of heart disease by reducing cholesterol.14
- Aid in weight loss. People who eat avocado with their meal feel 23 percent more satisfied and have a 28 percent reduction in desire to eat again within the next five hours, compared to those who did not eat avocado with their meal.15
- Keep your eyes healthy as you age. Lutein and zeaxanthin help protect your eyes and boost macular pigment to protect against age-related macular degeneration.16
- Help prevent food poisoning by guarding against E. coli and other food-borne pathogens.17
- Fight metabolic syndrome – “prediabetes” – by lowering high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and reducing belly fat.18
- Safeguard babies in the womb. Avocados are high in folate, potassium, and other nutrients, which improve maternal health and birth outcomes.19
Tips avocado lovers need to know
Avocado-lovers know that you can wait and wait for an avocado to ripen, and then in one day, it’s already too ripe!
So how do you know when it’s ready?
It depends, in part, on the variety. The popular Hass avocados get darker as they ripen. The so-called “green-skins” keep their green color as they ripen.
Give the avocado a gentle squeeze with your fingers (not your thumb, which will bruise the avocado). If it has a slight “give” to it, it’s ready.
If you buy not-yet-ripe avocados and want to hurry them up, put them in a brown paper bag for one to two days. Check them often! Remember: they can become overripe in a hurry.
Having said this, I find that even if the pulp loses its pleasing lime-green color and is slightly discolored, the flavor is still the same.
How to peel an avocado for maximum nutrition
The highest levels of antioxidants in the avocado are right next to the skin. You don’t want to leave that flesh behind. Here’s how to maximize an avocado’s nutritional goodness:
- Wash your avocado.
- Cut it lengthwise around the seed.
- Repeat step two, so you have four quarters.
- Separate the four pieces and remove the seed.
- Start from the top of each piece and peel the skin off the flesh. It shouldn’t be hard to peel if the avocado is ripe.
It’s easy to enjoy the avocado’s amazing nutrition and flavor in a myriad of ways in your daily diet. For example, you can have avocado:
- On toast (a popular treat with millennials)
- Baked with an egg in the center (egg poached in the avocado)
- In salads
- Alongside (or on) a burger
- In chocolate mousse—it replaces the dairy and is delicious, I’m told! I haven’t tried it.
- Or, of course, that favorite Cinco de Mayo treat, guacamole. Which you can also eat every which way and every day of the year, on chicken breast, white fish, scrambled eggs, or straight out of the bowl.
However you choose to enjoy avocados, I think you’ll find you can easily add them to snack foods, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and even desserts, so you can maximize all of the cancer-fighting and overall health-boosting benefits this fruit has to offer.
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- Freudenheim JL, Marshall JR, Vena JE e al: Premenopausal breast cancer risk and intake of vegetables, fruits, and related nutrients. J Natl Cancer Inst 1996; 88(6):340-348.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3664913/#:~:text=The National Cancer
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- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826385/#:~:text=According to the
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