The avocado has been a staple throughout Central and South America since the Aztecs introduced Spanish conquistadors to this creamy fruit in the 16th century. Good thing the name wasn’t translated or this fruit might not be as popular as it is today.
Āhuacatl, the Aztec word for “avocado,” literally means testicle. It could be because the avocado fruit bears some resemblance to that part of the male anatomy, or perhaps it’s because the health benefits of avocado promote fertility. (So if you’re longing to be a grandparent, serve your favorite guacamole recipe at the next family get-together.)
Avocado Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Avocados are a wonder food for older adults. They’re full of fiber and other nutrients like folate and healthy-fats that benefit us as we age. In the past 15 years, avocado consumption in the U.S. has increased substantially. A handful of trends are contributing to the increase in demand, including the fruit’s availability and nutritional benefits.
1. Avocados are good for heart health.
Two-thirds of avocado fat is in the form of monounsaturated fat, the same type of heart-healthy fat that’s in olive oil. Monounsaturated fat is a key feature of the Mediterranean Diet, a healthy eating plan that’s linked to increased longevity and reduced chronic pain.
Monounsaturated fat also helps lowers inflammation and bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol while simultaneously increasing healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, lowering heart disease risk.
In a study of overweight and obese adults, replacing 6 to 7% of calories from saturated fat (such as butter and cheese) with 1 avocado per day was found to lower LDL cholesterol levels, compared to a lower-fat diet. The avocado diet worked even better than a diet in which the fat came from oils high in monounsaturated fats, such as sunflower oil and canola oil.
2. Avocados are a high-fiber fruit.
According to Dieticians of Canada, half an avocado contains 6.7 grams of dietary fiber. By comparison, an apple which is widely considered to be high in fiber contains 3.5 grams.
3. Avocados are a source of folate.
Avocados are an excellent source of folate, a B vitamin linked to a lower risk of some types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer and breast cancer.
The fruit’s fiber content also promotes healthy digestion, which can reduce the risk of developing colon cancer. (Diet and nutrition are estimated to account for as much as 30 to 50% of the worldwide incidence of colorectal cancer.) Avocados also contain phytochemicals, which, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Therapeutics and Oncology, may help protect healthy cells from damage from chemotherapy treatment.
4. Avocados are brain food.
Research shows that avocados (as well as apples, melons and sunflower seeds) can help prevent Alzheimer’s, because of the moderate amount of vitamin E found in the fruit.
5. Avocados help protect against age-related vision loss.
Certain nutrients — derived from foods or supplements — can help preserve your vision. Avocados are a source of lutein and zeaxanthin, a type of carotenoid with antioxidant properties. Studies show lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
6. Avocados are a natural source of potassium.
One avocado contains more than 975 milligrams of potassium, about 25% of the recommended daily intake for adults. The American Heart Association has written extensively about the health benefits of potassium, noting that foods like avocados that are rich in potassium are important for managing high blood pressure and hypertension because potassium lessens the effects of sodium commonly found in processed foods. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through urine, the Association says.
Calories in an Avocado
Ironically, even though they’re high in calories (there are 320 calories in a medium avocado) they can help you lose weight. A small study of overweight adults found that adding half an avocado to lunch helped people feel more satisfied and full over a subsequent 3-5 hour period. If you’re trying to lose weight, take a look at your overall energy intake and use avocado to replace less healthy fats (such as trans fats found in fried food or pre-packaged snack food) so you don’t end up taking in more calories than you need.
3 Quick and Easy Recipes with Avocados
The classic way to enjoy avocado is by making guacamole. If you’re on the hunt for a healthy avocado recipe, let your imagination (and the internet!) be your guide. A quick Google search for ‘guacamole recipes’ will turn up a hundred or more of healthy recipes, many of which can be prepared ahead of time. Here are a few recipes we particularly like:
1. Mango Pomegranate Guacamole from Katie at the Kitchen Door
Pairing the health benefits of avocado with pomegranate seeds (which are bursting with vitamin C and flavanoids), this tasty recipe will help keep your heart, brain and blood vessels healthy.
2. Mango & Goji Guacamole from Love & Lemons
This guacamole recipe is as healthy as it gets. The goji berries, mango, and lime really cut through the thickness of the avocado, making everything feel light.
3. Cumin and Charred Corn Guacamole from What’s Gaby Cooking
A self-described “guacaholic” this recipe from popular food and cooking blogger Gaby Dalkin includes grilled corn for a little extra pop.
Avocado is also fantastic cubed and added to salads or blended into a smoothie for a little added texture. The fruit can also be substituted for butter in baked goods and it’s perfect mixed in with your tuna or egg salad as a healthier alternative to mayo. Or try using it as a replacement for dairy in pureed soups.