Avocados do contain carotenoids, in and of themselves. And thanks to their fat content, you can get good absorption of the carotenoids that they contain. However, if you happen to be consuming an avocado-free meal or snack that contains very little fat yet rich amounts of carotenoids, some added avocado might go a long way in improving your carotenoid absorption and vitamin A nourishment. Salad greens—including romaine lettuce—and mixed greens like kale, chard, and spinach are great examples of very low fat, carotenoid-rich foods that might be eaten alone but would have more of their carotenoid-richness transferred over into your body with the help of some added avocado.
Most researchers are agreed that the high levels of monounsaturated fat in avocado—especially oleic acid—play a role in these heart-related benefits. Nearly 15 out of the 22 grams of fat (68%) found in one cup of avocado come from monounsaturated fat. (And by contrast, less than 3 grams come from the category of polyunsaturated fat, which includes both omega-6s and omega-3s.) This high level of monounsaturates puts avocado in a similar category with olives, which provide about 14 grams of fat per cup and approximately 73% of those grams as monounsaturates. In addition to its high percentage of monounsaturated fat, however, avocado offers some other unique fat qualities. It provides us with phytosterols including beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol. This special group of fats has been shown to provide important anti-inflammatory benefits to our body systems, including our cardiovascular system. Not as clear from a dietary standpoint are the polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols, or PFAs, found in avocado. PFAs are a group of fat-related compounds more commonly found in sea plants than in land plants, making the avocado tree unusual in this regard. However, the studies that we have seen on PFAs and avocado have extracted these PFAs from the seed (or pit) of the fruit, rather than the pulp. Since we typically do not consume this part of the avocado, the practical role of these PFAs from a dietary standpoint is less clear than the role of monounsaturates and phytosterols described above.
As described earlier in our "What's New and Beneficial" section, U.S. adults who consume avocado average some important nutrient benefits, including intake of more potassium, vitamin K, vitamin E, fiber, magnesium, and monounsaturated fat. In addition, they average greater overall intake of fruits and vegetables and have better overall diet quality. Due to their higher calorie content, avocados do not rank as high in our rating system as do other nutrient-rich foods with fewer calories. However, there are very few DRI vitamins or minerals not found in avocado! In this food you will find all B vitamins except vitamin B12; vitamin C (at 20% of our WHFoods recommended daily level in one cup); phosphorus, manganese, and copper at more than 10% of our WHFoods recommendation); and 8% of our recommended daily omega-3s.
In addition to these conventional nutrients, avocados offer a wide range of phytonutrients that are related to their unusual fat quality. Included in this category are the phytosterols (beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol) as well as their polyhydroxylated alcohols. The major carotenoid found in the pulp of avocado is chrysanthemaxanthin. Other carotenoids in the pulp include neoxanthin, transneoxanthin, neochrome, and several forms of lutein. As mentioned earlier, avocado is also an especially rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids, and in particular, oleic acid, which accounts for over 60% of the total fat found in this food.
It would be wrong to conclude this nutritional support section without mentioning the improved absorption of carotenoids that can take place when a very low-fat, carotenoid-rich food might otherwise be consumed in the absence of fat. As described earlier in our What's New and Beneficial section, many of our best foods for obtaining carotenoids—for example, sweet potatoes, carrots, and leafy greens—contain very little fat (less than 1 gram per serving). This absence of fat works against carotenoid absorption into the body, and the addition of a fat-containing food like avocado can change this situation pretty dramatically. Anywhere from two to six times as much absorption of carotenoids has been found to occur in these very low-fat, high carotenoid dietary situations. In addition, the combination of carotenoid-rich, very low-fat foods like carrots with a high-fat food like avocado has been shown to improve conversion of specific carotenoids (most importantly, beta-carotene) into active vitamin A. We think about this avocado health benefit as another component of its broad-based nutritional support.
Numerous studies have looked at the relationship between avocado consumption and blood fat levels, types of fat in the bloodstream, inflammatory risk in the cardiovascular system, and degree of cardiovascular protection against oxygen-based damage. The study results are consistent in showing benefits from avocado in all of these areas. Most of the benefits are associated with avocado consumption at least multiple times per week in amounts of approximately one cup. (Depending on the variety, one cup of avocado is approximately the same as the amount of pulp found in one small-to-medium sized avocado. Some studies also show benefits with smaller amounts of avocado in the 1/2-cup range.
A wide range of nutrients in avocado has been associated with these cardiovascular benefits. Included in this list would be: (1) avocado fats, which include very large amounts of the monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, as well as the unusual phytosterols, including beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol; (2) the antioxidant nutrients in avocado, including carotenoids like chrysanthemaxanthin, neoxanthin, and lutein as well as vitamin E and vitamin C; (3) anti-inflammatory components of avocado, including the carotenoids and phytosterols listed above as well as catechins and procyanidins (two families of flavonoids).
Risk of metabolic syndrome—which includes symptoms involving problematic blood fat levels and elevated blood pressure—has been shown to be lower in people with a regular intake of avocado. Many of the nutrients provided by avocado are likely to play a role in this important health benefit. Research in this area encourages us to think about avocado as being truly preventive in its cardiovascular health benefits, and worthy of consideration in many types of meal plans.
One important note about the cardiovascular benefits of avocado: most of the encouraging studies that we have seen do not simply "dump" avocado into a meal plan as some type of "add-on" food. Instead, avocado is integrated into a balanced diet with a controlled amount of fat, calories, and intake across food groups. There does not appear to be any requirement for the diet to be low fat, since avocado-containing meal plans that provide up to 34% of their total calories from fat have been shown to provide cardiovascular support. But treatment of avocado as an "add-on" food is not an approach that we have seen supported by large-scale research in this cardiovascular area.
We believe that avocado is likely to provide you with health benefits in the areas of blood sugar control, insulin regulation, satiety and weight management, and decreased overall risk of unwanted inflammation. However, we would still like to see further expansion of research findings in these areas. With respect to blood sugar and insulin regulation, we have seen smaller scale studies showing reduced insulin secretion after a meal and improved regulation of blood sugar levels, but most of these studies have focused on the short-term situation following a meal rather than extended blood sugar regulation over weeks or months. Some of these studies have focused on the fiber content of avocado, which is more substantial than many people might think. (There are 10 grams of fiber in our one cup website serving.) Also investigated in this area has been the 7-carbon sugar called mannoheptulose (and its polyol form called perseitol). This sugar—unlike most sugars—may help suppress insulin secretion.
In the area of satiety and weight management, we've seen studies showing improved feelings of fullness and satisfaction after eating a meal that contained avocado, as well as decreased body mass index (BMI) and total body fat after six weeks of consuming a meal plan that contained 1.3 cups of avocado per day. However, we would also immediately note that participants in this study were required to follow a balanced meal plan with a restricted number of calories (about 1,700 calories per day). So we suspect that avocado can indeed be helpful to include in a weight management plan, but only if the overall plan is well thought out and takes the overall amount of food intake into consideration.
Avocado has clearly been shown to provide a wide variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Included here are both conventional nutrients like manganese, vitamin C, and vitamin E, as well as phytonutrients like unique carotenoids, flavonoids, and phytosterols. Most of the larger scale, human research studies that we have seen focus on the cardiovascular system and risk of oxidative stress and inflammation in this system. In terms of the whole body, however, and its many key physiological systems, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of avocado have been tested primarily in the lab or in animal studies. For example, numerous animal studies have looked at the impact of avocado intake on risk of inflammation in connective tissue and have speculated about the potential benefits of avocado for reducing human arthritis risk. Because of the promising nature of these preliminary studies, we look forward to new research involving large numbers of human participants and intake of avocado in a weekly meal plan.
Optimally ripe avocados are typically known for their silky, creamy texture and rich flavors (which some people describe as "nutty" or "nut-like"). Avocados owe their creamy texture to their high fat content. (The Hass avocado that we analyzed for nutrient content on our website contained 22 grams of fat per cup and provided 82% of its total calories in the form of fat.) Not all avocados are identical in terms of fat content, however. As a general rule, smaller sized avocados tend to be more oily and higher in fat, and large sized avocados tend to be somewhat less oily and lower in fat percentage.
All avocado belong to the science genus/species group called Persea americana. Over 50 different commercial varieties of avocado exist within this basic group. Avocados are also often categorized as belonging to three basic types (sometimes called "races") according to their place of origin. West Indian avocados originated in tropical lowlands and subtropics, including countries like Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and others. The science name Persea americana Mill. var. Americana is often used to refer to West Indian avocado. A second category of avocado is Guatemalan avocado, originating as the name suggests in the country of Guatemala. The science names used for Guatemalan avocado are usually Persea americana var guatemalensis or Persea americana var. nubigena. A third category of avocado is Mexican avocado, originating in Mexico. Here the science name is often Persea americana var drymifolin. In practice, you will hear many different varieties of avocado being referred to as "Mexican avocados" or "Guatemalan avocados" or "West Indian avocado" even though they were not actually grown in those countries and only have ancestral origins there.
Because Mexico is the world's largest producer and exporter of avocados, and because demand for avocados within the United States has increased steadily since the 1980's, many avocados grown in Mexico find their way into U.S. supermarkets. Within the U.S., California and Florida are the primary avocado-producing states, with about six times the total number of avocados being produced in California compared to Florida. Seven commercial varieties of avocado are produced on a large-scale basis in California, but the Hass variety accounts for about 95% of all California production. It is also worth noting that a sizeable number of avocados are imported by the U.S. from South American countries including Chile, Columbia, Peru, and Brazil.
Due to hybridization, cross seedlings, and several thousand years of avocado cultivation, it has become very difficult to take the common name for a common avocado variety—for example, Fuerte—and link it up with a specific place of origin. Fuerte is a good example because this variety is a Mexican-Guatemalan cross. But it may have been commercially grown either inside or outside of the U.S. And while we think about Hass avocados coming from California versus Florida, there are "Florida Hass" varieties as well. Lulu, Taylor, Booth, Choquette, Lamb, Ettinger, Brogden, Zutano, Reed, Pinkerton, Gwen, Bacon, Donnie, Simmonds, Dupuis, Gainesville, and Mexicola are some of the other common variety names for avocados that you may come across in the marketplace. However, rather than relying on the common name of an avocado to determine its actual growing location, you will need to check the country of origin sticker or ask the produce manager.
As mentioned above in our Description section, avocados are often categorized according to the ancestral origins in the West Indies, Guatemala, or Mexico. In fact, avocados were also native to other parts of Central and South America, where they have been cultivated for food use for several thousand years.
In today's marketplace, the largest producers of avocados are Mexico, Chile, the United States, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Peru, Brazil, China, and Guatemala. Mexico is an especially large exporter of avocado into the U.S., with about 500,000 metric tons of avocado being sent from Mexico to the U.S. each year. About 200,000 tons of avocado are produced in the state of California each year, and another 35,000 tons in the state of Florida.
As a result of the above global production, you are most likely to find avocados in the supermarket that were grown either in Mexico, California, Florida, or a Central American or South American country. Because of the greater total volume and slightly longer marketing season, you are also more likely to find California versus Florida avocados in the supermarket among domestic varieties.
A ripe, ready-to-eat avocado is slightly soft but should have no dark sunken spots or cracks. If the avocado has a slight neck, rather than being rounded on top, it may have ripened a bit more on the tree and have a richer flavor. A firmer, less mature fruit can be ripened at home and may be less likely to have bruises, depending on how it was handled during harvest and transport. The average California Hass avocado weighs between 165-170 grams (about 6 ounces) and has a pebbled dark green or black skin. Other varieties can have different textures (for example, smoother and less pebbly), different colors (for example, lighter or brighter greens), and varying degrees of glossiness.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and avocados are no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including avocados. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells avocado but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown avocados is very likely to be avocados that display the USDA organic logo.
A firm avocado will ripen in a paper bag or in a fruit basket at room temperature within a few days. As the fruit ripens, the skin will turn darker. However, we do not recommend relying exclusively on color to determine the ripeness of an avocado. Hold the avocado very gently in your palm and begin to press very gently against its surface. A ripe avocado will yield to very gentle pressure, without feeling squishy.
Avocados should not be refrigerated until they are ripe. Once ripe, they can be kept refrigerated for up to a week. Loss of some nutrients in avocado—for example, its vitamin C content—is likely to be slowed down through refrigeration. If you are refrigerating a whole avocado, it is best to keep it whole and not slice it in order to avoid browning that occurs when the flesh is exposed to air.
If you have used a portion of a ripe avocado, it is best to store the remainder in the refrigerator. Store in a sealed and reusable glass container or sealed and reusable plastic container. Sprinkling the exposed surface(s) with lemon juice will help to prevent the browning that can occur when the flesh comes in contact with oxygen in the air.
If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare avocados the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.
Latex-fruit syndrom is a health problem related to the possible reaction of our immune system to certain proteins found in natural rubber (from the tree Hevea brasiliensis) and highly similar proteins found in certain foods, such as avocados. For helpful information about this topic, please see our article, An Overview of Adverse Food Reactions.
Avocado, cubed, raw
GI: very low
|pantothenic acid||2.08 mg||42||3.1||good|
|vitamin K||31.50 mcg||35||2.6||good|
|vitamin B6||0.39 mg||23||1.7||good|
|vitamin E||3.11 mg (ATE)||21||1.6||good|
|vitamin C||15.00 mg||20||1.5||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%