Avocados, More Reason to Love Spring

May 08, 2013

Are avocados a staple in your diet? Find out why they should be here and great ways to use them

Do you enjoy eating avocados, but are still leery of the health benefits? Here is some history as well as convincing evidence that avocados are excellent for your health.

The avocado fruit has enjoyed a centuries old reputation as an indulgent food with a seductively creamy smooth texture. Originating in parts of ancient Mexico, Central America, and South America, the avocado was once believed to be an aphrodisiac, and forbidden from young Aztec women and discouraged by parishioners. Centuries later, the avocado is as much a staple in Mexican culture as butter is in American culture.

But the buttery avocado is more than just delicious. A ripe avocado is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and heart healthy fats. Avocados, usually thought of as a vegetable are actually a fruit rich in monounsaturated fats that may help to reduce the “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood and raise the levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Avocados are a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects skin from ultraviolet light, prevents damage from free radicals, and allows for efficient cell communication. Avocados are also rich in potassium, which is necessary for proper nerve and muscle function, as well as maintaining calcium levels and helping to lower blood pressure; one avocado actually has three times more potassium than one banana.

Yummy avocados are also a cancer-fighting food. Avocados contain more lutein, a cancer fighting carotenoid, than any other fruit. Populations that eat foods rich in lutein seem to have low rates of prostate cancer. Lutein, also found in dark green vegetables like spinach and parsley, has been shown to protect against age related eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Another anti-cancer component of avocados is glutathione. Glutathione, a tripeptide composed of amino acids glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine, functions as an antioxidant. Populations that eat foods rich in glutathione have significantly lower rates of oral and pharyngeal cancer, however this correlation has only been found from raw food sources of glutathione, not cooked or processed. Avocados and asparagus are two of the richest natural sources of glutathione.

When shopping, look for avocados that are hard – they should ripen with in a few days - and do not have obvious bruising or damage to the outside. If you want to enjoy the avocado the same day, look for fruit that gives when you squeeze gently. Ripe avocados are usually very dark green almost black on the outside.

They can be sliced and served raw in salads, used instead of mayonnaise as a sandwich spread, have some guacamole, or make an avocado sandwich like they do in Australia with sliced avocado, tomatoes, lettuce and pinch of salt and pepper. You can even mix avocados in with your rice like they do in Mexico. Or have a delicious dessert drink made with pureed avocado, milk or water and sugar like they do in Brazil, Vietnam the Philippines, and Indonesia.  Avocados add a great creamy texture to smoothies as well.

Avocados from Mexico are available year round, all other origins are seasonal (e.g. California are typically available April-Sept).