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14 October 2018

5 reasons to love avocados

We celebrate National Nutrition Week (9-15 October 2018) by unpacking the benefits of one of the most popular fruits – the avocado. Nutritionist Monique Piderit tells us more.

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The avocado is without a doubt one of nature’s most luxurious foods: rich and creamy, simple yet satisfying with a subtle flavour. 

In South Africa, 1kg of avocados is consumed per person per year, with 150 000 tons expected to be produced in 2018. Of these, 50% are exported, 40% consumed fresh locally, and 10% processed into guacamole and avocado oil. 

Whether you top your toast with avocado at breakfast, serve it as a healthy dip for raw vegetables as a snack, or chop it into a summer salad for a healthy dinner, here are five health reasons why you should love an avo.

1. Love an avo for your heart

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2018, a study found that people who eat avocados (compared to those who follow an avo-free diet) had higher levels of the good type of cholesterol, HDL. This is likely due to the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat found in avocados.

Strong evidence supports the finding that monounsaturated fats, which are also found in olives, nuts and nut butters, are healthier than the saturated fats in butter, cream, bacon, fatty meat, chicken skin and coconut oil. Interesting data from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professional Follow-up study estimates that replacing 5% of our daily energy intake from saturated fat with monounsaturated fats would lead to a 15% lower risk of heart disease.

In addition, eating monounsaturated fat in place of saturated fat reduces overall mortality – not only death from cardiovascular disease but also from cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Almost three quarters of the fat in avocados is monounsaturated fat, which not only protects the heart, but also strengthens the immune system and lowers inflammation levels in the body.

As an added bonus for good heart health, avocados are also naturally cholesterol free, low in sodium, high in potassium and a great source of fibre, all factors which contribute to better heart health.

2. Love an avo for your gut

The human gut is home to 100 trillion bacteria. Your diet supports the gut's complex ecosystem that plays such a vital role in our health. One such dietary factor is fibre, found in plant-based foods like fruit, vegetables and whole grains like whole wheat bread, whole oats, barley, bulgur wheat, corn and quinoa.

Many South Africans fall short of their daily recommended fibre intake. It is recommended that South African women consume at least 25g of fibre per day and men at least 38g. One avo contains about 8g of dietary fibre. It is, however, important to note that our gut needs different types of fibre to keep it healthy.

The fibre in avocados is a unique combination of insoluble fibre and soluble fibre. Soluble fibre acts like a mop and helps absorb fluid in the gut, forming a soft, gel-like substance to combat constipation. Insoluble fibre works like a broom, roughly sweeping through the length of the gut to remove waste. But fibre does far more than just keep us regular: it may play a role in preventing colon cancer, and even help with weight loss. The fibre in avocados, along with the satisfying monounsaturated fats, is thought to be the reason why avocados are good for the waistline

3. Love an avo for your eyes

Avocados are a source of lutein, a phytochemical that accumulates in the eye. Lutein, along with another phytochemical called zeaxanthin, has been found to be protective against a common eye disorder in the elderly called age-related macular degeneration. In 2017, researchers in America found that people who ate one avocado per day over six months had higher levels of lutein in their blood. Lutein is also found in good amounts in eggs.

4. Love an avo for the brain

In the same study mentioned above, people who ate an avocado daily also had significant improvements in their memory, cognition and problem-solving abilities. The lutein in avocados, in combination with monounsaturated fats, fibre and other bioactive compounds, such as carotenoids and tocopherols, make this creamy fruit particularly conducive to a healthy brain.

5. Love an avo for an overall healthy diet

When analysing data from the large National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the USA, researchers found that, in general, avocado eaters have healthier diets and take more positive health measures compared to those who don’t eat avocados. For example, avo lovers had significantly higher intakes of fruits, vegetables and good fats. They also consumed more of certain important nutrients, such as 36% more dietary fibre, 23% more vitamin E, 13% more magnesium, 16% more potassium and 48% more vitamin K. The diets of avo lovers also contained significantly lower intake of added sugars.

Whether you enjoy the green-skinned Fuerte (available until October) or the dark-skinned Hass variety (available from March to November), the versatile, melt-in-your-mouth avo can be a valuable part of a healthy, balanced and varied diet.

Image credit: iStock

 
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