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Heart Health

06 November 2019

An avocado a day keeps the heart doctor (and cholesterol) away

Forget the apples... new research states that an avocado a day is enough to help lower 'bad' cholesterol.

Does your mouth water at the idea of creamy avocado on a slice of toast? According to new research from Penn State, one avocado a day may help lower so-called “bad” cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

What are good and bad cholesterol?

Cholesterol is an essential fatty substance in the body and forms part of the lining of every cell. It is produced by the liver, and we ingest it through food.

But while cholesterol plays a vital role in the body, there is a difference between “good and bad” cholesterol. The difference is in the composition – the more protein, the better, and the higher the density. Therefore:

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – these are lipoproteins with more protein than fat. This is the "good" cholesterol, and higher levels of HDL cholesterol indicate a lower risk of heart disease. 

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – these are lipoproteins with more fat than protein. This is the "bad" cholesterol. This constitutes the bulk of the cholesterol in the blood. 

The goal for optimum heart health is to keep the level of fatty LDL cholesterol low, as this can clog the arteries and lead to heart problems.

What did the research entail?

The research team from Penn State did a randomised controlled feeding study, published in the Journal of Nutrition. The team recruited 45 overweight or obese adults. These participants followed a two-week initial diet that mimicked the average American diet to get them more or less on the same level before starting the study. 

In the next phase, all participants completed five weeks on three different diets – low-fat, moderate-fat without avocados and moderate-fat with one avocado per day. After five weeks on the avocado diet, the participants had lower levels of LDL cholesterol than at the start of the study.

According to Penny Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition, the inclusion of avocado in the diets was significant. She stated the following in a news report:

"We were able to show that when people incorporated one avocado a day into their diet, they had fewer small, dense LDL particles than before the diet. Consequently, people should consider adding avocados to their diet in a healthy way, like on whole-wheat toast or as a veggie dip."

"When you think about bad cholesterol, it comes packaged in LDL particles, which vary in size," she also stated. "All LDL is bad, but small, dense LDL is particularly bad. A key finding was that people on the avocado diet had fewer oxidised LDL particles. They also had more lutein, which may be the bioactive that's protecting the LDL from being oxidised."

Why avocado?

Besides the fact that the moderate-fat diet without avocados included the same amount of monounsaturated fat, the results were more significant on the avocado-diet.

The reason for this could be that the fruit has additional bioactives contributing to the result.

A bioactive called lutein could be the explanation – it prevents the LDL cholesterol particles from becoming oxidised. Oxidisation is the process that causes cholesterol to start building up in the arteries and may lead to heart disease.

Kris-Etherton said in the news report that the nutritional benefits of avocados is still a relatively new area of study and that there may be many more untapped health benefits.

Our own nutritionists at Nutritional Solutions agree that avocados benefit far more than just the heart.

“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,” according to Monique Piderit in a previous Health24 article.

What are you waiting for? Whether you are enjoying your avo on toast or chopped up in a salad, it will certainly give your health a boost.

Image credit: iStock