12 proven benefits of avocado

Rabiyya Khan, SATI STAFF

There’s no denying the fact that avocados are one of the most nutritionally beneficial fruits you can stock your shelves with. It’s incredible how rich such a small fruit can be. For starters, it is packed with beneficial fats (that’s where the creamy, smooth texture comes from), vitamins and minerals.

Also hailed as the “alligator pear” or the “butter fruit”, avocados are native to Central and South America. Countries like Mexico, Australia and Brazil have now started growing avocados on commercial scales. There are various types of avocados that differ in their size, form and color. The most widely used type of avocados is the Hass Avocado, which is rather rounded in shape and is black in color.

The nutritional excellence of avocados lies in its high levels of monounsaturated fats (the “good” fats that help fight the bad fat boys in there), vitamin E (one of the strongest anti-oxidants), vitamin K, iron and potassium, not to mention its high fiber content.

Although the little fruit is high in calories (100 grams of avocados impart 240 calories) due to its high fat content, it has myriads of nutritional and health benefits that are far too many to be enumerated.
In order to understand the benefits of this wonder fruit, let’s take a little trip down the science lane to look into the nutritional content of avocados.

Here’s a bit of science

According to the figures sated by the United States Department of Agriculture, a hundred grams of avocados contain:

Monounsaturated Fats: 10 grams
Dietary fiber: 7 grams
Proteins: 2 grams
Total carbohydrates: 9 grams
Vitamin C: 10 milligrams
Vitamin E: 2.07 milligrams
Iron: 0.55 milligrams
Magnesium: 29 milligrams
Potassium: 485 milligrams

Apart from these, avocados also contain trace amounts of folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin B5 and B6, vitamin K, Calcium, Phosphorous and Zinc. Micronutrients like carotenoids, Persenones A and B and D-Mannoheptulose are also found in avocados, which are potent antioxidants and exert beneficial effects on almost all organs of the body by preventing inflammation.

Armed with the natural goodness of these important dietary nutrients, avocados are extremely beneficial for overall health and wellbeing. Following are some of the amazing benefits of avocado that you probably didn’t know about.

1. Improves heart health

Avocados are loaded with monounsaturated fats like oleic acids. These fats not only help maintain the level of beneficial fats (High density lipoproteins, LDLs) in the body, but also decrease the concentration of harmful fats like low density lipoproteins (LDLs) and the triglycerides (TGs). HDLs are good for the heart and the blood vessels.

The monounsaturated fats help prevent inflammation which is the basic phenomenon that leads to atherosclerosis (hardening of vessel walls due to deposition of plaque). They fight against the oxidants that trigger the inflammatory processes in the vessel walls, keeping the vessel walls pliant and happy. This is also how avocados prevent the clogging up of arteries and in turn, prevent the incidence of stroke.

No wonder, studies have found that people who consume avocados have been found to have excellent heart health and lead long and healthy lives, uncomplicated by debilitating conditions like heart attack and stroke [1].

2. Reduces all the extra kilos

For years, avocados have been avoided owing to their high fat content. The myth that avocados increase the body weight has long since been busted. Avocados have now joined the list of super foods that facilitate rapid weight loss.

Avocados are loaded with fiber. Their high fiber content makes avocados an excellent choice for people who are looking for ways to shed all the extra pounds.

The amount of insoluble fiber in avocados is higher than the soluble one. The insoluble fiber fills up the stomach, leading to early satiety which reduces the hunger pangs, in turn resulting in decreased eating and weight loss. Avocados also cause an increase in the concentration of “leptin”, the satiety hormone, within the blood circulation.

In a study that was carried out to analyze the effect of avocado consumption in overweight adults, it was found that obese people who consumed avocados on a regular basis reported early satiety and less desire to gorge as compared to the people whose diet was devoid of avocados [2].

Since the total carbohydrate level of avocados is low, they contribute little towards weight gain. They are a good dietary alternative for people who are weight conscious and are following strict dietary regimes for weight loss.

3. Prevents diabetes

According to the latest statistics released by the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 422 million adults around the world are living with diabetes mellitus and the figures are climbing even as you read this article. Avocados have been found to be extremely beneficial for the prevention of this chronic endocrine disorder.

The monounsaturated fats in avocados have been found to have a vital role in the prevention and management of diabetes, especially type 2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) [3].  Since diabetes is a major risk factor for heart diseases, the regulation of cholesterol levels of the body by the monounsaturated fats works wonders to curb the risk of cardiovascular disorders in people with diabetes.

Vitamin E found in avocados has anti-oxidant potential and prevents inflammation of pancreas, the gland which produces insulin (the hormone responsible for the regulation of blood sugar levels). By improving the responsiveness of body cells to the effects of insulin, avocados, help prevent diabetes to a large extent.

The insoluble fiber found in avocados is slow to be digested. It takes a lot of time for the gut to convert these complex carbohydrates into simple sugars that are readily absorbed into the blood stream. Slow release of sugar into the circulation helps maintain the baseline level of sugar in the blood in diabetic patients for whom sudden swings in blood sugar levels can prove to belief-threatening.

4. Keeps eyes healthy

The micronutrients found in avocados have important health benefits which have been overlooked for centuries. Carotenoids are orange-yellow pigments that have antioxidant strength and are crucial for visual health. They are found in abundant amounts in avocados and help keep the eyes hale and hearty.

Avocados contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which have strong antioxidant properties. These little guys prevent oxidative damage in the retina of humans by neutralizing the reactive oxygen species and free radicals.

These nutrients are extremely important in protecting the retina of the eye against the damage caused by short wavelength visible light. This is how they avert the onset of cataract and age related macular degeneration [4].

Another benefit of avocados for vision comes from the fact that they help in conversion of beta carotene into active form of vitamin A. The role of vitamin A in enhancing vision has long since been established.

5. May prevent cancer

Although there is a dearth of sufficient data that supports the role of avocados in cancer prevention, it has been suggested that the nutrients found in avocados may play a significant part in protecting the human white blood cells from the harmful effects of drugs used in chemotherapy (particularly cyclophosphamide) in cancer patients.

A recent study carried out in 2011 shows that the phytochemicals and vitamins found in avocados can contribute towards cancer prevention by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, via cell cycle arrest and by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the rapidly growing cancer cells, thereby hindering the growth of cancer cells right in their tracks [5].

Another study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry in 2005, established the valuable role of avocados in the inhibition of the growth of tumor cells in people suffering from prostate cancer. The study linked vitamin E, Lutein and other carotenoids found in avocados with hindrance of the proliferation of cancer cells [6].

6. Relieves osteoarthritis symptoms

Osteoarthritis (OA)is a common chronic condition of the joints that causes the structures forming the joints to wear out with the advancing age, resulting in severe pain and inflammation. A recent study demonstrates that the extracts obtained from avocado can limit the progression of this degenerative joint disease [7].

Studies have shown “unsaponifiable” fats found in avocados to have a potential role in relieving the decapitating symptoms of osteoarthritis, ultimately reducing the need for the use of pain killers, particularly NSAIDS, for the treatment of OA [8]

7. Promotes nutrient absorption

The mere presence of nutrients in body is not enough; you need to be able to absorb them from your gut into the blood stream so that they can reach their targets and start working. Avocados not only contain opulent amounts of dietary nutrients themselves but also enhance the absorption of other nutrients, particularly carotenoids, from the gut.

This attribute was ascribed to the high lipid content of avocados. Being “fat soluble”, carotenoids require a fatty environment to be absorbed from the gut and avocados facilitate their absorption into the blood stream. Vitamins like A, D, E and K are also fat soluble and their absorption is immensely helped along by avocados.

This amazing property of avocados was proven by a study published in The Journal of Nutrition in the year 2005, which showed that addition of avocados in salsa or salads can increase the absorption of carotenoids by the body up to 15 fold [9].

8. Increases dietary potassium

Most of the people take less potassium in diet without even being aware of it. Potassium is an extremely important mineral that plays myriads of vital functions in the human body including

  • Muscle contraction
  • Heart pumping
  • Nerve signal conduction
  • Regulation of water balance
  • Protein and carbohydrate metabolism
  • Body growth

It might come as a surprise that the level of potassium found in avocados is even more than that found in bananas. By maintaining the level of potassium within the body, avocados help regulate blood pressure and in turn, prevent the incidence of high blood pressure, heart diseases, kidney failure and stroke [10].

9. Prevents birth defects

Avocados are not only beneficial for adults but also help unborn babies. Folate, or folic acid, is a nutrient that is imperative for the neurological development of the babies. Folic acid deficiency is the foremost reason of spinal defects, particularly spina bifida and meningocele, in new born babies. This is why pregnant ladies are advised to take folic acid supplements, especially during the first trimester, when nervous growth of the baby is taking place. The recommended daily amount of folate is 90 micrograms for females.

Avocados contain significant amount of folic acid. One cup of avocados contains roughly 30% more than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of folic acid. Studies have shown consumption of folate rich foods, particularly avocados, to be linked with low risk of spinal and other neurological birth defects in newborns [11].

Another way by which avocados exert beneficial effect on newborn health is by meeting the deficiency of vitamin K in pregnant ladies. Babies born to vitamin K deficient mothers tend to develop a blood disorder known as “Vitamin K Deficiency- related Bleeding” (VKDB).

Since vitamin K is essential for the production of several clotting factors, such babies lack these clotting factors and their blood fails to clot. Even minor trauma can prove to be life-threatening for such babies. Avocados are opulent sources of vitamin K and help lower the incidence of VKDB in newborns [12].

10. Better skin

Being rich in antioxidants like Vitamin E and carotenoids, avocados improve the skin health, keeping it young and pliant. Antioxidants work rigorously to protect the skin against the UV light mediated skin damage and the havoc wreaked by free radicals, keeping it luminous and radiant.

Vitamin K in avocados helps regulate the water balance of the skin, keeping it well hydrated. No wonder, people who consume avocados in diet have a healthy, youthful glow.

Vitamin C is another component of avocados that contributes towards skin health by helping in the formation of collagen which is the basic structural component of skin. The production of collagen is decreased with age. By improving collagen production, avocados help in keeping the skin fresh and healthy.

11. Boosts cognitive abilities

As mentioned earlier, the antioxidant property of the nutrients found in avocados helps keep the blood vessels patent and inhibits their clogging, directly decreasing the risk of stroke and protecting the brain against hypoxia (low oxygen level of blood).

Potassium also plays vital roles within the nervous system, keeping the whole nervous system running smoothly. The folic acid content of avocados is also imperative for brain health as folic acid deficiency has been related to cognitive decline, especially memory impairment in the elderly population. Recent studies have shown direct correlation between folate deficiency and the development of Alzhiemer’s disease in the elderly [13].

The “unsaponifiables” found in avocados and soybeans have been linked with improved mental and cognitive capabilities. Animal studies carried out on rats show these unsaponifiables exert neuro-protective effects on brain. They help the brain cells recover from the injury caused by decreased blood supply to the brain [14].

It has now been established that avocado consumption can lead to enhanced cognitive capabilities, especially better memory and concentration skills.

12. Builds stronger bones

Avocados are beneficial even for your bones. Vitamin K in avocados serves to regulate the levels of Calcium within the body. Vitamin C utilizes its antioxidant properties in the production of collagen, a key component forming the structure of bones. By helping in the synthesis of collagen, avocados help fortify the structure of bones that starts wearing down with age.

Avocados help against osteoporosis in post-menopausal women by making their bones stronger. They also help lower the incidence of age-related fractures in both men and women.

A rather recent study carried out in 2016 shows avocados to contain a wide variety of minerals like Calcium, Cadmium, Cobalt, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Lead and Zinc [15].  All of these minerals are indispensable for bone health and by replacing their dwindling levels in the body, avocados help strengthen the bones.

The sati line

Packed to their brims with mineral and nutrients, avocados are now being hailed as “super foods” for their amazing health benefits. Their rich, creamy texture and delicious nutty taste make avocados easy to be included in every day diet. A slight caution to be exercised is to look out for latex allergy before eating avocados. If you are allergic to latex, chances are that adding avocados to your diet can also trigger the symptoms.

A rather appetizing way of incorporating avocados in diet is tossing them into a salad along with other fruits for a nutrient-packed and energy boosting breakfast. Even if you have no stomach for a heavy fruit salad, scooping the pulp right out of avocados with a spoon can be an equally fulfilling experience.

And no, i haven’t forgotten the incredible guacamole, which includes avocados topped with lime, salt and garlic, an absolute treat for the taste buds. Alternatively, you can also turn avocados into a smoothie for a wholesome, nutritious experience. Avocado oil can also be used in diet as a replacement of regular cooking oil.

Now you have all the more reasons to hoard avocados. Forget about apples; “an avocado a day” is the new norm.

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