Best known as the essential ingredient in guacamole, avocados are brimming with vitamins, minerals and natural antioxidants. There are hundreds of avocado varieties, but only a couple are likely to be at your local supermarket. Hass is the most popular variety and is available year-round.
Affectionately known as “armadillo eggs,” Hass avocados are smallish with a bumpy peel that can range in color from bright green to almost black, a single large seed, and a buttery textured light green flesh. Some types of avocados are seasonal, available mainly in the summer. Others are regional.
Avocados grown in Florida, for example, are larger and are also lower in fat and calories than Hass avocados. For most culinary purposes, Hass avocados work the best. Additionally, most research on the health benefits of avocados has been done using the Hass variety.
Avocados are best known for being a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, but they provide a bounty of other nutrients. They are brimming with fiber, folate, potassium and vitamin K, as well as small amounts of B vitamins and minerals, including copper, magnesium, iron and zinc. Plus, avocados provide several phytochemicals, including the carotenoids lutein and cryptoxanthin, as well as phytosterols, which have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels. One-third of an avocado is considered a serving and provides 80 calories, 8 grams of fat (5 of those are monounsaturated), and 3 grams of fiber.
Hass avocados have been most studied for their potential benefit in weight loss and reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease. A survey of the diets of American adults found that avocado consumers had higher HDL-cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and a lower risk of metabolic syndrome than non-consumers.
A recent review and analysis of 10 studies, in which people consumed between 1 and 3.7 avocados a day, also found that avocado consumption was associated with an increase in HDL. That’s a lot more avocado than most people would consume in a day, but to put it into perspective, most guacamole recipes call for 1/2 to 1 avocado per person.
In a study of 45 overweight or obese adults, researchers found that including an avocado a day had beneficial effects, including a drop in LDL-cholesterol, which has been linked to an increased risk in cardiovascular disease. By comparing those consuming a similar diet without avocado, the researchers concluded that avocados had heart-healthy effects that couldn’t be attributed to the fruit’s concentration of healthy monounsaturated fats. Other compounds naturally found in avocados appear to reduce risk factors.
Researchers from the University of California recently found that among 51 overweight or obese subjects consuming 1 Hass avocado a day for 12 weeks as part of a reduced-calorie diet, intestinal microbiota was improved, which may have a wide range of health benefits. A reduction in serum hepatic growth factor (HPF) also occurred. HPF is a contributor to inflammation and disease. It’s also worth noting that weight loss was the same, both with and without avocado in the diet.
Hass avocados are available year-round and make healthy additions to salads or simply as a side dish or condiment. Most research has shown that making avocados a regular part of the diet can reduce several risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease and reducing risk of inflammation, without contributing to weight gain.
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