The rich, creamy texture of avocado is enjoyed all around the world whether it be in guacamole, sandwiches, or morning smoothies. But avocados are also rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can protect against heart disease and cancer and lower the risk of depression. With high water and fiber content, avocados also play a role in healthy weight management program.
Read this post to learn more about the amazing health benefits of avocado.
What is Avocado?
The avocado (Persea americana) is a tree fruit native to Mexico, Central, or South America believed to first be cultivated around 500 BCE [R].
Also known as the alligator pear, the avocado is a single-seeded berry with over 25 varieties. Today, 90% of avocados consumed in the United States are of the Haas variety [R].
Avocados are mostly eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, and dips, but recently, avocado oil has become popular because of its mild flavor, high smoke point, and rich nutrient profile [R].
A typical serving of half an avocado (68g) contains 114 calories, 77% of those coming from healthy fats [R].
How Many Carbs Are in Avocados?
Compared to other fruits, avocados have very little sugar. Half an avocado (68g) contains 6 grams of carbohydrates, but less than half a gram of sugar [R].
The glycemic index and load of an avocado are believed to be zero, due to the small number of carbohydrates [R].
Insoluble fiber supports bowel health and regularity by adding bulk to your stool, whereas soluble fiber improves digestion by creating a gel-like substance by mixing with water. The fiber in avocado is made up of 70% insoluble and 30% soluble fiber [R, R].
Dietary fiber is important for overall health, digestion, and disease prevention. Both soluble and insoluble fiber can help regulate appetite, support healthy gut bacteria, and reduce the risk of heart disease [R, R, R].
Fats in Avocado
The fat content in avocados consists of mostly monounsaturated fats (71%), with smaller amounts of polyunsaturated (13%) and saturated (16%) fats. Most of the monounsaturated fats in avocados are oleic acids [R].
Oleic acids are heart-healthy and can lower blood triglycerides and increase ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) [R, R].
Fats in avocados can also increase the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like carotenoids in the gut [R].
Protein in Avocado
Avocados have the highest protein content of any fruit, at less than 2g in every half an avocado [R].
Main Beneficial Compounds in Avocados
Phytochemicals in avocados include carotenoids and phytosterols. These chemicals play a protective role in cancer prevention and heart disease [R].
Avocados are the richest known fruit source of phytosterols, especially beta-sitosterol, which supports healthy cholesterol levels and overall heart health [R].
Avocado oil is made from extracting fats from the pulp of the avocado. Benefits are largely due to the high concentrations of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.
Benefits of consuming avocado oil are similar to those of consuming the avocado fruit and include prevention of the development of diabetes, reduction of inflammation, the lowering of high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and prevention of obesity [R, R, R].
Mechanism of Action
Certain compounds (phenolic compounds) in avocados can help prevent type 2 diabetes and oxidative stress in the pancreas [R].
Phytosterols in avocado are plant-based cholesterols. Their mechanism of action involves their ability to slow cholesterol absorption in the gut and decrease liver cholesterol production [R].
A study in human cancer cells found that the phytonutrient combination in avocados may hold the key to its anticancer effects [R].
Health Benefits of Avocado
1) Avocados Can Decrease the Risk for Heart Disease
Multiple studies (including 1 RCT study of 87 adults with normal and high cholesterol levels and 1 RCT study in 45 overweight/obese adults) found that an avocado-rich diet reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides [R, R].
An animal study found that avocado in the diet improved heart disease markers such as decreasing triglycerides and increasing HDL cholesterol after 5 weeks in male rats [R].
High potassium levels in avocados may reduce blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attacks [R].
Polyphenols in avocados help control heart disease by reversing chronic and acute inflammation [R].
Beta-sitosterol, a plant-based cholesterol, is found in high amounts in avocado and can lower cholesterol levels [R].
Other vitamins found in avocado include vitamin C and E. In a study (RCT) of adults aged 45 to 68 years, a combination of vitamins C and E slowed the hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis) in people with high cholesterol [R].
Avocados are high in the B vitamin folate, which helps lower homocysteine levels in the blood, a predictor of heart disease [R].
2) Avocados May Prevent Some Forms of Cancer
Avocados have a high concentration of phytochemicals, including carotenoids, which may prevent cancer by increasing cell death in precancerous and cancerous cells [R].
A nested case-control study of women found that total carotenoids in the blood were associated with reduced breast cancer risk, especially in women with dense breast tissue [R].
Carotenoid extracts from avocado can inhibit prostate cancer cell growth [R].
A survey of adults over 20 years found that blood carotenoid concentrations were associated with reduced risk of death from digestive cancers such as esophageal, colon, and pancreatic cancer [R].
Glutathione, a potent antioxidant, is several folds higher in avocado than in most other fruit. A case-control study found a significant, albeit weak, link between increased glutathione and decreased risk of oral cancer [R, R].
Avocado extracts induced cell death in human oral cancer cell lines [R].
3) Avocados Can Help Manage Diabetes
The antioxidant, fat, and dietary fiber content in avocados can help normalize blood sugar levels and lower the risk of diabetes [R].
In a study (SB-RCT) of 26 overweight adults, eating half an avocado a day resulted in lower blood insulin levels [R].
A study using pancreatic rat cells found that avocado pulp extracts could inhibit key enzymes (α-amylase and α-glucosidase) linked to type 2 diabetes [R].
Avocado oil was found to improve insulin sensitivity by 96% in rats fed a high sucrose diet [R].
4) Avocado Reduces the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
Of the many biomarkers for metabolic syndrome, avocado has the best capacity to improve HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol [R].
A cross-sectional epidemiological study of over 17,000 adults found that the consumption of half an avocado per day decreased the risk of metabolic syndrome by 50% [R]
5) Avocados Can Lower Blood Pressure
The monounsaturated fats in avocados can reduce blood pressure in the short and long-term [R].
The high fiber content of avocado may also contribute to the prevention of high blood pressure, especially in populations where fiber intake is below recommended levels [R].
6) Avocados Can Reduce the Risk of Depression
Multiple studies (a population-based cohort study of adults aged 55 to 85 years and a prospective cohort study of over 12,000 adults) found that the anti-inflammatory nature of monounsaturated fats was associated with lower risk of depression [R, R].
Many studies have confirmed the association between folate deficiency and depression. Foods like avocado that are high in folate may help reduce the risk of depression by preventing the buildup of homocysteine in the brain [R, R].
7) Avocados May Slow the Aging Process
Two clinical studies (a retrospective study with 82 males and a 14-day dietary intervention with 37 women) suggested that xanthophylls in avocados may protect against DNA damage and support healthy aging [R, R].
A study (RCT) testing the effects of eating 1 avocado per day in 20 healthy subjects for 6 months found improvement in memory, attention span, and problem-solving compared to control groups [R].
8) Avocados Support Healthy Weight
Fruits such as avocados that are high in fiber and healthy fats can increase satiety and support a healthy weight.
Several preliminary clinical studies suggest that avocados help support a healthy weight. Avocado consumption is also associated with improved diet quality and nutrient intake [R].
In a study (RCT) of 55 adults, the group fed one and a half avocado per day (200 g/day) for 6 weeks showed decreased body weight, body mass index, and percentage of body fat [R].
9) Avocados Can Support Healthy Skin
The high-fat content and antioxidant properties of avocados can play an important role in maintaining healthy skin.
Clinical trials (1 DB-RCT of 40 healthy women and 1 DB-RCT of 30 dry-skinned elderly volunteers) indicated that both the topical and oral intake of lutein and zeaxanthin can improve skin elasticity, hydration, and wrinkles [R, R].
A pilot study suggested that both the topical use and dietary intake of avocado may enhance wound healing in rats [R].
10) Avocados Support a Healthy Pregnancy and Early Child Life
Avocados are high in fiber, monounsaturated fats, and antioxidants (lutein). These nutrients are linked to improvements in fertility, maternal health, birth outcomes, and breast milk production in premenopausal women [R, R].
Monounsaturated fats are necessary for brain development in the first year of life [R].
Nutrients such as folate are essential for fetal health to prevent neural and heart defects. One half an avocado contains 60 μg folate, providing 10% of the recommended daily intake for pregnant women [R].
Avocados may help expectant mothers overcome nausea due to their high B6 vitamin content, a known therapeutic approach to minimize morning sickness [R].
11) Avocados Benefit Eye Health
The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin found in avocado may play a role in reducing the development and progression of age-related macular degeneration [R].
Prospective cohort studies (one of 5,604 adults aged 58 to 69 years and the other 899 adults over 60 years) found that diets rich in monounsaturated fats and zeaxanthin were protective against cataract and maculopathy [R, R].
12) Avocados Can Help Maintain Healthy Bones and Joints
Half of an avocado provides approximately 25% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K1. Vitamin K1 can support bone health by increasing calcium absorption and by reducing urine calcium levels [R].
A community-based cohort study of 293 healthy adults with an average age of 58 years found that antioxidants common in avocados (lutein and zeaxanthin) were associated with a decreased risk of cartilage defects, common symptoms of osteoarthritis [R].
13) Avocados Can Protect the Liver
Antioxidants in avocados can protect against liver injury [R].
In a rat study, the avocado was able to minimize liver injury, suggesting a potential role of this fruit in the prevention of liver disease [R].
14) Avocados Support a Healthy Gut
The high content of soluble and insoluble fiber and fats in avocados helps to maintain a healthy digestive system by reducing symptoms of constipation and diarrhea.
The high fiber content can also provide a prebiotic food source for healthy gut bacteria, improving overall digestion and preventing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome-like diarrhea [R].
15) Avocados May Help Treat Infectious Diseases
Defensin, a protein found in avocado extracts, has antimicrobial properties against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, suggesting a potential use in the treatment of infectious diseases [R].
1) Avocado Allergy
An oral allergy to avocado may result in mild to severe allergic responses including itching of lips, mouth, and throat, usually within 1 hour of consuming or handling avocado.
There may be a higher likelihood of an avocado allergy if a birch pollen or latex allergy is present. This is because of the similarity of allergens present in avocados, natural latex, and pollen.
2) Fermentable Carbohydrates (FODMAPs)
The avocado contains fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs). These fermentable carbohydrates may trigger symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea [R].
Avocados are high in vitamin K1, a potent blood clotting nutrient [R].
Blood thinner medications, such as warfarin, act by blocking vitamin K1 activity. The dose of warfarin will fluctuate significantly depending on the amount of vitamin K1 in the diet [R].
Can Dogs Eat Avocado?
Avocado contains persin, a fungicidal toxin that is relatively harmless for humans but may be toxic to domestic animals such as cattle, horses, goats, birds, and fish. While dogs are more resistant than most other animals, avocado is not entirely safe and may cause vomiting and diarrhea.
The biggest danger from persin comes from the avocado seed. If you suspect your dog has swallowed an avocado pit, you should call your vet immediately.