Healthy fats installment I: Avocado
One day at Ubuntu Fitness we were discussing the unusual nutrition profile of an avocado. It's a fruit, it's high in fat and its high fiber content compared to vegetables is really unexpected. Intrigued, we remarked how there were other fruits with nutritive properties similar to an avocado and we want to share some nutrition knowledge about healthy fats.
After the low-fat freak out of the 1990s, mainstream health recommendations are now comfortably embracing dietary fat, “in moderation”. Notably with the tsunami of eager Low Carb and Paleo followers, bacon and eggs has transcended all food rules to become the Chris Hemsworth of breakfasts. Creator of the popular breakfast Edward Bernays would be proud! (see here)
While it’s terrific people are leading healthier lives by including more fat into their diets in place of refined carbs, we’ve easily forgotten that fat is still the same high calorie macronutrient that Americans once skimmed and scraped off their plates not long ago. The number of obese people in the U.S. now outnumbers the number of overweight (see here), so it seems senseless to encourage eating calorie-dense foods regularly when most folks are already in a calorie surplus. Unless someone exercises regularly at a high level, then they likely won't be able to get away with pounding large quantities of fat.
Including more fat in the diet from animal products like meat and dairy not only increases one’s total calorie intake, it also raises ethical concerns. Slamming down a plate of bacon from factory farm diseased pigs or frying cage-raised eggs in butter from tortured cows seems wasteful when the maximum health benefit obtained from these foods comes from animals raised in a sustainable and environmentally optimal manner. However, I digress – back to the fat!
In this short series we’ll briefly cover health benefits of avocados, coconuts and cocoa. These foods are some of the best sources of fat and can certainly be part of a healthful diet, yet can create a calorie surplus quite easily so let’s be selective! We’ll highlight some health benefits and the nutrition breakdown .
I should be stripped of my Latino heritage for calling guacamole "gross" as a bratty pre-teen. Luckily I fixed my broken taste buds and now look forward to the best tasting avocados every summer.
One review article on the potential health effects of avocado (albeit I acknowledge it was supported by the Hass Avocado board) describes a few interesting details about avocados.
The review compared one avocado to 1.5 ounces each of almonds, pistachios and walnuts to show an avocado has a similar macronutrient breakdown to this amount of nuts but with slightly fewer calories. Avocado proves to be a superior source of certain micronutrients such as Potassium, Vitamin C, Folate, and Vitamin K1. In addition the avocado provides greater volume due to it's high water content and contains more fiber. This is important because for the same amount of calories you get to eat more food, a.k.a. you get more bang for your buck. Between volume and the fiber, avocado is likely to be more satiating than nuts, but that's highly individual.
A survey of people in the US found avocado consumption was linked to people having higher HDL cholesterol, lower weight, lower BMI and lower waist circumference (2). However, there could be many different underlying explanations such as people that eat avocados may be more likely to eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables in general, may lead healthier lifestyles, etc. There are other studies that further examine the relation between avocado consumption and cholesterol markers however they are also supported by Hass Avocado.
An avocado is botanically a berry. Interestingly, other agricultural studies find the carotenoid (a class of pigment and antioxidant) content of an avocado increases as the growing season progresses, and that more carotenoids are found closest to the peel. That is why it’s best to eat avocados in season. Even more, as the fruit ripens, the saturated fat content decreases and monounsaturated fat increases (1).
What piqued our interest in avocados is the high fiber content. While avocados are famous for their tasty fat, they're not classified as an energy dense food - this is because avocados are 80% water and fiber by weight. There are 7 grams of fiber in 100 grams of fruit (see here) which is about ½ a medium avocado. Compare that to the paltry 0.7 grams in one cup of raw spinach.
As mentioned, many studies in a PubMed search brought up articles supported by the Hass Avocado board, but these studies are conducted independent at universities so that should remove at least some of the bias.
To summarize, avocados are a wise choice when it comes to including more fat in ones diet. Satiating and nutritionally dense, they appear to be linked to some health benefits and are packed with fiber.
We've used them as a fat replacement in baking, blended with chickpea and tomato for a Mediterranean-guacamole fushion and even as an "ice cream" dessert. Try our Avocado & Banana Berry Sorbet recipe, pictured right.
Next up: coconuts!
1. Dreher, Mark L., and Adrienne J. Davenport. "Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects." Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 53.7 (2013): 738-50. Web. 26 June 2015.
2. Fulgoni, Victor L., Mark Dreher, and Adrienne J. Davenport. "Avocado Consumption Is Associated with Better Diet Quality and Nutrient Intake, and Lower Metabolic Syndrome Risk in US Adults: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001–2008." Nutrition Journal Nutr J 12.1 (2013): 1. Web. 26 June 2015.