Avocados are a wonderfully delicious fruit that are underutilized in todays diet. They have a host of health benefits and a variety of nutrients and antioxidants that can boost your health tremendously.
Avocados are more than just something to be had in a side dish – they are a super food that should be eaten often for super health. Even if you haven’t taken these creamy, green fruits as a serious health food in the past, I’m willing to bet that after reading this, you’ll think of avocados as much more than just an ingredient for that occasional dish of guacamole and you’ll be excited to come up with new ways to incorporate avocados into your daily eating plan.
What Is An Avocado?
Is it a fruit? A vegetable? Something else? Avocados are a fruit – a large berry with a single large seed inside. They are egg shaped and mature on the tree but ripen after being picked. There are over 80 varieties of Avocado, but you are probably most familiar with the Haas avocado which has black-green bumpy skin.
Inside the avocado is a creamy, delicious substance that can be incorporated into just about any dish – even desserts! The taste is mild and it’s the creaminess that really makes this fruit stand out.
The avocado originates from Mexico and has a long history of cultivation in Central and South America. Its use is documented as early as 291 B.C. and it was the Spanish explorers who brought it back to Europe from their conquests. In the U.S. it is now grown extensively in Florida and California.
Health Benefits Of Avocados
Who knew this strange little fruit could be so good for you? Avocados have great health benefits for your heart, your skin, your blood sugar and just about everything else in your body.
Antioxidants – Not only are avocados packed full of antioxidants such as Vitamins C, E and selenium but studies show that the body absorbs significantly more of two key antioxidants – beta carotene and lycopene when avocados (or avocado oil) is eaten in conjunction with foods that have these antioxidants.
You can get up to 400% more absorption of these antioxidants which come from other vegetables like carrots and spinach when you eat avocados along with them. Avocados themselves contain a host of carotenoids including lutein, beta carotene, alpha carotene, zeaxanthin, beta cryptoxanthin, neoxanthin, chrysanthemaxanthin, neochrome and violaxanthin, so just eating avocados alone can help bring more antioxidants into your body.
Anti-inflammatory – Avocados are very high in fat, but its a “good” fat – monounsaturated fat and it’s also this fat that give avocados a lot of their anti-inflammatory benefits. Avocado’s “fat” is made up mainly of phytosterols which have been extensively researched as to their anti inflammatory benefits, especially when it comes to treating arthritis. Avocados also contain omega-3 fatty acids which are known for their anti inflammatory properties.
Heart Health – One might think that the high fat content of avocados (about 80% of the calorie are from fat) would be unhealthy for your heart but actually the opposite is true. The abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds are all good for your heart. In addition to that, avocados have lots of B vitamins and folic acid which help regulate homocysteine levels for heart health.
Avocados also contain a good amount of oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fat that is thought to help lower cholesterol as well as the mineral potassium which is said to help regulate blood pressure.
Healthy Blood Sugar – Avocados are low carb, low sugar and have a surprising amount of fiber all of which helps to keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel. Research seems to suggest that unripe avocados or those just starting to ripen have more of a beneficial effect on blood sugar due to the types of sugars present. As the avocado ripens, the sugars change and the benefits (for blood glucose regulation) decrease.
The healthiest part of the avocado is the greenest part – right near the skin, so when you are peeling the avocado, make sure you scoop the flesh out from the skin so that you get the most health benefits.
Nutritional Benefits Of Avocados
Avocados are loaded with vitamins and minerals and, surprisingly, just 1 cup of avocado has over 39% of the US RDA of fiber. Some of the other goodies you will find include:
They also contain amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, riboflavin and thiamin.
They are high in fat and calories with 233 calories per cup and 80% of those calories come from fat. But, it’s monounsaturated fat so its “healthy” fat.
Ways To Use Avocados
There’s a ton of things you can do to incorporate avocados into your diet. Perhaps the best and most effective is to include them in salads, this way you will be benefitting from the special nutrients in avocados that help your body absorb more antioxidants when you combine them with other high antioxidant foods like carrots and spinach.
Another thing you can do with them, which a lot of people don’t think to do, is to include them in smoothies. Instead of yogurt, you can add avocado to get that thick creamy texture. They taste great in green smoothies – try it sometime!
Needless to say, avocados are the mainstay in guacamole but they can also be used in many salsa recipes to add some heft.
One of my favorite uses for avocado is to use it in place of mayonnaise on a sandwich. This works great for toasted tomato and cucumber sandwiches and I love it on veggie burgers. Just scoop up some avocado on a knife and spread it on the bread.
Avocado can really be added to any dish. The flavor is very mild so it won’t overpower your food, in fact you may not even notice it in the dish. Add it to stir fries, salads and salsas.
You can even use avocados as dessert! In my book Healing Desserts, I have a recipe for avocado pudding that is dreamy and creamy and a lot healthier than other puddings. Plus it is very filling so you can have dessert for supper and not feel guilty (because its so healthy) or hungry after.
Since avocados are full of fat and fiber, adding them to your foods will help any dish be more filling and satisfying.
You can get a ton of ideas and recipes for avocados over at http://www.avocado.com/recipes
Keeping Avocados From Getting Brown
Don’t you hate reaching into the fridge to get the other half of the avocado that you ate yesterday and finding that it has turned brown? The browning is a reaction to the oxygen that the avocado is exposed to. An enzyme contained in the avocado “meat” causes the brown oxidation. The best way to keep an avocado from getting brown is to minimize the exposure to air.
Some people say that keeping the nut or seed intact will stall the oxidation and this is somewhat true. If you are going to be eating half an avocado, the best thing is to cut it lengthwise and use the side that the pit does not remain in. Then carefully seal up the other side with the pit intact.
Another method is to use lemon juice to keep the browning at bay. Simply rub lemon juice on the exposed part of the avocado and seal tightly.
The key is to minimize the amount of oxygen that comes in contact with the exposed avocado flesh.
How To Choose And Store Avocados
When shopping for avocados in the store, you want to pick ones that are firm, but yield when you gently press on them. Make sure there are no soft spots and that they are not too squishy. Most ripened avocado will be a very dark blackish green. If you want ones that you are going to use later on – like at the end of the week, then you should pick one that is a little lighter in color and harder when you press on it. That way you can have it on hand and let it ripen on the counter.
You can keep the unripened ones on your counter, or if you want them to get ripe faster put them in a paper bag. Once ripe, you’ll want to store the avocado in your fridge. Once you cut into an avocado, any left over fruit should also be stored in the fridge.