It's easy to love avocados: they're perfect plain, atop toast, in salads, and of course, in everyone's favorite dip, guacamole. But these 13 awesome avocado benefits backed by health experts, along with 10 of our favorite ways to serve up this fruit (yep! It's a fruit -- but more on that below), will reignite your love for the mighty avocado.
Discovering Avocado Nutrition: 11 Awesome Avocado Facts
Before we jump into the health benefits of avocado, let's test your general knowledge: we've assembled our top 11 avocado facts to help you learn even more about the humble alligator pear.
1. Avocados are a fruit.
Botanically speaking, the avocado is the fruit of the avocado tree. And while culinarily speaking, many of us are more familiar with the avocado as a savory food, in some countries, such as Brazil, avocado is traditionally eaten sweetened, as a dessert.
2. Avocados come from Mexico, and so does their name.
This might not surprise you, what with the prevalence of guacamole and all. What is surprising is their name -- avocado comes from the Nahuatl "ahuacatl," which means testicle -- a reference to their shape.
3. Avocados are picked before they’re ripe.
If you’ve ever had a tough time choosing a ripe avocado at the grocery store, you know that often avocados are harvested when they’re still tough as rocks. What you might not know is that this is done on purpose: like bananas, avocados mature on the tree but ripen once plucked off.
4. Avocado stems tell you when they’re ready.
If you’re looking for a perfectly ripe avocado at the store, you can easily figure out which ones to buy. Give them a squeeze, and if they feel fairly soft without being overly squishy, inspect the stem area. The area just beneath the stem, if you wiggle or remove it, should be pale green – white means it’s under-ripe, and black or brown means it’s over-ripe.
5. Tomatoes can help avocados ripen.
Avocados ripen as they are exposed to ethylene gas. If you enclose an under-ripe avocado in a paper bag with a tomato or a banana, the ethylene gas released by these fruits will help the avocado to ripen in a matter of days.
6. Avocados contain healthy fat.
“We are finally emerging from our 'fat-phobic' mentality and realizing that not all fats are created equal,” says NY Health and Wellness’ Nutrition Director Jacqui Justice, and that means more avocado for everyone. The fat contained in avocados is monounsaturated fat, which experts agree should be about 75 percent of the fat consumption of individuals.
7. Avocados are richest in nutrients right next to the peel and the seed.
The darkest flesh, closest to the peel, contains some of the most potent nutrients, so be sure to scrape all of the flesh from the skin of your avocado, lest you miss out. You can also consume the seed, which contains a large proportion of the fruit's antioxidants: smash it before adding it to a blender with other smoothie ingredients to take full advantage of it.
8. Avocados are #1 on EWG’s Clean Fifteen.
In 2016, avocados were ranked the cleanest produce by the Environmental Working Group, meaning that buying conventional avocados does not expose you to nearly as many pesticides as other conventional produce.
9. Avocados contain more protein and fiber than most other fruits.
One avocado contains 13 grams of fiber as opposed to an apple’s five, and it also contains between 3 and 4 grams of protein, making avocados a very filling snack choice.
10. Allergic to latex? Keep away from avocados.
Avocados contain an allergen that is structurally similar to latex, so you should either avoid avocados or ask an allergist to test you for an avocado allergy before consuming them. This is not the only food that has this cross reactivity: bananas, kiwis, and chestnut may cause reactions as well.
11. Haas avocados are not the only kind of avocado.
While the dark-skinned avocado may be omnipresent, several different avocado varieties are available, each of which has its own flavor – and its own optimal growing season. Check out this guide to avocado varieties for more information.
Also bear in mind that, generally speaking, California- or Mexican-grown avocados are higher in fat, and therefore in calories, whereas Florida avocados, which are larger, are actually lower in fat and calories.
13 Incredible Health Benefits of Avocados
Avocados are fantastically good for you – here are just a few of the health benefits of this super-fruit. As always, be sure to consult a doctor when making any lifestyle changes.
Avocado toast image via Shutterstock
1. Avocados can help lower cholesterol.
Thanks to avocados’ monounsaturated fatty acid content, studies have shown that avocados can help lower cholesterol.
A 2015 study by the American Heart Association showed that an avocado a day was an extremely powerful tool in the reduction of bad cholesterol. “This, in turn, makes avocados heart healthy,” says Alyson Greiter, RD, LDN, Clinical Oncology Dietician at Cancer Treatment Centers of American at Midwestern Regional Center.
Greiter also attributes avocados’ fiber contents with this cholesterol-regulating aspect of the fruit.
2. Avocados can help with constipation.
The large amount of fiber contained in avocados can help regulate bowel movements, according to Greiter. “Patients with cancer may struggle with constipation as a side effect of treatment," she says. "At CTCA® at Midwestern, we know that adding avocados into their diet can help to combat this treatment-related symptom.”
Try adding a half an avocado to your daily diet to become more regular.
3. Avocados can help with weight loss.
While many who are trying to lose weight may stay away from avocados, given their high fat content, the truth is that avocados can actually help, and not necessarily hinder, weight loss.
“They can be very filling, as they are about 70 percent water and around 7 percent fiber,” says naturopathic doctor Serena Goldstein. “Many studies have shown an avocado a day can help with weight loss goals and cholesterol reduction, testing on one a day.”
4. Avocados can help with blood sugar control.
Several studies have shown that insulin secretion after a meal is reduced when the meal contains avocado. While most of the studies that have been performed on this benefit are short-term and warrant further research, it may help with satiety directly following a meal.
If you have been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, be sure to check with your health care professional before attempting to regulate your own blood sugar with avocado.
5. Avocados are awesome for PMS.
Avocados promote a healthy hormone balance, thanks to their fatty acids. These can naturally balance your hormones and even improve your mood during your period.
Some studies have even shown that high-fat diets can lower some instances of depression due to their hormone balancing powers, so stock up to help keep your hormones and moods in check.
6. Avocados can help you chill.
Avocados are rich in magnesium, which Goldstein calls “nature’s relaxer.” In truth, magnesium is a very potent mineral that can help you get to sleep more quickly and more soundly, and also help you relax more easily -- which gives an added bump to your mood as well.
7. Avocados lower your risk of cancer.
A recent study showed that molecules contained in avocados may be essential in fighting acute myeloid leukemia. The molecule, known as avocation B, is a fat that is one of only a handful of treatments that attack leukemia cells without attacking healthy cells too.
8. Avocados help protect your bones.
While they don't contain large amounts of calcium, avocados do contain several different vitamins and minerals that help with bone health, including vitamins K, D, and C, boron, copper, and folate. Together, these elements improve bone health and can even prevent osteoporosis.
9. Avocados help you absorb other vitamins.
The fat content in avocados make it the ideal conduit for absorbing other vitamins that you might not be making the most of. Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K are present in many foods but won’t be optimally absorbed without a bit of fat, and that's where avocados can help.
Avocados also contain carotenoids, B vitamins, potassium, and lutein, all of which can be absorbed optimally thanks to their natural fat content.
10. Avocados can improve organ function.
Avocados contain more potassium than a banana, according to Cate Stillman, wellness expert and author of "Body Thrive." Potassium is an extremely powerful element, containing compounds that can improve heart, kidney, and muscle function.
11. Avocado enhances brain function.
Good fat is great for your brain, so avocado is incredible for improving brain function. The brain is composed of 60 percent fat, and choosing avocado means not only will you improve the function of the brain itself, but you will promote healthy blood flow to the brain.
12. Avocado boosts immune function.
The good fat in avocado is behind yet another avocado health benefit: boosting your immune system. Avocados contain 18 of the 22 amino acids that we need to stay healthy -- they're a veritable powerhouse for keeping illness at bay.
13. Avocado is an anti-inflammatory.
General inflammation is a nasty thing to battle with, and it's such a pity that so many suffer when a diet rich in good foods is the cure. Avocados are so rich in anti-inflammatory benefits that one 2013 study in Food & Function found that eating avocado might actually offset eating less healthy, inflammatory foods.
Avocado Benefits for Skin and Beauty
Avocado is good for your body in more than one way. Avocado can actually be applied topically to add moisture and vitamins to dry skin, like with our DIY avocado and chocolate mask.
Avocado face mask image via Shutterstock
"It can also be used to massage into hair and scalp after a shower for about 5-10 minutes, and then rinsed off," says Goldstein.
From the Organic Authority Files
And if you'd rather eat your avocados, Golstein says that avocado oil will also suffice for topical applications.
Cooking with Avocado: 10 Delicious Recipes
While an avocado half with just a touch of salt is the perfect snack, here are a few of our favorite avocado recipes to take full advantage of all of those health benefits.
Goldstein throws avocados into her smoothies or uses them to make a simple, healthy chocolate mousse with raw cacao, a few pinches of sea salt, and some raw honey.
Justice says that, “aside from the obvious guacamole,” she loves to make avocado toast with sprouted bread, topped with an egg and flax meal. She also adds diced avocado to a salad with organic grape tomatoes, organic extra-virgin olive oil, and a pinch of Himalayan salt.
Greiter loves using avocado in raw salads, as its smooth texture is a nice complement to the crispness of raw veggies. "The same smooth consistency of an avocado works great as a vegetable dip or a sandwich spread," she says. "If not a fan of the taste or texture of an avocado, this fruit works well blended into a smoothie as a way increase the creaminess and nutritional content."
10 Avocado Recipes
When picking your favorite recipes, bear in mind that, like anything, avocados should be consumed with moderation.
“Most studies pertaining to cholesterol-lowering effects have calculated each person’s specific fat needs (30% of total calories for an average person),” says Greiter, who also highlights the importance of consuming other types of fats, like polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in fatty fish, nuts, and oils, in addition to avocado.
Justice agrees. "Yes -- avocados are rich in heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats. This does not mean, however, that you can eat as much as you want of them - unless your goal is to gain weight."
Goldstein highlights a different danger of over-eating avocados, saying that, "You may not have 'room' (aka hunger) to fill up on other healthful foods to achieve a wide variety of vitamins and minerals necessary in your diet."
Stick to between a half and a whole avocado a day, depending on your weight loss goals and personal hunger signals, and combine your avocado intake with tons of other healthy fruits and vegetables. You'll be off to a delicious start.
Image by John Klein. Food styling by Laura Klein
1. Black Bean Quinoa Burger
Our black bean quinoa burger is paired with avocado and blistered kale. The avocado brings out the fat-soluble nutrients in the kale, making this recipe a powerhouse of both nutrition and flavor.
Image: Emily Monaco
2. Vegan Mexican-Spiced Black Bean Soup with Avocado
In this black bean soup recipe, the texture comes not from sour cream but rather from blended black beans and chunks of avocado. A touch of lime juice adds just the right amount of acidity.
Avocado Hummus Image from Shutterstock
3. Avocado Hummus
Trade out your plain chickpea hummus for this verdant version that combines avocados with the traditional chickpea, tahini, and garlic base. It's savory and smooth -- perfect as an accompaniment for cocktail hour.
4. Sautéed Scallops and Quinoa with Avocado-Orange Salsa
Sweet scallops and avocado make the perfect pair when slightly acidic orange comes to the party. This fresh recipe is a surprising jumble of flavors, textures, and colors. It'll be a hit at your next dinner party.
Image: Anna Brones
5. Avocado Egg Boats
A halved avocado is the perfect vessel for a just-cooked egg, as you'll see in this avocado egg boat recipe. Goat cheese adds tang, while herbs add freshness to this easy, impressive appetizer, lunch, or brunch item.
6. South American Avocado and Quinoa Salad
Reach into avocado's Latin roots with this quinoa recipe. The simple salad only needs a few spices to let avocado and quinoa do all the talking -- a savory, nutritious lunch option that'll soon join your regular rotation.
Reprinted with permission from “Summer Food.” Photography by Jim Hensley & Nina Dreyer Hensley. Copyright 2014 by Weldon Owen Inc.
7. Avocado Toast
We can't forget the recipe that dragged avocado into the limelight -- simple avocado toast has become a recent favorite given its simplicity. We just dolled it up with a few extra ingredients -- lemon, chile, and flaked sea salt -- to bring out the best in the avocado itself.
Image: Kimberley Stakal
8. 5-Ingredient Avocado Salad
Avocado goes wonderfully with fresh, summer produce. Seasonal corn and tomatoes take on a Mexican flair with avocado, lime, and cilantro in this simple, delicious salad.
Recipe from Small Gatherings by Jessica Strand (Egg & Dart Press, May 2013)
9. Arugula Salad with Mango, Avocado, and Red Onion
Avocado pairs beautifully with sweet mango in this salad recipe. The mild sweetness of these two ingredients gets a bit more oomph with peppery arugula and red onion.
10. Raw Chocolate-Avocado Smoothie
Of course, we can't forget about dessert. Creamy avocado plays just as well with sweet as savory, as this raw chocolate and avocado smoothie proves.
Avocado image via Shutterstock