The oddly shaped avocado may not be an eye catcher as you walk through the Produce department, but they sure provide a wealth of nutrients for your body. The avocado—once known as “alligator pear”—has become a commonly consumed food in the American diet and is considered a “hot food” due to its nutritional profile.
Avocados are a rich source of many nutrients that include fiber, vitamins K and E, potassium, pantothenic acid, manganese, zinc, copper, and several B-vitamins. They contain a whopping 22 percent of the daily value for the B-vitamin folic acid, which plays a key role in the prevention of heart disease and birth defects.
The main nutrition component they provide is not carbohydrate or protein but essential fat, and that fat is primarily in the healthy, monounsaturated form. About 70 percent of the 82-percent total fat avocados contain are monounsaturated fats (MUFA). MUFAs have been shown to be a preventive for heart disease, and eating avocados in moderate amounts on a regular basis have been shown to decrease levels of “bad” LDL and overall total cholesterol levels, and to increase “good” HDL levels. MUFA-intake is essential in the winter for skin integrity since our skin often dehydrates and cracks during the long and dry, cold winter months, so avocados are a great food to consume to fulfill that requirement. Avocados also provide us with a special group of fats referred to as phytosterols, which include beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol. This unique group of fats has been shown to be beneficial for fighting inflammation in the body as well as preventing heart disease. Avocados are a great source of plant compounds, mainly carotenoids, including lutein which is so integral to eye health. Carotenoids play a role in the functioning of other body systems as well. The fat in avocados not only provides a good source of MUFAs but has also been shown to increase the bioavailability of all of the carotenoids by the body. Therefore it is a good idea to serve avocados alongside other carotenoid-rich foods such as salad, dark green vegetables, carrots, and tomatoes. If served with high carotenoid foods, an avocado significantly increases their absorption by two to six times!
Avocados were once referred to as “alligator pears” due to their shape and rough, reptilian skin. The fruit originated in Mexico thousands of years ago. The word avocado is derived from the Aztec and it was known to them as a fertility fruit. The main producer of avocados is Mexico but they are grown plentifully in other Central and South American countries such as Brazil, Dominican Republic, and Colombia. Many avocados are also grown in Florida and California, which unfortunately are also far from local. But avocados are in season in the midst of our cold winter and always readily available in the Co-op’s Produce department. When choosing avocados, select firm ones and keep them at room temperature until they get a little soft. To quicken the ripening process, place them in a paper bag along with an apple or banana, which a produces natural ethylene gases to speed up ripening. For the most nutritional benefit, cut an avocado in half lengthwise and then peel back the skin like you would a banana, since some of the best nutrition is right underneath the skin. Choose one of the simple recipes below to enjoy the rich taste of avocados.
By Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist