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Avocados are a unique and delicious fruit, and a rich source of several vitamins, minerals, fiber, and monounsaturated fat. But because of their high fat content, avocados sometimes get a bad rap.

A single avocado typically contains around 320 calories (kcal), and about 77 percent of those calories come from fat. Because of this, my patients often ask me whether they should be consuming or avoiding avocados, particularly when it comes to heart health and weight loss.

My thoughts on avocados are actually all positive, and here’s why:

 

Not all fats are alike.

When we talk about fats, it’s important to understand that different fats each have a different effect on our body. That’s how we’ve come to understand that not all fats are bad for us.

 

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats have a negative, but much deliberated status. They have a rigid molecular structure, which makes them solid at room temperature. Examples of saturated fats include butter, the stiff fat you find in marbling in high-fat cuts of meat, and coconut oil. A few food products such as palm oils, or whole milk remain as liquids at room temperature, but are also high in saturated fat.

Research has shown that saturated fats may increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, commonly called the “bad cholesterol”) which, in turn, may increase a person’s risk of heart disease. This is why many dietary experts advise people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, or those at risk for heart problems to restrict the amount of saturated fats they consume.

Most dietary experts advise people to reduce their fat intake, not only because of the hotly-debated heart connection, but also because fat has more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrate and so is thought to contribute more to weight gain.

 

Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats are the so-called “good fats.” They are usually liquid at room temperature and typically come from plant sources such as olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados. They can also be found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and sardines.

The health benefits of unsaturated fats are well-established. Consumption of these unsaturated fats has been linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease and other health benefits.

For example, people living in the Blue Zones and Mediterranean regions of the world have been found to have lower rates of heart disease and obesity, despite consuming a high-fat diet. That’s because they’re typically consuming unsaturated fats which help to lower a person’s levels of LDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and build stronger cell membranes in the body.

Scientists have also suggested that consuming healthy fats may be beneficial for reducing a person’s risk of obesity-related diseases and helping them get to a healthy weight, especially if combined with a healthy whole-foods diet and an active lifestyle.

 

Avocados – The good type of fat.

Avocados are high in mono-unsaturated fat, most of which is oleic acid, the same fatty acid found in olives and olive oil. Oleic acid has been shown to decrease inflammation in the body and lower heart disease risk.

The health benefits of avocados don’t stop there though.

  • Avocados have anti-inflammatory properties which can help to keep bad cholesterol at bay, reduce the number of LDL particles in our blood, and help to combat metabolic syndrome.
  • Avocados contain phytonutrients with cancer-preventing activity, and scientific studies have shown that they can enhance our resistance to leukemia and oral cancers.
  • Avocados offer nearly 20 vitamins and minerals in every serving, including potassium (which helps control blood pressure), lutein (which is good for your eyes), and folate (which is crucial for cell repair and during pregnancy).

 

Avocados as part of a healthy diet.

Avocados fit extremely well into a healthy diet because they’re naturally sodium-free, low in sugar, protein-rich and high in fiber, which helps you to feel full for longer. But because of their high fat and calorie content, I’d recommend only eating half an avocado (100 grams) at a time.

This ample serving size will provide you with:

  • Vitamin K: 26% of the RDI.
  • Folate: 20% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin C: 17% of the RDI.
  • Potassium: 14% of the RDI.
  • Vitamin E: 10% of the RDI.

 

So regardless of whether or not you’re trying to lose weight, and because of their abundant health benefits and healthy fats, I highly recommend incorporating avocado into your diet.

To do that, try mashing up half an avocado with fresh lime juice and chili flakes to make a tasty raw-veggie dip, or pair half a diced avocado with fava beans, fennel, chickpeas, chopped almonds, extra-virgin olive oil, and lemon juice for a delicious and well-rounded lunch!

 

Image Credit: Blue Zones

 

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