Avocado, also known as an alligator pear or butter fruit, is a large pear shaped fruit with a hard, leather-like skin. It has a large stone which is surrounded by a creamy pulp. In recent times, its popularity has grown exponentially and some health experts rank it as one of the top five healthiest foods on the planet.
Though discovered by the Spanish only in the 15th century, avocados were used by the Mesoamericans since 5000 BC. This aphrodisiac fruit from South Central Mexico was used by the Incas in Peru and sold in Mexican markets.
Three types of avocado were created separately in three different locations in Central America:
1. Mexican avocados - originated in Central Mexico and are small fruits that are covered by a thin, purple-black skin. The modern variety includes the Fuerte (Spanish for “strong”) which used to be the most popular variety before the Hass variety conquered the world.
2. Guatemalan avocados - are from Southern Mexico or Guatemala, are similar in shape and size to the Mexican but have a more ovoid and lighter-coloured seed and have a thick, tough skin. Their modern varieties include the Anaheim and Bacon. Hass and Zutano are hybrids of the Mexican and Guatemalan types. Hass being the most common cultivar of avocado in this century. Named after a Californian postman Rudolph Hass, who started growing it in his backyard back in 1926.
3. West Indian avocados - are not from the West Indies at all, but rather were developed in the Maya lowlands of Central America. They are the largest of the avocado varieties and have a smooth easy-to-peel light green skin and abundant flesh with a slightly sweet taste.
Below are some of the benefits Avocados can have on your health if eaten regularly:
Boosts Heart Health
w Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated oleic acid which helps to reduce artery blocking LDL cholesterol in the blood while increasing the more beneficial HDL cholesterol.
w Eating avocados can decrease blood triglyceride levels, a common predictor of cardiovascular problems.
w Avocados are high in vitamin E which aid in the prevention of cholesterol oxidation, while their potassium can regulate blood pressure.
w Avocados are an excellent source of folate, known to reduce dangerous homocysteine levels in the blood, another predictor of cardiovascular disease.
w Avocados contain phytosterols for reducing cholesterol absorption.
w Avocado oil is a much healthier than polyunsaturated vegetable oil, particularly for high-temperature frying.
Promotes Brain Health
w Avocados are one of the top brain-healthy foods due to its high content of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E:
o Omega 3 fatty acids - keep your brain healthy by improving the blood supply to the pre-frontal cortex, the front part of the brain responsible for critical thinking, behaviour, decision making, and planning.
o Vitamin E - has been clinically proven to prevent Alzheimer’s from progressing and even reversing symptoms in the early stages of the disease.
Nourishes the Skin
w The monounsaturated fats in avocados help to improve your skin tone and appearance. They are vital for maintaining good moisture levels in the epidermal layer of your skin which gives you that soft and healthy look.
w The omega 9 fats in avocado are known to assist in reducing skin redness, irritation and are involved in repairing damaged skin cells. These fats can also moderate sebum production which helps to control acne, blackheads and excessively oily skin.
w Avocados also protect your skin from wrinkles and other visible signs of aging. This is due to:
o antioxidant carotenoids;
o vitamin E - which helps guard against photo-aging from sun exposure;
o vitamin C - which is involved in the creation of elastin and collagen for maintaining your skin’s elasticity and firmness.
w Avocado oil works great as a natural skin moisturiser. It can help treat several skin conditions such as dry skin, psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, wounds, age spots, scars and sun damage.
Prevents Birth Defects
w The high folate/folic acid content in avocados can protect your unborn baby.
o Just one cup of avocado provides almost one-third of the recommended dose of folic acid for pregnant women.
o Folic acid, a B vitamin, is a key prenatal nutrient that helps the brain and other vital organs develop in the fetus. It is also essential in preventing birth defects, such as neural tube defect and spina bifida.
w Vitamin K is another valuable nutrient found in high concentrations in avocados that benefit women during pregnancy and their future babies.
w Avocados contain high levels of monounsaturated fats, phytosterols and antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C and a variety of carotenoids that can help reduce the inflammation that leads to arthritis.
w The phytosterols are found in the fat content. The highest content of the carotenoids is found in the darker part of the fruit that sits closest to the skin, so be sure to eat that part too.
w In a more concentrated form, avocado oil is said to be particularly good as an arthritis treatment when consumed regularly. You can substitute olive oil for avocado oil in many recipes such as in pesto and vinaigrettes.
Protects Against Cancer
w Avocados can help prevent the occurrence of cancers in the mouth, skin, and prostate gland. The anti-cancer properties in avocados are related to its unusual mix of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients.
o In cancer cells, these nutrients increase oxidative stress and shift the cancer cells into a programmed cell death cycle (apoptosis) lowering their numbers.
w The antioxidant carotenoids (like alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin) which are found in avocados, protect your body’s cells against cancerous changes. This is done by reducing free radical damage. They are considered your front line of defence against numerous diseases.
o Alpha-carotene appears to be especially important for cancer prevention.
w The monounsaturated fats in avocado help with carotenoid absorption and studies suggest that it has a protective effect against breast cancer in particular.
w Avocados also contain high levels of vitamin C and vitamin E, which are potent anti-cancer antioxidants.
Helps with Digestion
w Avocados are high in vitamin B complexes which help release digestive enzymes needed in the digestive process. It also improves the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
w As avocados are considered an alkaline food, it balances the pH levels of the body and helps with conditions such as acid reflux and ulcers.
w Avocados are a high fibre food, with 8 grams of both soluble and insoluble fibre per cup of the fresh fruit. This helps improve digestion, encourage regular bowel movements thus preventing constipation. In fact, avocados are often recommended as a mild laxative for people suffering from constipation.
Helps with Weight Loss
w The monounsaturated fatty acids in avocados are more likely to be used as slow burning energy than stored as body fat. This steady energy and the feeling of satiety or satisfied fullness that you get from eating an avocado is one of the reasons they are so good at reducing hunger and appetite.
w The high soluble and insoluble fibre content is effective for weight loss. This is because it also provides the feeling of fullness quickly which prevents over eating.
w Avocados are high in L-carnitine, an amino acid used in metabolising fat.
Recipes for Health
Here are ways to increase your avocado consumption:
w Use it as a fat replacement in baking.
w Dice it as a nice topping for your soups or bone broth.
w Put it in the food processor to make dessert whips, puddings, smoothies and countless other recipes.
w Mash or whip it until completely smooth for a baby’s first food instead of processed food in a jar.
w Slice them onto a plate, drizzle some fresh lime juice on top and add a scattering of dried chilli flakes.
w Use it in making homemade guacamole.
w Put it on your skin as a natural moisturiser.
Avocado Face Mask for Acne
1. Mix avocado, honey and water to form a paste.
2. Apply to your face and leave for 30 minutes.
3. After 30 minutes remove the mask and wash your face.
To Sum Up…
This versatile fruit bursting with nutritional benefits has taken the world by storm. Its creamy texture means that it can stand in for mayonnaise, replace butter in baked goods and even become the creamy base for ice creams or smoothies. You can grill them, stuff them, batter and fry them or turn them into cake frosting.
Those wanting to lose weight will enjoy the fact that, not only do these fruits taste great as a chocolate pudding alternative, they also promote weight loss and protect against heart disease.
To make sure an avocado is perfectly green and creamy on the inside, and free from ugly brown spots, the key is checking under the stem. This part of the avocado holds a sneak peak for what's going on under the skin. Peel back the small stem or cap at the top of the avocado. If it comes away easily and you find green underneath, you've got a good avocado that's ripe and ready to eat.
The flesh of the avocado is just beginning of understanding the benefits of this delicious nutritious fruit. Studies of the benefits of its big seed is only just emerging, but that’s for another blog!