April 12, 2024
Make fun all you want, but avocados are a mainstay of the millennial diet for good reason — many reasons, actually. Unlike other sugar-loaded members of the fruit family, avocados are extremely nutrient dense, explains Kim Shapira, RD, a celebrity dietitian and nutrition therapist. Beneath the slightly bumpy peel of a single avocado is a diverse buffet of healthy fats, protein, fiber, and more — all of which the body needs to thrive.

Avocados are also extremely versatile. One can be the main event at breakfast, lunch, or dinner — spread onto toasted bread, blended into a chocolate mousse, or sliced atop a salmon and grain bowl. Avocado can even be whipped into sauces and mashed into dips (see your favorite guacamole). Their relatively mild taste is the perfect vehicle for toppings and seasonings, and a little salt goes a long way in making them shine.

Among plant-based foods, avocados distinguish themselves by offering healthy fats in addition to fiber and potassium, which may explain why they’ve been linked to such a wide range of health benefits. Here are eight ways that avocados may help your health.

1. They Could Lower Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

“There are a few thoughts on how avocados protect against diabetes,” explains Shapira. “The monounsaturated fats and fiber in avocado contribute to improved insulin sensitivity, which helps regulate blood sugar while also helping to reduce inflammation, which is a factor associated with insulin resistance.” Research corroborates this — one study published in the Journal of Nutrition found an association between avocados and lower fasting blood glucose levels, lower fasting insulin, and a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.

In another study, 93 adults were counseled to replace carbohydrates with avocado for 12 weeks, and reported improved glucose control at the end of the trial, as well as reduced biomarkers of cardiometabolic risk and healthier overall dietary patterns, including greater fiber and vegetable intake.

“Avocados are relatively low in carbohydrates and contain potassium and magnesium, two nutrients that are thought to be beneficial for glucose control and improve glucose tolerance, respectively,” says Kim Rose, RD, a dietitian in Sebring, Florida. Researchers say it’s difficult to pinpoint a single nutrient responsible for the lowered incidence of diabetes, she adds, but avocados, on the whole, seem to help.

2. Their Unsaturated Fats Are Good for Heart Health

Elevated cholesterol levels are one potential cause of atherosclerosis (thickening or hardening of the arteries) and thus cardiac events like heart attacks and strokes.

 Avocados may balance cholesterol by way of their healthy monounsaturated fats, which “help reduce the amount of cholesterol and other fats in the blood,” explains Rose. One systematic review and meta-analysis, for example, concluded that avocado consumption may reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels for people with high cholesterol.

Shapira adds that the mineral potassium in avocados is linked to blood pressure regulation.

 “Avocados also contain phytosterols, a plant compound that competes with cholesterol absorption, further helping our heart,” she says.

If you eat meat, Brookell White, RD, a dietitian at MyFitnessPal, suggests replacing some animal fats, which are mainly saturated fats, with those from avocados. “Americans commonly consume too much saturated fat, and overconsuming saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease,” she adds.

3. An Avocado-Rich Diet Is Linked to a More Active Lifestyle

A study published in the December 2023 American Journal of Preventive Medicine found avocado consumption to be associated with a significant increase in physical activity in Hispanic and Latinx participants.

It’s unclear exactly why, and more research is warranted, but researchers wrote that the results may have to do with increased satiety and thus energy levels, thanks to avocados’ nutrient density. There’s also some research on avocados as an effective anti-inflammatory in people with osteoarthritis, so pain management could have contributed to increased movement.

Shapria adds that avocados complement an active lifestyle. “They aid in energy, muscle function, and recovery,” she says. “The combination of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals provide essential nutrients for our active bodies.”

4. Avocados Are Great for Your Gut

In a randomized controlled study of adults with overweight or obesity, those who ate avocado at one meal a day had a greater presence of healthful gut microbes compared with a control group. The study was partially funded by the Hass Avocado Board.

Although more research on the subject is warranted, there’s no denying that avocados contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which are both crucial for gut health, says Rose. “Soluble fiber ferments in the gut, producing by-products that help strengthen the gut barrier, improve gut function, and positively impact the entire body,” she adds.

Soluble fibers are also known as prebiotics, which feed the gut’s good bacteria (aka probiotics) for a thriving environment. “On average, a medium avocado has between 13 and 17 grams (g) fiber,” says Shapira. “The fiber will also contribute to regular bowel movements and help prevent constipation.”

5. As a Regular Part of Your Diet, Avocados Could Aid Weight Loss

Avocados’ aforementioned fiber content is also ideal for weight loss, because fiber — an indigestible nutrient — increases satiety. “Avocados’ combination of healthy fats and fiber promote a feeling of fullness, thereby reducing overall calorie intake,” Shapira says. One small study of 31 adults with overweight or obesity found that replacing carbohydrates in a high-carb meal with a calorically equal amount of avocado increased feelings of fullness and hunger-regulating hormones.

 Avocados can be calorie-dense, so portion control is key, but adding some to a meal can help keep you feeling full for longer than other foods.

“Avocados also help improve metabolism by influencing the way our body stores and uses fat, helping to reduce visceral fat, which is the fat stored around organs,” Shapira says. This point was demonstrated in a study that found that avocados change the distribution of belly fat in women with overweight or obesity.

6. Nutrients in Avocados Could Give Your Brain a Boost

Research has shown that an avocado-rich diet is associated with different kinds of brain benefits, including improved cognition in older adults (which, in turn, could prevent Alzheimer’s disease) and depression relief.

“Evidence suggests an association between folate deficiency and depression,” says Rose. Folate is popular for maternal health, but it also helps deliver blood flow, and therefore, nutrients, to the brain, which may affect mood. “Since the body does not make folate, getting it from foods like avocados is essential,” says Rose.

7. The Nutrients in Avocados Could Give Your Skin a Glow

A balanced diet is just as important for your skin as it is for the rest of your body. Avocados are full of healthy fats and antioxidants, both of which have been linked to skin health. In one small study, UCLA researchers assigned 39 women either to consume one avocado daily or to a control group that ate an avocado-free diet for eight weeks. The results indicated that the avocado eaters had noticeably firmer skin on their foreheads and increased skin elasticity. While more research is needed, these results are promising.

Avocados are a good source of vitamins that have been linked to skin health, including biotin and vitamin E.

8. Antioxidants in Avocados Have Been Linked to Sharper Vision

Avocados are also high in antioxidants and the carotenoid lutein. “These free-radical fighters are beneficial for eye health and may help age-related macular degeneration,” says Shapira. Lutein is known to prevent, or at least slow, the effects of eye aging.

One small study, which was funded by the Hass Avocado Board, found that adults age 50 and over who ate one fresh avocado daily saw a 25 percent increase in their eyes’ lutein levels at the end of six months. The study subjects also significantly improved their working memory and problem-solving skills.

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