Beat the bulge with avocado
Rich in taste and calories, the avocado is a mightly ally in the battle to lose weight.
Published 06/05/2014 | 02:30
BORN and raised in South Africa, I grew up with an abundance of locally grown avocados, so sometimes I forget this creamy fruit is still foreign to many.
And, despite numerous studies on the health benefits of avocado, there is still a prevailing misconception they are 'fattening' and bad for our waistlines and heart health. The opposite is true; avocados can be a great aid in the battle of the bulge and can also protect our heart health. The avocado pear is thought to have originated in Central America, and was an important part in the local Aztec diet. It was discovered by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and brought back to Spain where they are still cultivated and exported. In the 20th century, their popularity spread and they are now grown in tropical and sub tropical regions in South Africa, Australia, California, Brazil and South East Asia.
There is much new clinical research being done to investigate various health effects of avocado consumption, particularly its benefits for cardiovascular disease, weight management, diabetes, and its ability to enhance your body's absorption of nutrients.
Type 2 Diabetes and Belly Fat
People with type 2 diabetes have high blood sugar levels due to insulin resistance, or the inability to use insulin effectively. Insulin is necessary for the body to use glucose, or sugar, from food, as fuel. Research shows that excess body fat contributes to insulin resistance.
Weight loss, particularly around the abdominal area, is one way to help reverse type 2 diabetes. An optimal diet for weight loss includes minimally processed whole foods rich in nutrients and fibre to keep hunger in check. Avocado has a low Glycaemic Load, which means it breaks down into glucose very slowly, helping to keep you full for longer. By adding avocado to wholewheat bread or a salad, you are improving the nutritional profile and lowering the GL of the whole meal.
According to research published in the American Diabetes Association journal, Diabetes Care, calorie-controlled diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) have been shown to prevent central body fat, which I call belly fat. Plant-based MUFA-rich foods such as avocados, oils, nuts and seeds are key foods to reducing belly fat. Add avocado slices to a sandwich or salad, cook with olive oil or rapeseed oil instead of butter, and snack on almonds or unsalted sunflower seeds.
So, while avocados are high in calories per gram, they are very nutritionally dense.
Heart Health – Cholesterol Busting
Avocados are often seen as high in fat so, therefore, bad for heart health. They are made up of mostly monosaturated fat, like olive oil, a healthy type of fat that will actually help lower LDL cholesterol.
In one study, eight healthy individuals saw a 16 per cent decrease of serum total cholesterol level following a one-week diet high in monounsaturated fat from avocados.
In those with elevated cholesterol levels, the avocado diet resulted in a 17 per cent decrease of serum total cholesterol, and a 22 per cent decrease of both LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, along with an 11 per cent increase of the "good" HDL cholesterol.
Lowers High Blood Pressure
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat that is easily burned for energy. They are also very high in potassium (twice the amount found in bananas) and will help balance your vitally important potassium to sodium ratio. This is very important for anyone who has high blood pressure or kidney problems. They also relax the muscles around the blood vessels and thus helping to reduce blood pressure.
Plant Sterols and Heart Health
Numerous food products claim the benefits of plant sterols, but what are they? Plant sterols, or phytosterols, are a group of compounds or phytochemicals found in plants.
In the 1950s, phytosterols were found to have cholesterol-lowering properties. The American National Cholesterol Education Programs (NCEP) recommends adopting lifestyle habits to reduce coronary heart disease risk, including a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, weight control and increased physical activity, and 2 grams of plant sterols/day.
Reproductive and Pregnancy Health
If you are trying for a baby, it's recommended that you clean up your diet to improve your chances of conceiving and also for your health during pregnancy. With high stress lifestyles, sedentary jobs and poor diets, this can be quite a task.
Avocados can improve male fertility by boosting sperm health, and are rich in folic acid, essential to help prevent foetal spinal and neural defects.
Avocados have a long list of health benefits. For example, besides their anti-inflammatory properties, research from Japan suggests they may also help protect against liver damage. In one study, four laboratory rats were fed avocado and 22 other fruits.
They were then given D-galactosamine, a potent liver toxin. The rats fed avocado suffered the least amount of liver damage. Researchers suggest avocado could potentially offer support in the treatment of viral hepatitis.
Immune Boosting and Nutrient Absorption
One 2005 study found that adding avocado to salad allowed the volunteers to absorb three to five times more carotenoid antioxidant molecules, which help protect your body against free radical damage.
Avocados are highly nutritious and packed with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that we are only now starting to understand. One of these is glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect you from cancer-causing free radicals and heart disease. Research has shown that avocados have a particular affinity for protecting us against cancer of the throat and mouth.
A group of phytochemicals in avocado have strong anti-fungal properties, so make avocados useful in treating both internal and external yeast infections.
Avocados are one of the safest fruits you can buy conventionally-grown, and most experts do not believe you need to purchase organic ones. Their thick skin protects the inner fruit from pesticides. It has been rated one of the safest commercial crops in terms of pesticide exposure.
Selecting a good avocado can be tricky. They are picked when they are not ripe, but will ripen at home. Choose one from the back of the fruit display that hasn't been bruised, and select avocados where the skin is even coloured with no dark patches. Give it a gentle squeeze at the stem and it should just yield. If the skin feels loose or 'hollow', it means it has gone off and will be black inside.
To help ripen hard avocados, place them next to a bunch of bananas which emit a natural gas which will ripen the fruit.
Once you have opened an avocado, it starts to discolour. A good squeeze of lemon or lime juice will prevent this as the vitamin C in citrus fruit prevents oxidation.
Alternatively, peel and slice the avocado and blanch it very briefly in boiling water, using a large slotted spoon. This will kill the enzymes and prevent discolouration. Don't over-blanch it as it will go mushy. This is an old restaurant trick and works well if you need your avocado looking good for a buffet.
Avocado makes a delicious baby food; try it mashed on its own or with banana.
For the perfectly balanced smoothie, try adding avocado for a creamy texture and lots of heart healthy fats.
Use avocado as a spread on bread or in pita pockets, instead of butter or mayonnaise.
My favourite quick snack is brown toast topped with masted avocado, salt and pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I also add a sprinkle of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds for crunch.
Coming into Summer, you can enjoy a wonderful array of salads, dips, sandwich fillings and smoothies, made with wonderfully versatile fruit.
Health & Living