South Florida avocado season is rapidly approaching and I couldn’t be happier. The smooth, creamy texture of an avocado is palate pleasing and the abundance of monounsaturated fats keeps lipid levels in line. It is a winning fruit. And recent research confirms its place in a heart healthy diet.
Forty five overweight/obese subjects were recruited by researchers at Penn State. Subjects were fed a low-fat diet (24 percent calories from fat), a moderate fat diet (34 percent calories from fat) and a moderate fat diet that included a Haas avocado each day. This was a crossover design, meaning all subjects ate all three types of the diets. All three diets had low saturated fat and the same calories and protein levels.
The avocado diet reduced total cholesterol and undesirable LDL cholesterol significantly more than a low-fat diet or moderate fat without avocado. The low-fat diet, when compared to moderate fat with or without avocado, significantly increased triglycerides and decreased HDL cholesterol levels. This is not a good thing.
These researchers surmised that including a food rich in monounsaturated fat, fiber and phytosterols confers greater cardiovascular benefits when compared with a moderate fat diet that is not high in monounsaturated fats.
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The benefits of avocado go past the heart. One cup contains 240 calories and about a one third of our daily requirement for vitamin K, copper, and folate and about 20 percent of our requirement for vitamin E and potassium. This research was with the Hass, which is not grown here, but the nutrient profile of Florida avocados is not dramatically different.
I am hopeful that studies such as this and the supportive evidence on the heart-healthy benefits of walnuts, almonds and peanuts will move people away from avoiding healthy fats. Almost every time I recommend avocados someone will say to me, “Aren’t they high in fat?” And I will answer “Yes they are, isn’t that great.”
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.