Nutrition and health benefits of avocados

Avocados nutrition facts
Avocados are characteristically buttery yet subtly flavourful pear-shaped fruits of Central American origin. Unlike most other fruits, they feature high fat content and carry more calories. Nonetheless, they are among the popular fruits having good nutrition profile and health benefiting properties.

Botanically, the fruit belongs to the family of Lauraceae; the family that also includes some unusual members like bay laurel, cinnamon, etc. Scientific name is Persea americana.

Some of the common names are alligator pear, aguacate, butter pear, etc.

Avocado (Persea americana). Note for cream colour flesh and brown-coated single seed.
Photo courtesy: HormonyRae

Avocado is medium sized, evergreen tree of about 20-30 feet in height featuring large green foliage cover. It prefers fertile soil with high moisture to flourish. Small light green flowers appear during winter. After about 8-10 months later, hundreds of pear-shaped green colour fruits cover the tree.

Mature and ripen Hass-variety avocados in the market. Note for dark brown colour fruits with pebble surface. Photo courtesy: ollesvensson
Avocados mature on the tree but ripe only after their harvest. Once Ripen, their colour turns from light green to deep-green or deep purple, and yield to gentle thumb pressure. Inside, its cream colour flesh has buttery texture with bland taste yet pleasant aroma. The fruit features centrally placed solitary brown colour seed. On an average, each fruit weighs about 300-700 g although much heavier avocados are quite common in the markets.

Health benefits of avocado
Avocados, like olives, are high in mono-unsaturated fats and calories. However, they are very rich in dietary fibre, vitamins, and minerals and packed with numerous health benefiting plant nutrients.

Their creamy pulp is a very good source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids like oleic and palmitoleic acids as well as omega-6 poly-unsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid. Research studies suggest Mediterranean diet that is rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids help lower LDL or bad cholesterol and increase HDL or good-cholesterol, and thereby, prevent coronary artery disease as well as strokes by favouring healthy blood lipid profile.

They are a very good source of soluble and insoluble dietary fibre. 100 g fruit provides 6.7 g or about 18% of recommended daily intake. Dietary fibre helps lower blood cholesterol levels and prevent constipation.

Moreover, it composes high concentration of tannin akin to persimmons. Tannin, a poly-phenolic compound which was once labelled as anti-nutritional agent, in-fact, has beneficial anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and anti-oxidant properties.

Its flesh contains health promoting flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants such as cryptoxanthin, lutein, zea-xanthin, beta and alpha carotenes, albeit in small amounts. Together, these compounds work as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.

Total antioxidant strength (ORAC) of avocados (raw, Hass variety) is 1933 µmol TE/100 g.

They are also good in many health-benefiting vitamins. Vitamin A, E, and K are especially concentrated in its creamy pulp.

Avocados are also excellent sources of minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, and manganese. Magnesium is essential for bone strengthening and has a cardiac-protective role as well. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron and copper are required in the production of red blood cells.

Fresh avocado pear is very rich source of potassium. 100 g of fruit provides 485 mg or about 10% of daily-required levels. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids where it helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure, countering bad effects of sodium.

Selection and storage

Avocados can be readily available in the market year around. Buy medium size, fully ripe fruit with pleasant aroma. The fruit that is ready to eat should yield to pressure when gently pressed.

Avoid very hard fruits as they may take quite some time to fully ripe. On the other hand, avoid buying excessively soft, ripe fruits as they tend to be mushy and featuring little, if any, flavor. Look carefully for any surface cuts, blemishes, and blots and if so, avoid them.

At home; Keep them in a fruit basket, store in cool, dark place. Unripe fruits usually placed in a paper wrap with a ripe banana or apple in order to speed up their ripening.

Preparation and Serving methods

Avocado has delicate nutty flavor and butter like texture and neutral taste. To eat; cut the fruit lengthwise through its center all the way around the seed. Then rotate or twist the two halves in opposite directions and gently pull apart. Scoop the seed using a spoon. Gently peel the skin with your fingers, beginning from its stem end. Cut the pulp into desired cubes.

Sprinkle or rinse cut sections in lemon juice to prevent enzymatic brown discoloration until ready to use.

Photo courtesy: The essential vegetarian cookbook from Thunder bay press.
Here are some serving tips:
In many parts of Central America, the avocado is eaten “as it is” with some added pepper powder, lime juice, and salt.

Its sections or cubes can be added to vegetable/fruit salads, salsa, etc.

Mashed avocado is employed in the preparation of Mexican polenta and pancakes. Guacamole is a favorite avocado based Mexican dip.

Similarly, guasacaca is a Venezuelan variant of guacamole prepared using vinegar instead of lemon juice.

Pureed, it may be mixed with ice-cream, shakes, and fruit juices.

Safety profile

Raw unripe avocados rather highly concentrated with tannins. High tannin content makes them bitter and unappetizing. Very high levels of tannins in the food inhibit vitamins and minerals absorption in the gut.

Although very rare, eating avocados may result in allergic symptoms in some latex-sensitive persons. The symptoms may include itching in the throat, hives, runny nose, breathlessness, etc. Oftentimes, these symptoms are mild and self-limiting. (Medical disclaimer).


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