Avoid Avocados?

I enjoy eating half an avocado every day. A friend suggested I should cut back because of avocado’s high fat content. Is this something I should be worrying about?

– July 15, 2013

Absolutely not. Avocados – which are fruits, not vegetables – are good for you. They’re included in my anti-inflammatory diet, and I encourage you to eat them for many reasons: the fat avocados contain is monounsaturated, which is heart healthy and won’t raise cholesterol. In fact, the good fat in avocados can reduce cholesterol and increase the ratio of HDL (“good”) cholesterol to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Avocados also are a good source of fiber. And they provide glutathione (an antioxidant), folate, and more potassium than bananas. But keep in mind that avocados are relatively high in calories — about 300 for a whole one.

One of the phytochemicals in this tropical fruit  – beta-sitosterol – can help prevent cholesterol from being absorbed from the digestive tract (although there’s no proof yet that it lowers the risk of coronary heart disease). For a number of years, beta-sitosterol has been added to some margarines to help lower cholesterol levels.

If you love avocados as I do, you’re likely to be in better health than people who don’t eat them. A new analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program, found that people who eat avocados have better diet quality and nutrient intake, lower body weight, lower BMI (body mass index), lower intake of added sugars, higher levels of HDL and a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, than those who don’t eat them. The results of the analysis were published in the January 2013 issue of Nutrition Journal.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with avocados, here are some buying and preparation hints:

  • Test for ripeness with a gentle squeeze. If the fruit yields to pressure but doesn’t remain dented, it’s ripe. A firm avocado will ripen in a few days sitting on a kitchen counter, and a bit faster if enclosed in a paper bag.
  • To cut an avocado, slice it lengthwise around the seed and rotate the halves to separate. Lift the seed out with a spoon and then peel the fruit with a knife (or your fingers) — or just scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
  • A cut avocado will turn brown. Squeeze some lemon juice on the cut surface if you aren’t going to eat it right away. Just scrape off any browned areas.
  • Use avocados as a healthy substitute for other types of fat, including butter, mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, cream cheese, and cream. Sometimes I spread avocado, instead of butter, on dense and chewy whole grain breads.

Here’s a little known fact about avocados: while we’re most familiar with the black- and rough-skinned Hass variety, there are more than 900 varieties of these delicious fruits. If you visit places where avocado trees grow, explore and enjoy!

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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