Good news for guac lovers.
Most of us don’t need much of an excuse to include more avocados in our diet. Whether it’s morning avocado toast or party-ready guacamole, avocados are a lusciously creamy addition to our meals and snacks. But what if their benefits could go well beyond taste?
Recently, researchers at Penn State were intrigued by the health benefits of avocados, but found that there was a lack of research to back up these claims. According to the researchers, “Avocados are high in MUFAs [mono unsaturated fatty acids] and also are a rich source of antioxidants and polyphenols. However, their antioxidant effects have not been studied as much as those of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and the Mediterranean diet.”
The antioxidants in avocados caught their attention because this could affect the “bad” cholesterol that causes heart disease. Confused about the difference between types of cholesterol? According to the researchers of this study, “bad” cholesterol can refer to both oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and small, dense LDL particles. “Good” cholesterol refers to high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
The randomized, controlled feeding study was conducted over five weeks with 45 men and women, aged 21-70 years old. All participants were overweight or obese and had elevated LDL levels. The participants were fed one of three cholesterol-reducing diets: one lower fat diet with 24 percent of calories from fat, and two moderate fat diets with 36 percent of calories from fat. One of the moderate fat diets included one average-sized Hass avocado per day (about 136 grams) as part of that 36 percent.
The study found that including one avocado per day as part of a healthy, moderate-fat diet decreased levels of oxidized LDL. LDL particles are particularly susceptible to oxidation, which can lead to higher-than-normal levels of plaque buildup in the artery walls. Also, the level of LDL oxidation was correlated with the number of small dense LDL particles, which are thought to get into your arteries more easily and build up in plaques. So, avocado consumption may have benefits related to both types of “bad” cholesterol.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, and lowering plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) could play a big role in reducing cardiovascular disease. But is it too good to be true? We asked Edward Fisher, MD, PhD, MPH, a member of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at NYU School of Medicine for his comments on the study.
“By current understanding, small dense LDL and oxidized LDL are thought to be damaging to our coronary arteries," Dr. Fisher says. "The changes in these types of LDL in those eating the avocado diet, therefore, go in the right direction, but to establish that there is reduced risk of cardiovascular disease will require much larger and longer studies.”
He also added a reminder to not go overboard. “For those tempted to try to get more benefits than the one avocado/day diet afforded, remember that each avocado has 230 calories, so excessive consumption may lead to weight gain and undo those benefits.”
The bottom line is that starting or continuing to include avocado in your daily diet is a delicious way to increase your intake of healthy fats and potentially reduce risk of heart disease. But, like with most things, moderation is key here.
Curious how to include an avocado per day into your diet? 136 grams of avocado is the equivalent of two thirds of a cup of guacamole, two slices of generously slathered avocado toast, or an entire batch of avocado chocolate truffles. You can get your daily dose all in one go, or spread it throughout your day. A few slices of avocado with your eggs in the morning, a side of guacamole and crudité with your lunch, and avocado-chocolate mousse for dessert . Who knew that heart health could be so delicious?