By: Marlene Affeld ~
Considered by nutritionists as a “superfood,” the avocado is one of nature’s perfect foods. As far as “keeping the doctor away” the avocado does a better job than the apple.
David Fairchild, one of America’s most distinguished and published plant experts, comments, “The avocado is without rival among the fruits, the veritable fruit of paradise.” Fairchild goes on to state that due to its Irresistibly flavor, nutritional content and smooth, creamy texture, avocados should be part of everyone’s daily diet.
A single avocado contains up to 10 grams of fiber and 20 essential nutrients required for optimal health. Copper and iron found in avocados, aid in the regeneration of red blood cells. Ounce for ounce, avocados provide 35 percent more potassium than bananas.
It’s unfortunate that many people think of the avocado as high in fat and don’t include it in their diets as often as they should for optimum health. It’s true; an average avocado does contain 731 calories and 30 grams of fat and while 90 percent of calories in an avocado come from fat, it’s a heart-healthy fat.
Nutrient-rich avocados are high in monounsaturated fats (3g per serving). Monounsaturated fats reduce blood cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease when used to replace saturated fats in the diet. Healthy, monounsaturated fats also help reduce the risk of diabetes.
With 20 to 30 times more heart-healthy fats than other fruits, avocados provide a tasty source of energy for growing children and athletics. Because avocados are low in trans fats, saturated fats, and cholesterol, avocados can be enjoyed as a delicious part of your daily diet.
A typical serving contains only 150 calories. Avocados are sodium-free. An average avocado provides 3 g of fruit protein, 1.5 mg potassium, 1.4 mg iron, 95 mg phosphorus, 23 mg calcium, 8.6 mg niacin, and 660 I.U. of vitamin A. The fruit protein found in avocados is a healthy addition to vegetarian diets. Avocados are an excellent source of protein in countries where protein consumption is inadequate.
A typical avocado contains two-thirds of the minimum daily requirement of folate. The wealth of folate acid in avocados helps promote prenatal health, protect the body against strokes, prevents a type of life-threatening anemia, supports metabolism, and helps lower cholesterol in the blood. Folate acid in avocados also helps prevent breast cancer.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that supports the immune system and aids in the development of connective tissue formation; helping wounds heals and wrinkles diminish. One serving of a fourth of an avocado, provides 82 mg vitamin C. High in fiber (75 percent insoluble and 25 percent soluble), nutrient dense avocados are a good source of B vitamins as well as vitamins E, A, D, and K.
Avocados are an ideal source of glutathione, an essential antioxidant that scientists warn is crucial to preventing heart disease, cancer, and aging.
An average avocado contains 76 milligrams beta-sitosterol, a natural plant sterol that helps the human body maintain healthy cholesterol levels. The 1999 issue of the American Journal of Medicine reports beta-sitosterol reduced cholesterol in 16 human studies.
People tend to think of carotenoids as concentrated in yellow, orange and red vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, squash, and peppers. Although nutrient-dense vegetables are storehouses of carotenoids, the avocado, in spite of its lush green tinted skin and pulp, contains an impressive array of carotenoids.
Avocados work as a nutrient booster, encouraging the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients such as lutein and alpha and beta-carotene, from the foods we eat in combination with avocados.
Lutein is a carotenoid, a natural phytonutrient and antioxidant. Lutein protects against cataracts and macular degeneration and other age-related diseases of the eye. An ounce of avocado supplies 81 mg of lutein.
One cup of fresh avocado, added to a salad of greens and carrots, increases the absorption of carotenoids from the salad by up to 400 percent. Carotenoids are fat soluble in the oil from the avocado. Add fresh avocados or avocado oil to salads, sauces and salsa to increase the health benefits derived from other fruits and vegetables.
Avocados provide an unusually high amount of a fatty acid known as oleic acid. Over half of the total fat in avocado is in the form of oleic acid, similar to the fat composition of olives and olive oil. Oleic acid assists our digestive tract in forming transport molecules for fat that can increase absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like carotenoids.
Avocados also enable the body to absorb more fat-soluble vitamins, including A, D, K and E, from the foods we eat.
Health Benefits Of Avocados
Avocados prevent constipation, relieve the symptoms of Chron’s disease and stave off malnutrition. Anti-oxidant rich avocados help protect the body from diseases associated with heart disease, elevated cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
A recent 1996 study by researchers at the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social in Mexico (Archives of Medical Research, Winter 1996) showed that volunteers consuming an avocado a day lowered their cholesterol levels by 17 percent in just one week.
Avocados are used in the prevention and treatment of breast and prostate cancer. Ohio State University reports nutrients taken from avocados prevent the development of precancerous cells that lead to lip, mouth and throat cancers.
Babies First Food
Avocados are one of the ideal first foods for babies; the most nutrient dense food of all fruits suitable for feeding infants and small children. Easily digested, with a palatable texture and mild flavor, ripe mashed avocados can be sweetened with a few drops of organic honey to daily supplement an infant or young child’s nutritional requirements. When little ones are ready for “finger foods,” slice avocados in small chunks. Children love the bright color and smooth, creamy texture of avocados.
Avocado’s Role In Weight Management
In spite of being high in calories, avocados are a valuable tool in attaining and maintaining a healthy weight. Consuming avocados speeds up the metabolism and quickly provides a sense of fullness, reducing the temptation to indulge in snacks high in carbohydrates or sugar. Dieters and diabetics, watching their carbohydrate intake, can indulge in avocados often. A one-ounce serving contains only 3 grams of carbohydrate and less than one gram of sugar.
Medical research validates the age-old belief that diets that contain 20- to- 30 percent calories from “heart-healthy” monounsaturated fats such as found in avocados, aids weight loss and supports overall good health. Instead of slathering on mayonnaise, cream cheese or butter on your bagel, biscuit or bread, substituted a few slices of avocado to cut calories, reduce unhealthy fats and increase your intake of monounsaturated fat.
The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research suggests changing unhealthy eating behavior to healthy eating habits as a method of reducing belly fat. To fight belly fat, replace unsaturated fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and reduce consumption of refined carbohydrates. When dieting, always remember, to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Skin and Hair Care
Applying oil of the avocado seed directly to the skin keeps the skin supple, smooth, moist, and helps raw, irritated, red skin, eczema and psoriasis patches to heal faster. Prized for its ease of absorption and superior healing nature, avocado oil is also a natural sunscreen and windburn protection. Avocado oil also quickly heals chapped lips.
Avocado oil, massaged into the scalp daily, 30 minutes prior to shampooing, increases hair growth. Throughout the Caribbean, a powder made by grinding the dried seed of the avocado is used to treat dandruff.
To create a natural, healing facial mask, mash the flesh of one ripe avocado and 2 tablespoons of honey with 2 teaspoons of oatmeal and apply to the face. Allow the mixture to remain for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. The mashed flesh of the avocado is also used as a soothing shaving cream. Some cultures chew avocado seed to reduce toothache pain. Others chew the skin of the fruit to relieve dysentery and ward off internal parasites.
Soak the avocado seed for 15 minutes in a small pot of boiling water. Cool the liquid and use as a poultice for sprains, muscle aches, and bruises.
If you have an avocado tree, pick the fruit as needed and allow to ripen at room temperature on a sunny windowsill. To encourage the ripening process, place the avocados in a brown paper bag or place in proximity to ripening apples or bananas. The organic gases the fruit produces when ripening, quickly softens your avocados.
Peeling An Avocado
Peel an avocado carefully to preserve its nutrient rich properties. Research indicates that the highest concentration of carotenoids, vitamins and minerals lies just beneath the dark green or blackish skin.
You do not want to remove the dark green flesh next to the peel. The recommended method of peeling is similar to peeling a banana. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise. Twist the two halves in opposite directions until they separate. Remove the pit and cut each half lengthwise to produce quarter sections. Grip the point of the peel with you thumb and index finger and peel, just as you would a banana.
Allow remaining avocados to hang on the tree until you are ready to use them. Select fruits that are free of marks or dents that can indicate bruising. Avocados should be firm, yet yield to gentle pressure. Soft, yet firm, avocados are used for slicing and to add to salads and sandwiches. Soft, overly ripened avocados are selected for sauces, dips, desserts and drinks.
Lactose intolerant persons can use avocados to add a creamy texture and taste to soups, spreads, sauces, smoothies and salsas.
History of Avocados
Archeological research indicates that the avocado originated in what is now Mexico between 7,000 and 5,000 years B.C. Since before the days of the Spanish Conquistadores, avocados were a staple in the native diets of people living in Mexico, Central, and South America. Grown from northern Mexico to the Andes Mountains of Peru, calorie-dense avocados were incorporated into a diverse array of culinary dishes, deserts, and liquors.
The conquistadores discovered a unique use for the milky juice contained inside the pit of the avocado. The sap-like liquid turns a deep red or black when it is exposed to air. The conquistadores applied the liquid as an indelible ink used to scribe documents and maps, some of which are still in existence today.
Also known as avocado pear, alligator pear, butter pear or butter fruit, the avocado is in the flowering plant family Lauraceae. Avocados derive their name from the Aztec word “ahuacata” (testicle) that refers to the shape of the fruit. The Aztec culture honored the tree. Avocados were known by the Aztec people as “the fertility fruit.”
Ancient Mayan, Incans, and Aztec Indian cultures believed the avocado to be an aphrodisiac with inherent sexual powers and a physical resemblance to genitalia. Young maidens consumed avocados to enhance their beauty and promote fertility. The sensual nature of the avocado is embodied in its soft, tantalizing flesh and hard pit. The intriguing fruit represented the ultimate sexual coming together of man and woman.
In ancient times, procreation was a sacred duty. Aphrodisiacs, such as avocados, were employed to ensure potency in men and fertility in women. The amazing avocado has a colorful and controversial history as a nutritious, healing food and a sexual stimulant.
For 10,000 years, natural healers have suggested avocados for encouraging sexual prowess and enhancing fertility. For centuries, it was considered scandalous to be seen buying, picking or eating avocados. Prevailing morality dictated such decadent behavior remain in private.
Throughout most of South America, avocados are known as “palta” or “abacate.” On Tobago and Trinidad the fruit is called “zaboca.” In France, avocados are “avocatier”. The Dutch call the fruit “avocaat.” In Spain, it is called “abogado.” There are more than 500 different varieties of avocados grown worldwide. In the United States, the two most popular brands of avocados are the thin-skinned smooth, bright green Fuertes variety and the rough and leathery black-skinned Hass variety.
Native to Mexico and Central America, avocados are now cultivated in sub-tropical and tropical climates worldwide. Avocados exhibit a deep green-skinned, meaty body that ripens to a deep, purplish-green after harvesting. Cultivated from seed, avocados trees require a warm climate, plenty of sunshine and nutrient rich, well-drained soil.
When planting, space avocado trees 50 to 75 feet apart. Mature avocado trees have a wide, spreading canopy, typically as wide as the tree is tall. When planting avocado trees, giving them adequate room to grow. Avoid planting near buildings, embankments, utility lines, ponds, cesspools, septic tanks, underground utilities, fences, roads, and property easements.
Dependent on the variety, evergreen avocado trees can grow from 50 to 75 feet tall and produce an abundance of individual fruits, each weighing from 8 ounces to 4 pounds. The fruit of the tree is a large berry that contains a single seed. The fruit may be egg-shaped, pear-shaped or spherical with a rough, leathery skin.
Avocados are fun and easy to grow. To start an avocado tree, plant a seed 4 to 6 inches deep in the soil. Provide plenty of water, and you will soon have a tree that will feed generations in the future. Avocados trees will produce an abundance of fruit within five years.
Within 5 to 7 years your avocado tree will be producing 200 to 300 fruits a season. Avocado trees do best in alternate years. One year the harvest will be sparse and the following year abundant. Wild avocado trees in Mexico have lived for over 400 years and are still producing fruit.
Plant an avocado tree as a living celebration of life or to honor an ancestor or loved one. Your avocado tree will share your love for centuries. If you live in a northern climate, you can still grow an avocado pit indoors in a sunny window or greenhouse.
- Poke 3 wooden toothpicks into the side of an avocado pit in a triangular pattern, half way between the top and bottom of the pit. Balance the toothpicks on a small water glass or teacup.
- Fill the container with water until the bottom of the seed pit is submerged. Place in a sunny location. Maintain the water level until the seed has sprouted and exhibits a large quantity of fine, white roots.
- Once roots are evident, plant in soil in a 5-gallon flowerpot with good drainage. Avocado trees grown indoors will not produce fruit. However, avocados trees make an attractive, conversation-provoking houseplant.