This week I wanted to touch on a "superfood" that seems to be dominating restaurant menus and social media alike. It comes in many forms, whether it's tucked into a sushi roll, diced beautifully on top of a salad, or mixed with onions and tomatoes into a delicious bowl of guacamole. It's also a staple on nearly every brunch menu I've seen lately, often smashed on toast with egg, bacon, or sausage placed on top. That's right — we're talking about avocados.
An avocado is technically a fruit (throwback to middle school biology) because of the seed, but their nutritional makeup is vastly different from more traditional fruits like berries, apples, and citrus. They're often marketed as a source of "healthy fats," referring to their relatively high proportion of monounsaturated fats. Stay tuned for a later article about the differences between all of the different types of dietary fat (it's a doozy), but in the interest of brevity the main point is this: unsaturated fats are generally a better source of fat than their saturated or trans counterparts.
Because of this, avocados are a fantastic substitution for other fat-rich foods, including fried or meat products. This fat content also helps increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, and Vitamin D. When added to salads or other deeply-colored vegetables, the fat content also helps with the uptake of carotenoids, or chemical compounds that have been correlated with eye and skin health. The 15 vitamins and minerals that it harbors also help render avocados a "nutrient-dense" food, and an entire avocado contains 9 grams of dietary fiber (33% of the FDA-recommended daily value).
The health benefits are clearly legitimate, and avocados are certainly a natural food that is guaranteed free of the adverse and potentially dangerous additives of highly processed items. However, there is a major caveat to the "healthy fats" argument that must be addressed. The FDA has approved the labeling of avocados as "heart-healthy" because their high relative monounsaturated fat content is a good substitute for foods rich in saturated or trans fats (fried foods, meat, etc.). The key word here is substitute -- when eaten in addition to these foods, copious avocado consumption can send an individual's daily fat intake through the roof.
One medium-sized avocado has 24 grams of fat (or nearly 40% of the daily FDA-recommended value). For me personally, this is over 50% of my daily recommended fat intake, and my article on misleading nutrition facts explains why this might be the case for many more individuals around the world. One avocado also has 240 calories, which is more than eating an entire bag of M&Ms. The way that an avocado's nutrition facts are explained is also fairly manipulative — it's often labeled with a serving size of 1/3 of an avocado. Most restaurants or cafés serve their dishes with at least one half of the fruit, if not the entire thing, and dishes like guacamole offer little to no way of knowing exactly how much avocado is consumed in one sitting.
In sum, avocados really are a great source of healthy fat in the diet as long as they are consumed instead of, and not in addition to, poorer fat-laden foods. Everything is okay in moderation -- so eat up.
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Disclaimer: I am not a licensed nutritionist nor a registered dietician. The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and each individual is ultimately responsible for his/her dietary and nutrition practices. Please consult a physician before starting a new dietary program.