On Valentine’s Day, our thoughts turn to love, chocolate, flowers, romantic dinners and, if you’re like me, avocados. That’s because this little fruit has been getting some well-deserved attention as it relates to heart health.
The January issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association published a study analyzing diets that included avocados versus those that did not. What made this research significant was the design and that it overcame pitfalls of previous studies conducted on the same topic.
Avocados are known for being a rich source of monounsaturated fats, fiber, potassium, antioxidants and other cardio-protective vitamins and minerals, but instead of focusing on avocados simply as a dietary fat source or fat replacement, the investigators matched the fat content of study participants. Those who ate avocados had one daily, and those who didn’t got their fat from other sources, including sunflower and canola oils.
Each diet improved participants’ LDL (bad) cholesterol, but those who enjoyed an avocado daily performed the best: In five weeks, LDL cholesterol dropped 13 points compared with the eight points for those on the alternate diet.
The study findings also support the recommendation to substitute avocado for sources of saturated fat (i.e., butter or full-fat cheese). This modification alone, even without weight loss, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Best of all, there doesn’t appear to be any contraindication for this recommendation.
That participants maintained their body weight was a definite strength of the study; weight loss would have confounded the observed results, and this is why the study is so meaningful. Most studies of this kind are done in the context of weight loss, but this research was conducted to distill effects of bioactives (fiber, plant sterols) in avocados, beyond the heart-healthy fat content itself. The study used diets with matching fatty acid profiles, so the effects of other avocado constituents could be revealed.
To assess the results, investigators used not just established but newer, emerging markers of cardiovascular disease risk and advanced lipid-testing methods not traditionally measured in studies of this kind.
What does this mean in terms of real-world application? Embrace some “alligator egg” each day! Although eating one avocado daily isn’t realistic and may not even be appealing, the study provides evidence that bioactive ingredients in avocados, beyond just the fatty acids, confer health benefits and can improve the cardiovascular disease risk profile.
At 50 calories per one-ounce serving (or one-fifth of the fruit), this soft, creamy and nutrient-rich food is as versatile as it is delicious. Need ideas? Try any of the following:
♦ Spread avocado on toast, top with a sliced, hard-boiled egg, capers and a drizzle of olive oil
♦ Mix chopped avocado, tomatoes, mango and red onion as a topping for grilled fish
♦ Tuck avocado slices into a sandwich; whirl some into a soup with zucchini and cucumber; add avocado to a green smoothie; or make avocado fries with panko bread crumbs and egg.
Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a nutrition expert and award-winning author. Her newest book is “The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook.” Find Tina at www.TinaRuggiero.com.