Avocados — Armor for Your Heart
According to legend, a Mayan princess ate the first avocado in 291 B.C. Fortunately, you don’t have to be royalty to reap the rewards of this tasty tropical fruit.
Nicknamed “alligator pears” because of their bumpy exteriors, avocados come in several varieties. Some have a green covering. Others are dark purple or almost black. Some are smooth, while others are bumpy. Some are small, and others weigh as much as 4 pounds. Yet, when you slice them open, they all have the same delicious light-green, nutty-flavored flesh inside.
Loaded with monounsaturated fat, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants, the avocado lowers bad and raises good cholesterol levels, plus fights high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. This “super fruit” has even been shown to ease arthritis, eliminate kidney stones, and aid digestion.
Tackles bad cholesterol. Eating high-fat avocados may help lower your total cholesterol without cutting “good” HDL cholesterol. According to a Mexican study, avocados might even boost your levels of HDL by 11 percent. Although the avocado is high in fat — 30 grams per fruit — it’s mostly monounsaturated fat. This fat helps protect good HDL cholesterol, while wiping out the bad LDL cholesterol that clogs your arteries.
But there’s more than just monounsaturated fat at work. An avocado contains a whopping 13 grams of fiber, as well as a plant chemical called beta-sitosterol. These both help lower cholesterol. Throw in vitamins C and E — powerful antioxidants that prevent dangerous free radicals from reacting with the cholesterol in your blood — and it all adds up to a healthier you.
In fact, one study from Australia demonstrated how eating half to one-and-a-half avocados a day for three weeks could lower your total cholesterol by more than 8 percent without lowering your HDL cholesterol. During the same study, a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet also lowered the participants’ total cholesterol — but slashed the “good” cholesterol by almost 14 percent.
Bashes high blood pressure. You’ve probably heard that bananas are a good source of potassium. What you probably don’t know is that avocados, with over 1,200 milligrams of potassium per fruit, contain more than two-and-a-half times as much potassium as a banana. This is important because many studies show that potassium helps lower your blood pressure.
Magnesium, another important mineral found in avocados, could help lower your blood pressure, too. Some researchers think magnesium relaxes blood vessels and allows them to open wider. This gives blood more room to flow freely, reducing blood pressure, but results have been mixed. Some studies show magnesium lowers blood pressure, while others show no effect.
Strikes out stroke. When it comes to taking on a deadly killer like stroke, who wants to fight fair? Gang up on stroke with avocado’s three heavy hitters — potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
In the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which included more than 43,000 men, researchers found that the men who got the most potassium in their diet were 38 percent less likely to have a stroke as those who got the least. Results were lower for fiber (30 percent) and magnesium (30 percent).
Hammers heart disease. By controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure, avocados can help reduce your risk of heart disease. This fruit can reduce the amount of triglycerides, another type of fat, in your blood. A high triglyceride level can be a warning sign of heart disease. What’s more, if you increase your daily fiber intake by 10 grams — less than the amount in one avocado — you decrease your risk of heart disease by 19 percent.
Plus, avocados have more folate per ounce than any other fruit, according to the California Avocado Commission. Research has linked this B vitamin to a reduced risk of heart disease. It helps your heart by keeping homocysteine from building up to dangerous levels. Homocysteine, a by-product of protein metabolism, can harm your arteries and increase your chances of a heart attack or stroke.
Stamps out kidney stones. Avocados are excellent sources of potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B6 — three of the most important nutrients for preventing kidney stones. Both magnesium and B6 help your body control its oxalate levels, while potassium decreases the amount of calcium in your urine. Together, they can help you kick calcium oxalate kidney stones, the most common kind.
Eases arthritic joints. You can kill two diseases with one avocado stone. Those ever-helpful MUFAs in avocados seem to relieve inflammation and reduce joint swelling in people with rheumatoid arthritis, an illness also linked to heart disease. It works on RA by controlling cytokines, molecules that have to do with inflammation.
Do your digestion good. Simply eating more fiber can treat all sorts of digestive ills, from heartburn and hemorrhoids to constipation, diarrhea, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), not to mention prevent diverticular disease, appendicitis, gallstones, and hiatal hernias. Fiber helps add bulk and softness to stool, helping it move more smoothly through your digestive tract and toning your digestive muscles. With each avocado packing an amazing 13 grams of fiber — more than half the recommended daily amount for women and more than a third for men — what more could you ask for from one simple fruit?
- FC&A Staff Writer