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An Avocado a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Ripe hass avocado fruit with spoon on wooden plateBack in the 19th century, when Johnny Appleseed was planting trees across the American wilderness and doctors made house calls, an apple was considered a superfood. In the  1st century, adding avocado instead of bacon to your daily routine is a smart and scrumptious way to boost your vitality. Joan and I are both huge fans of avocado, though when I titled this article “An Avocado a Day …” implying that a person should eat a whole avocado each day, it triggered an argument that nearly got me banished to the couch for a night. And Joan has a good point - this is a high-fat food, with one average-sized avocado packing a whopping 320 to 350 calories. Experienced registered dieticians like Joan say the recommended serving size is anywhere from one-third to one-half of an avocado per day. I get away with eating a whole avocado (or two) per day, but I’m very active, getting about 15,000 steps per day, and I use celery or carrot sticks rather than chips for dipping guacamole. Personally, I find that an avocado fills me up so that I’m not hungry for things like sweets and starchy foods. Heck, at a Mexican restaurant, I can almost make a meal out of a large order of guacamole.
Botanically speaking, the avocado is a fruit - a berry to be precise - a strange one that contains only one tiny gram of sugar and a single gigantic seed. The fruits that are best for your health tend not to be very sweet, like avocados, tomatoes, and berries, including blueberries (wild ones are best), blackberries, strawberries, or raspberries. These nourishing fruits tend to be high in fiber, potassium, and antioxidants, yet low in sugar.
A Harvard study published in March 2022 in the Journal of the American Heart Association followed 110,000 people for over 30 years and found that eating half of an avocado twice per week reduced the risk of developing coronary disease by 21%. These investigators used sophisticated statistical modeling to estimate that replacing a daily serving of margarine, butter, egg, cream, or processed meats such as bacon, with a similar amount of avocado is associated with a 35 to 40% lower risk of heart attack and stroke.
Around our household, if we run out of avocados somebody is making a trip to the supermarket that day. We usually buy a few that are ripe or nearly so, and several that will ripen over the next few days.
Avocados, besides being delectable, contain at least 20 essential vitamins and minerals. Because of its exceptional nutrient density, avocado, when consumed on a regular basis confers a host of health benefits, such as improved gut function and reduced risks of depression, heart disease, and cancer. Additionally, avocados are very high in fiber - both soluble and insoluble. One avocado provides an astounding 14 grams of dietary fiber, which is more than half the daily value for a woman (21 to 25 grams per day) and over a third of the daily value for men (30 to 38 grams per day). Getting lots of daily fiber is essential for keeping your bowel habits regular, and the high fiber also keeps levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure in ideal ranges, all of which help to keep your heart youthful and strong.
One whole avocado has about 20 grams of monounsaturated fat. Many people are confused about how avocados can be so high in fat and calories but will be good for you. Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat, a heart-healthy fat that raises your HDL “good” cholesterol and lowers the LDL “bad” cholesterol. Eating healthy fats in the form of extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado lowers your risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome (prediabetes), helps to burn off belly fat (especially if you minimize the intake of sugar and starch), and keep you satiated longer after a meal.
Avocado is also a great source of vitamin C, which in combination with monounsaturated fat and antioxidants in this unique fruit helps to keep your skin soft, supple, and smooth. Avocado is also a superb source of vitamins K, E, and B6, in addition to riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and potassium. Half of an avocado contains 488 mg of potassium, which is more than a full banana. And a high potassium diet is one of the simplest and best strategies to lower your blood pressure without medications.
Joan and I keep our guacamole simple: mash up a few ripe avocados, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and a pinch of salt, and voila! It’s one of the healthiest and best-tasting dips on the planet. By the way, guacamole is like many of the most nutritious foods out there - you will eat more of them if you feel free to salt to taste. Natural whole foods like nuts, vegetables, and fruits such as avocado and tomato are loaded with potassium and countless other nutrients but are essentially devoid of sodium. So even when you add a dash of salt to improve taste, these naturally delicious foods are still low in sodium and tend to keep your blood pressure nice and low-normal.
One of my favorite breakfast items is an avocado sliced in half with the pit removed. I squeeze a fresh lemon into each of the half-sphere hollows, sprinkle in a pinch of sea salt, and then eat them with a spoon. On the other hand, Joan and my kids prefer avocado toast - another delicious way to enjoy this treasure from nature.
In Good Health,
James O'Keefe, MD, FACC