avocado advantage

Avocados are a perfectly nutritious food that's often misunderstood by some as a risky fat source. Avocados provide an array of heart-healthy nutrients and no cholesterol. They contain little saturated fat, and like other whole foods they're free of trans fat.

Though there's considerable controversy among health professionals about the importance of specifically targeting and lowering dietary and blood cholesterol while overlooking other risks, avocados boost what has been called "good cholesterol," officially known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Other foods that boost HDL are pistachios, almonds, olives and hazelnuts — all sources of monounsaturated fat.

Avocados offer multi faceted heart benefits. They deliver a substantial amount of dietary fiber, which plays a role in blood-sugar regulation and reducing absorption of dietary cholesterol. According to the United States Department of Agriculture online nutritional database (www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata), a medium-size avocado contains about 13.5 grams of fiber. Most Americans are getting fewer than 20 grams per day, when at least double that quantity is recommended, thus an avocado per day can significantly help boost fiber intake.

Avocados are also a great source of potassium, a major mineral associated with lowering blood pressure. They contain at least 1.5 times more potassium per ounce than bananas.

According to the California Avocado Commission's website (www.avocado.org), avocados also serve as "nutrient boosters" by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble, artery-friendly nutrients, such as lutein and beta-carotene in foods that are eaten with the fruit.

Without over blowing the value of lowering cholesterol relative to maintaining other heart-health parameters such as triglycerides, blood-glucose normalcy, the ratio of HDL/LDL, arterial flexibility and freedom from inflammation, it's worth mentioning that studies have shown that eating avocados can quickly help individuals with hypercholesterolemia lower their cholesterol quickly.

Avocados are one of my favorite foods, and I know I'm not alone. They're one of those foods that defy seasonality. I can eat them 12 months of the year, at least a few days per week. I like them as part of any meal, with eggs, sandwiches, salads and, of course, Mexican foods.

Another advantage of avocados is that they're very easy to eat. Toddlers thrive on avocados, and they're also very appropriate food for seniors with dentures, for example.

Though the Aztecs considered avocados a "fertility fruit," they're fantastic for dietary versatility.

Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and teaches at Southern Oregon University. E-mail him at altmanm@sou.edu.

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