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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

How healthy are avocados?

Avocados, which can make a plant-based meal more filling, in New York, May 29, 2024. (Bobbi Lin/The New York Times)

By Caroline Hopkins

Ripe, creamy avocados are great on toast, salads and burgers, or just sprinkled with salt. Plus, they’re healthy — but how healthy?

“Avocados are no regular fruits,” said Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “They’re nutrient dense with very little carbohydrates and high amounts of healthy fats and fiber.” And they make plant-based meals more filling.

Here are some of their healthiest attributes.

Avocados can help keep your cholesterol in check.

Avocados’ better-known benefits stem from their heart-healthy fats, said Elizabeth Klingbeil, a registered dietitian and assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Most of the fats in avocados are monounsaturated, which differ from the saturated fats abundant in meats and dairy.

“Saturated fats can gunk up your blood vessels and increase your heart disease risk,” Klingbeil said. If left unchecked, this gunk, called LDL or “bad” cholesterol, can lead to heart attacks or strokes.

While saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol, unsaturated fats can lower it. For this reason, avocados can help manage blood cholesterol levels, especially when you eat them in place of foods such as meat, cheese and butter.

They may lower your heart disease risk.

In a study that followed more than 110,000 adults over 30 years, Hu and his colleagues showed that people who ate at least two servings of avocado per week had a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease.

The researchers used statistics to account for other factors that could have affected people’s heart health. Still, Hu said, it’s impossible to say if avocados directly reduced the risk.

Zeroing in on one food as the cause of health outcomes is challenging, explained Martin Kohlmeier, a professor at the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute.

Because avocados make great substitutions for less healthy foods, studies showing their benefits might in part reflect the benefits of cutting back on other stuff — like using avocado instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich, or adding more avocado, and less beef, to a burrito.

“Many reported effects are replacement effects, not necessarily avocado effects,” Kohlmeier said.

Hu added that people who eat avocados might be more likely to have a healthy diet in general.

They can support your gut microbiome.

Avocados are high in fiber, Klingbeil said, which can help you maintain a healthy weight and promote a healthy gut.

When gut bacteria digest fiber, they release small molecules called postbiotics that affect our overall health, said Dr. Zhaoping Li, a professor of medicine and chief of the division of clinical nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles. Healthy bacteria can also signal to our brain when we’re full, Klingbeil said.

Hu said avocados can help you meet your daily fiber goals, which is important since studies show most people don’t eat enough fiber.

People should aim for at least 21 to 38 grams of fiber daily, depending on their age and sex. A whole avocado clocks in around 10 grams.

They’re rich in micronutrients.

The vitamin E in avocados may support healthy skin, Klingbeil said. According to Kohlmeier, the lutein in avocados may help keep your vision sharp.

And while bananas tend to get all the credit for potassium, avocados contain even more of the important mineral. Potassium helps your body reduce high blood pressure, Hu said.

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