A typical question people make at nutrition talks has to do with avocado. Many people want to know if it is good. They seem to fear the amount of fat in this fruit. A more adequate term would be avocado’s “healthy oils”.
Some say fat is fat, and all of it is bad, regardless of its source. This may be true from a caloric perspective. But for health purposes, the effect of oils depends, to a great extent, on the kind and source of the oil or fat.
What we do know is that there are important health benefits when we obtain at least a portion of the daily requirement of fatty acids (healthy oils) from avocado and from seeds (such as almonds, nuts, pine nuts, etc.). This is because they provide healthy oils as well as vitamins, such as the 8 forms of Vitamin E and carotenes.
These nutrients protect the cell membrane from damage caused by oxidative agents. Such agents come from the environment (pollution), and from the oxygen we breathe (3 to 5% of it can act as an oxidative agent).
The cell’s membrane isolates it from the environment around it. It allows the cell to adequately carry on its functions, allow the entrance of oxygen and nutrients into the cell, and the exit of wastes from the cell.
The benefit of avocado in a salad is not only that. Studies at the University of Ohio have shown that the addition of avocado to a salad containing several vegetables, or the addition of avocado or its oil to a tomato sauce, significantly increase the absorption of carotenoids (lycopene and beta carotene) contained in the salad and in the tomato sauce. This is because the carotenes found in avocado and seed fats participate in the absorption of the nutrients in the salad.
In the study, portions of 75 and 150 grams of avocado were used, which provide 12 and 24 grams of oil, respectively. Results indicate that what makes a difference is not the amount of avocado, but its presence in a salad, or that of its oil. Because avocado contains mainly mono-unsaturated oils, we could think olive oil might have a similar effect in the absorption of carotenoids in a salad.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) Organization, there are three practices that are important in maintaining health: staying physically and mentally active, eating at least 5 portions of vegetables and fruit per day, and maintaining an adequate weight. By doing this, close to 40% of new cases of cancer in the world could be avoided. This equals nearly 4 million people that would avoid getting ill.
The group of over 900 carotenes found in food is one of the factors responsible for the prevention of illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer -the three main causes of death in this country.
In light of the vital benefits of these components found in salads, it is important to ensure the assimilation of most of these in the small intestine, and their availability to every cell in order to facilitate an optimal performance of their functions. This, precisely, is what avocado can do when consumed together with vegetables rich in carotenes, whether raw or cooked.
- Kopec RE, et al, Avocado consumption enhances human postprandial provitamin A absorption and conversion from a novel high-β-carotene tomato sauce and from carrots, Journal of Nutrition, 2014 Aug;144(8):1158-66
- Ribaya-Mercado JD, Carotene-rich plant foods ingested with minimal dietary fat enhance the total-body vitamin A pool size in Filipino schoolchildren as assessed by stable-isotope-dilution methodology, Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:1041–9
- Unlu NZ, et al, Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil, Journal of Nutrition, 2005 Mar;135(3):431-6
- Haskell MJ, The challenge to reach nutritional adequacy for vitamin A: β-carotene bioavailability and conversion–evidence in humans, Am J Clin Nutr 2012;96(suppl):1193S–203S
- Schweiggert RM, Carotenoids are more bioavailable from papaya than from tomato and carrot in humans: a randomised cross-over study, Br J Nutr. 2014 Feb;111(3):490-8
Dr. Mauricio Padilla Mirazo is co-founder of Centro de Investigación y Educación para la Salud, A.C. (CIES) (Center for Health Research and Education), where he has acted as consultant, educator and researcher. He is a Doctor in Natural Medicine, specialized in Lifestyle and Therapeutic Nutrition Medicine. He also holds a degree in Biochemical Engineering with emphasis on Food Chemistry.