Fruit? Veggie? Fat? What is an Avocado??
If I had to choose one favorite food item (not a dish such as lasagna or burritos) but a single ingredient, it would hands-down be: avocado. Now, I didn’t always feel this way. As a child I hated avocado in any form. My mom would try to get me to eat it on sandwiches, as guacamole, with tacos, etc. It made me want to gag. How on earth could someone willingly consume that green mush?
It wasn’t until I moved to California that my sentiment toward avocado started to change. Maybe because it was everywhere: farmer’s markets, neighbor’s trees, parties, restaurant menus, even smoothies!! There was no escaping. I reasoned that if avocado was so popular, there must be something that I was missing out on. I decided to give it a second try. Honestly, I don’t remember the “first” second time that I tried it. All I know is that once I did…I didn’t stop. Nothing beat the rich, creamy, butter avocados from the Studio City Farmer’s Market on Sundays.
My love for avocado grew as I progressed through my undergrad in Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science where I learned not only about their health benefits, but also their versatility in cooking. In 2015, when my body suddenly started rejecting all nuts, seeds, and their derivatives, avocado became my primary fat source. Thank God I haven’t developed any intolerance to it yet!
Aside from the fact that it’s one of the few foods my body can still tolerate or that it’s wildly popular and abundant in California where I spent 10 years of my life, why is avocado so great?
Let’s begin by classifying it and providing a little history:
Fruit? Vegetable? Fat? Botanically, avocado is classified as a large berry with a single seed (aka: fruit). Gasp….I know, I know…hard to believe. It originates from south central Mexico, dating back at least 10,000 years. According to researchers, humans began cultivating avocados around 5,000 BC. Today’s Dietitian article, Hottest Nutrition Trends of 2016: Avocado Spotlight provides additional history about this glorious fruit. The first Europeans to eat avocados were the Spanish explorers during the 16th century. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, avocados made their way from Mexico through Central America into parts of South America. As popularity around avocados grew, new varieties were found, such as Guatamalan, Mexican, and West Indian.
America’s first avocado tree was planted in Florida in 1833. The next came to Los Angeles in 1856, and other southern California locations followed. In 1926, the first Hass avocado tree was planted in California, and to this day Hass avocados are the most popular California avocados. The hass variety is unique because they’re produced year-round. It’s not surprising that California is where my obsession with avocado began. However, the world’s top avocado producer is still its homeland: Mexico.
Even though avocados are technically a fruit, they are known for being an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. This healthy fat shouldn’t be feared. Studies show that consuming avocado and other healthy fats actually helps you eat less by providing satiety (making you feel more full/satisfied) when added to your meal or snack. Only olives rival avocados for monounsaturated fat content in a fruit or vegetable. In addition to lowering risk of heart disease, improving blood levels of LDL (“bad cholesterol”), and causing lower levels of oxidative stress in the bloodstream following consumption of food, this healthy fat helps your body better absorb the fat-soluble vitamins: A,D,E, and K.
Add it to a salad to absorb the most nutrients from your veggies!
Despite its smooth texture, avocados provide approximately 5-6g of fiber in ½ of a medium fruit. This equates to an average of 54% DV for fiber! According to the Mayo Clinic, fiber aids in bowel regularity, helps control blood sugar and helps maintain a healthy weight. Talk about a painless way to get in your fiber.
Vegetarians and vegans listen up! One medium avocado provides 4 g of satisfying protein, which is more than most fruit.
Wait, there’s more! Avocado contains nearly 20 vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C, E, K, and B6, as well as folate, potassium, and magnesium beta-carotene and lutein.
Avocados can be placed on the counter to ripen naturally. If you’d like them to ripen much faster, put them in a paper bag with an apple or a banana.
Many of my clients throw away any un-used portion of avocado because they think that it’s gone bad if the outer parts turn brown. DON’T!!! The avocado is still perfectly fine to eat. Just scrape off the brown outer layer. If it’s just a few days old, it will be green underneath. The browning is a natural chemical reaction that occurs due to oxidation.
To prevent the browning, there are several theories:
- One that I use is to place the pit of the avocado back into guacamole or the half of the un-used portion and seal in plastic wrap or in an air-tight container. The science behind this? I’m really not sure, but, it does work for me.
- Others have said that fresh squeezed lime or lemon helps prevent oxidation. I haven’t tried this, but I wouldn’t recommend this method if you don’t intend to use the un-used portion for something savory or that would go well with lemon or lime.
- This method I just stumbled upon on thekitchn.com, but I plan on trying this next: Place a cut avocado into an airtight container with a piece of cut up onion. Cover it with a lid and refrigerate. It is suspected that the sulfur compounds released by the onions act as a preservative. As with the lemon and lime, taste the avocado first to make sure the onion-flavor hasn’t transferred if you plan to use this for a sweeter dish.
Flavor and Uses
Avocado, when ripe, is creamy and depending on the variety, either slightly sweet or rich and buttery.
Traditionally, it is found in the form of guacamole or as a flavorful accompaniment to Latin dishes. Most recently, it has gained popularity as a topper on “avocado toast,” which is my current breakfast of choice along with nitrate free turkey for a protein-boost.
Did you know that avocado can also be used in smoothies, puddings, and baked goods?
Here’s a list of easy ways to incorporate this phenomenal fruit into your diet.
- Use it to replace mayo on your sandwich or in chicken, tuna, or egg salad.
- In baked goods, substitute1 cup of pureed avocado for every 1 cup of butter. Reduce your oven temperature by 25 percent and increase your baking time. This will help to prevent your cake from rising up in the middle or caving in.
- Use in place of other oils in a healthy dressing. Use a high powered blender or food processor to blend until smooth. Cilantro, lime, Greek yogurt and garlic are great additions to a flavorful dressing. Click here for the full recipe.
- Click here for a delicious Avocado Mousse recipe from Giada De Laurentiis of the Food Network.
- Replace part of the heavy whipping cream or milk in soup recipes to provide a creamy consistency and rich flavor. Click here for a vegan soup recipe.
- Add ½ avocado to your morning smoothie. You won’t taste it! It just makes it nice and smooth and provides staying power.
As with any healthy diet, it is important to be mindful of portion size. Keep in mind that 1/5 of a medium avocado (approx 1oz) contains 50 calories. I usually consume ½ medium avocado with my lunch meal as the healthy fat source and recommend that my patients do the same, if it is their sole fat source. If you’re using it just for flavor with other healthy fats, stick to 1oz and top your dish with it to ensure you get a little bit in each bite. The addition of avocado to my meals truly keeps me much more satisfied than when I went without…and it adds much for flavor.