Why Are Avocados Good for Us?

 Photo by John Kuczala

Photo by John Kuczala

By Maureen Salamon

We’ve loved them forever as the main ingredient in guacamole, but there’s no question avocados have emerged as America’s culinary darling. This unique fruit can be found on the menu in many types of restaurants and easily incorporated into home cooking in salads, smoothies, sandwiches, and the breakfast du jour, avocado toast.

Just as compelling as avocados’ creamy texture and versatility, however, is how good they are for us. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, a serving (about one-fifth of a whole avocado) contains nearly 3 grams of fiber, less than a gram of sugar, 3.4 grams of carbohydrate and nearly 6 grams of healthy monounsaturated fat. Avocados are also rich in vitamins C, B6, K and E as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, magnesium and potassium.

Here are some of avocados’ top health benefits, according to scientific research:

Improves Heart Disease Risk Factors: With heart disease the leading killer of men and women worldwide, avocados do their part by lowering levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Plant sterols called phytosterols, which are present in avocados, help block the negative effects from cholesterol in the intestines. At least eight preliminary clinical studies have shown that eating avocados helps support cardiovascular health, according to a 2013 paper in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

Protects Vision: Who doesn’t want to preserve their eyesight, especially as we age? Luckily, avocados can promote that effort by containing the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants concentrated in eye tissues that protect eyes from ultraviolet light and other threats. A 2006 study in Clinical and Epidemiologic Research also showed that these phytochemicals are also associated with significantly lower odds of developing cataracts and macular degeneration, which disproportionately affect older adults.

Promotes Weight Control: On first glance, you might not suspect avocados can help with weight-loss efforts. After all, at 64 calories per serving -- or 320 calories for an entire avocado – it’s deceptively easy to polish off more avocado-related calories than intended. But one study suggests avocados can help ward off extra pounds by making you feel more satisfied after eating them. The 2013 Nutrition Journal research showed those eating an avocado-containing meal had a 28% lower desire to eat over the next five hours than participants whose meal didn’t contain avocado.

Eases Arthritis Symptoms: Pain, stiffness and swelling from arthritis affects more than 54 million American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while there’s no cure, anything that helps relieve these symptoms helps improve quality of life. Extracts from avocados (along with soybeans) known as unsaponifiables can lessen the effects of “wear and tear” osteoarthritis, the most common type, according to a study in a French journal. Patients taking those extracts relied far less on pain relief from NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) than peers who didn’t consume the extracts.

Maureen Salamon is a widely published health and medical writer who has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN.com, HealthDay, The Dallas Morning News and other major publications.