The avocado is the fruit of the avocado tree. Its clear flesh has the consistency of butter. According to variety, the avocado has a shiny and smooth or textured, dark green or brown skin purplish color, and always a huge stone in the middle.
Cultivated for more than 7,000 years in Mexico and in elevated regions, the avocado provided the fat for the diet of the populations of pre-Columbian civilizations. In Europe, it was introduced in Spain in 1519, but its culture was developed only recently. Only in the early 1950s it appeared on our tables, initially as a rare and luxury product. Then, thanks to globalization, it has been democratized and became the current product.
Avocado over time
The avocado takes its name from Spanish aguacate, who borrowed it from the Aztec ahuacatl.
Avocado probably comes from Mexico and perhaps also Guatemala, where we can still find many wildlife species as of today. Thanks to the discovery of avocado stones in caves, we know that the Aztecs and the Mayas of Mexico and from Guatemala ate the fruit about 10,000 years ago. According to experts, it is also believed that they cultivated the fruit since 7,000 or 8,000 years ago, as they found in other sites dating from this period much larger and oval shape avocado stones showing improvements due to human interventions. Avocado was very popular in pre-Columbian America because it brought to Native Americans the precious fats that were, moreover, lacking in their diet.
After the Conquest, the Spaniards made the avocado, as well as its fruit, well known to the rest of the world. From 1519, they introduced avocado in Europe, then to the West Indies, as well as in almost all of the tropical regions where favorable conditions prevailed for its culture.
A long time reserved for the finest restaurants
In the West, the fruit long remained a food reserved for the aristocracy and the upper class. In the early 1900s, avocados were cultivated by the Americans on a large scale and the fruit was largely commercialized all over the world.
Today, the avocado is grown in many countries of Latin America and Central Africa and Oceania, as well as in Southern Europe and the United States (Florida and California). The flesh is pulled from the fruit and becomes oil widely used in cosmetology and massotherapy.
Avocado and health
Fruit of a native tree of Central and South America, the avocado is valued for its flesh tender like butter. An ideal fruit for starters and entries, it can be prepared in many ways, either with an oil and vinegar dressing, salad, foam, stuffed or in traditional guacamole. The avocado can also become a side for a sandwich, both original and delicious topping.
Although it is known for its high fat content, it also contains a variety of minerals and vitamins.
Principles of assets and properties
Antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect the cells in the body from damage caused by free radicals which are highly reactive molecules that are suspected to be involved in the development of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and other diseases related to aging. In total, an avocado contains almost as many antioxidants as half a cup (125 ml) cooked broccoli.
Proanthocyanidins. A portion of 100 g of raw avocado contains on average 7 mg of proanthocyanidins, antioxidants also designated under the name of “tannins”. The proanthocyanidins have antioxidant properties among humans, by protecting particular blood cells and blood lipids on the oxidative stress. However, further studies need to be conducted to better understand how the human body absorbs and uses the proanthocyanidins from the avocado.
Dietary fiber. With 6.7 g of fiber per 100 g of flesh, the avocado is considered to be a very high fiber source. Dietary fibers, which are found only in plants, combine a variety of substances that are not digested by the body. A high-fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer and can help satisfy the appetite more quickly bringing a feeling of being full.
There are two major types of fibers (soluble and insoluble) which have different effects in the body: avocado contains both, with a little more insoluble fibers. The ability to prevent constipation by increasing the volume of the stool is attributed to insoluble fiber. On the other hand, soluble fiber, can contribute to the prevention of cardiovascular disease including decreasing the absorption of biliary acids. They can also help to control type 2 diabetes thanks to the slow digestion of glucose coming from food. It is recommended to consume 25 g of fiber per day for women aged 19 to 50 years, and 38 g per day for men of the same group age.
Cardiovascular disease. Even if avocado is rich in fat, they mostly consist of mono unsaturated fat, considered to be ‘good’ fats for heart health. Among humans, a study showed that the replacement of part of the fat in the diet by avocado during three weeks can bring a reduction in blood lipids, and, without decreasing the concentration of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol).
Other researchers have found that avocado is possibly the fruit containing the most phytosterols, with more than 80 mg per serving of 100 g. These compounds have a similar structure to those of cholesterol from animal origin products, but are beneficial for cardiovascular health. A meta-analysis of 41 trials showed that 2 g per day (or 2 000 mg) of phytosterols reduced the rate of LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) by 10%. This reduction could reach 20% as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. This amount of 2 g per day is almost impossible to reach only by food. It is for this reason that food products enriched in phytosterols have appeared on the market in the last years (juice, margarine and yogurt).
Inflammation. Some studies have shown potential anti-inflammatory effect of avocado. Indeed, in one study, adding avocado to a meal including a “hamburger” helped lower the vasoconstriction of the blood vessels and the concentration of certain proteins having inflammatory properties a few hours after ingestion. In addition, the meal containing avocado resulted a decrease in triglycerides in the blood. Further studies are needed in order to conclude on the real benefits of the avocado on the inflammation level but it is encouraging.
Better absorption of carotenoids. A study among humans showed that adding avocado to a dish allowed to increase the absorption of carotenoids of this dish, such as beta carotene and the lycopene. Carotenoids are a family of substances with antioxidant properties, insoluble in water, but soluble in fat. The best absorption of carotenoids would be attributable to the avocado fat.
Damage to the liver. Researchers have studied the effect of 22 different fruits on the liver restoration of animals with damage related to viral hepatitis. Among the analyzed fruits, the avocado strongly stood out by showing a remarkable ability to fix these damages. The mechanism for this protective effect remains unclear, but researchers believe it originates from derivatives of natural fatty acids of the avocado. However, other studies should be performed in order to check if these results can be applied to humans.
Cancer. Several in vitro studies suggest that the avocado would have favorable properties to prevent cancer. One of these studies showed that an extract of avocado flesh reduced the proliferation of human cancer cells of the prostate. Further work showed that a natural compound of the avocado, called persenone, had the ability to reduce the activity of enzymes involved in the development of the cancer. However, it is not known whether these in vitro results can still be applied to humans. A case-control study has shown that monounsaturated fat intakes were indirectly related to prostate cancer. This relationship might be, according to the authors, due to a high consumption of avocado. Other clinical studies must be carried out in order to understand this relationship.
Is the avocado really a threat to body weight?
Some people may think that avocado, because of its high fat content is to be avoided when trying to lose weight. However, a study was conducted for overweight people and consuming a restricted diet in calories. Researchers have shown that replacing the majority of the fat in this diet by the same amount of avocado for six weeks was not harming them with the weight loss associated with the diet. Both diets resulted in the same weight loss.
Indeed, these authors based their research on other studies suggesting that monounsaturated fats (the main avocado fat) would result in less fat deposits than the polyunsaturated fat, and could further accelerate the metabolism after a meal without saturated fat. In addition, consumption of avocado would be associated with a better overall food quality, a better nutrient intake and a reduction in the risk of metabolic syndrome.
Vitamin K and anticoagulants
Avocado contains a high amount of vitamin K. This vitamin is necessary for preventing blood clotting. Vitamin K can be created by the body in addition of being founded in certain foods. People taking anticoagulant medicine, for example those developed under the names Coumadin, Warfilone and Sintrom, must adopt a diet in which the vitamin K content is relatively stable from one day to the other. Health authorities reminds that avocado can change the blood concentration of anticoagulants. It is therefore preferable not to take too much at once. It is strongly recommended to people under anticoagulation medicine to consult a dietitian-nutritionist or doctor to know the food sources of vitamin K and to ensure a more stable possible daily intake.
Avocado and latex allergy
Studies have shown that latex allergy, material used for the manufacture of medical gloves, could be associated with an allergy to certain foods such as avocado. Researchers have identified the hevein as being the compound that would be responsible for allergy of avocado for people allergic to latex. The following allergy symptoms to avocado could include hives and even anaphylaxis. It is recommended for people with allergies to latex to perform food allergy tests, including avocado, kiwi, chestnut and banana.
Choice and preparation
Preferably choose a heavy avocado, not too firm, and without black marks or black bruises. The color of the skin is not an indication of maturity, but rather an indication of the variety. Avoid very soft fruits or those which skin is withered because they are too ripe.
Varieties of avocado trees are classified in three subgroups Mexican, Guatemalan and West Indian, depending on their degree of tolerance to cold and the various characteristics of their fruits: size, nutritional composition, flavor, etc. What you should know in practice is that the fruits of the Caribbean subgroup (sometimes called “Florida avocados” because in this State, mainly varieties of this subgroup are grown) can contain up to two times less fat than the other two subgroups. Unfortunately, this information does not appear on products (fresh or frozen) on the market. We often find in markets the Hass variety, which belongs to the subgroup of Guatemalan and which fruits are particularly rich in fat.
You can find cold-pressed avocado oil in stores.
Salty, sweet or the both?
There are three types of avocado lovers: those who prefer eating it salty, who prefer it sweet and those who enjoy it salty and sweet. Around the world, this uncommon product was adapted to local cuisine. Whether we prefer its sweet or salty side, this fruit is prepared as a vegetable or a fruit.
The flesh of the avocado oxidizes easily. We suggest to always using stainless steel utensils to work. For the same reason, if you do not anticipate serving it immediately, once it has been cut or crushed, put some lemon, lime juice or vinegar over it to avoid the avocado becoming black.