Now that you’ve learned in part 1 about avocado’s spectacular array of nutrients and phytochemicals and seen the many ways it keeps your heart and blood vessels healthy, it’s time to review some of the additional health benefits of avocado. The research into this unique food may only be in its infancy, but nutrition and medical researchers have already identified a number of health benefits of avocado that extend beyond its ability to improve cardiovascular health.
Health Benefits of Avocado: Enhances nutrient absorption. One of its most important benefits has to do with its ability to help you absorb nutrients: both from the avocado itself as well as from the foods you eat along with it. A recent study found that significant increases in nutrient absorption (especially carotenoid absorption), occurs when avocado is eaten with other foods. Carotenoids are extremely health-promoting phytochemicals, but your ability to absorb them isn’t great. Avocado changes that.
“Avocado fruit has a unique unsaturated oil and water matrix naturally designed to enhance carotenoid absorption,” says nutritional biochemist Dr. Mark Dreher, PhD, in a recent review of avocado benefits published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. One study found that adding fresh avocado to salads greatly increases absorption of two key carotenoids—lycopene and beta-carotene. When 1 cup (150 grams) of avocado is added to a salad of romaine lettuce, spinach, and carrots, absorption of carotenoids from this salad goes up from 200-400%! Serving avocados with salsa was also found to increase absorption of the salsa’s carotenoids by 2–5 times!
The fact that avocados help to optimize carotenoids’ health benefits is no small matter. The results of studies suggest that diets high in carotenoids are not only associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, but also cancer and eye disease. Certain carotenoids are also associated with immune enhancement, anti-inflammatory effects, and a decreased risk of diabetes and osteoporosis. Plus, carotenoid-rich diets are linked to healthier aging in general. You can’t go wrong by increasing your dietary intake of carotenoids, and avocado is just the food to help you do it.
Health Benefits of Avocado: Provides cancer protection. Avocado’s unique ability to increase carotenoid absorption (along with its own extensive phytochemical make-up) makes it an important food for cancer prevention. Various carotenes, especially beta-carotene and lycopene, are significantly associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers like breast, prostate, and lung. You can extend the health benefits of avocado, therefore, by eating it with beta-carotene and lycopene-rich foods like carrots and tomato’s.
Avocado’s own carotenes as well as its other phytochemicals, such as its glutathione, have also been investigated and found in preliminary studies (mostly test-tube and animal studies) to help prevent the occurrence of numerous types of cancers. The preliminary results are impressive, showing that the anti-cancer properties of avocado are related to its unusual mix of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which work differently in cancer cells than in healthy cells. Avocado appears to improve inflammatory and oxidative stress levels in healthy cells but have the opposite effect in cancer cells, increasing oxidative stress and shifting the cell cycle to programmed cell death (apoptosis).
Health Benefits of Avocado: Improves eye health. The prevention of age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts is a spectacular health benefit of avocado. Lutein and zeaxanthin are selectively taken up into the macula, the portion of the eye where light is focused on the lens. Diets low in carotenoids and MUFA’s have both been shown to increase degenerative eye diseases. The fact that avocados contain a combination of MUFA and lutein/zeaxanthin and help improve carotenoid absorption from other fruits and vegetables means they are especially suited to support eye health.
Health Benefits of Avocado: Promotes healthy aging. Carotenoids like those found in avocados have antioxidant and DNA protective effects that can help protect your cells as you age. Diets higher in beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin are known to decrease cumulative DNA damage in cells and thus are associated with healthier aging.
Health Benefits of Avocado: Prevents Osteoarthritis. This common form of arthritis, characterized by progressive deterioration of joint cartilage, affects many people as they age or become overweight or obese. The joint deterioration is known to be triggered by inflammation and oxidative stress. Avocado’s ability to enhance carotenoid absorption, along with its own amazing carotenoid diversity, is a key factor in its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Lutein and zeaxanthin, the primary carotenoids in avocados, are associated with a decreased risk of joint cartilage defects—early indicators of osteoarthritis.
The health benefits of avocado to your inflammatory system and joints come not only from its carotenoids but also its phytosterols. As mentioned above, avocados are rich in natural phytosterols, especially beta-sitosterol. Phytosterols are fatty, waxy substances similar to cholesterol. They are best known for their ability to lower LDL cholesterol levels by inhibiting cholesterol absorption from the intestines. But they are also considered anti-inflammatory compounds with both antioxidant and pain-relieving properties. In Europe, a natural medicine consisting of 1 part avocado phytosterols and 2 parts soy phytosterols has been well-researched and is currently used for the treatment of osteoarthritis symptoms of the knee and hip. Made in France and sold there under the brand name Piasclédine®, 300 mg once a day was recently compared in a clinical study to chondroitin sulfate, 400 mg three times a day. Both the once-a-day Piasclédine® and the three-times-daily chondroitin sulfate improved knee pain, stiffness, and other osteoarthritis symptoms by 50%.
Tasty ideas to get more avocados in your diet:
The creamy, rich avocado, packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, carotenoids, and other phytonutrients, is an exceptional food for health, nourishment, and well-being. Make sure to peal your avocado in a way that preserves as much of the outmost dark green flesh as possible, since this is where the carotenoids concentrate the most. You can’t go wrong eating an avocado on its own, but combining it with other colorful plant foods means you will significantly increase your absorption of nutrients from all the plant foods present. One of the healthiest ways to enjoy avocado is to use it as a replacement for less healthy fats, in place of sour cream, mayo, butter, or vegetable oils. Your taste buds won’t be disappointed, and you’ll feel both healthy and satiated.
Do you have a yummy avocado recipe of your own? Share your recipe below in the Comments section! Let’s help each other achieve the amazing health benefits by eating more avocados!