Are Avocados Anti-Inflammatory / A Good Source of Omega-3?
An avocado consists of about 15 percent of fat, which makes it one of the fattiest fruits out there (and, yes, technically speaking avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable). However, only a small portion of the fat in an avocado is omega-3, a type of polyunsaturated fat with strong anti-inflammatory properties. Yet, it frequently pops up in anti-inflammatory cookbooks such Jessica Black's popular cookbook, The Anti-Inflammation Diet. What makes this even more confusing is that if you look up the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of an avocado, you'll learn that it is somewhere around 15 to 1, meaning that it contains far more omega-6s than omega-3s. As you may already know, most modern diets contain far too much omega-6 fatty acids and not enough of omega-3 fatty acids, an imbalance that promotes chronic inflammation and that is believed to contribute to the prevalence of the wide range of inflammatory conditions in the modern world. So the question is, why are avocados considered an anti-inflammatory food if their omega-6 to omega-6 ratio is so off?
The simple answer is: the omega-6-to-3 ratio of a specific food is not the only factor that defines how inflammatory, or anti-inflammatory, that food is. If you take a deeper look at the fatty acid profile of an avocado, you'll see that the overall amount of polyunsaturated fats, which includes both the omega-6s and omega-3s, is actually very low in an avocado. Most of the fat in an avocado is monounsaturated, and most of that is oleic acid, a type of fatty acid that has been shown reduce certain biomarkers of inflammation in some preliminary studies.
But the evidence linking avocado or its constituents to reduced inflammation does not end there. In a pilot study published in 2012, a group of researchers from the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition examined the effect of adding Hass avocado to hamburger meat on post-meal anti-inflammatory activity in healthy subjects. The study utilized a randomized crossover design and included 11 healthy male volunteers. On two separate occasions, each of the study participants consumed a 250-gram hamburger patty either alone or together with 68 grams of Hass avocado flesh. Using the Ikappa-B-alpha protein concentration to assess the degree of inflammation, the researchers discovered that the addition of Hass avocado to hamburger meat significantly reduced the inflammatory effects of the meal.
To sum it up, avocados are not a good source of omega-3 fatty acids; however, they do contain plenty of monounsaturated fatty acids, particularly oleic acid which appears to have some anti-inflammatory properties. What's more, avocados are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, so you have plenty of reasons to add this "superfood" to your diet. That said, some people, especially those with a latex allergy, may experience adverse reactions after eating avocados. In these people, the proteins in avocados cause an inflammatory cascade, resulting in a release of pro-inflammatory mediators that contribute to the acute and chronic symptoms associated with allergies and food intolerances. If you think you might be allergic or sensitive to avocados, talk to a qualified health care professional or a certified nutritionist.
1. I. Lerman-Garber et al (1994). Effect of a high-monounsaturated fat diet enriched with avocado in NIDDM patients. Diabetes Care, 17(4):311-5.
2. A. Basu, S. Deveraj and I. Jialal (2006). Dietary Factors That Promote or Retard Inflammation. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 26: 995-1001.
3. Z. Li et al (2013). Hass avocado modulates postprandial vascular reactivity and postprandial inflammatory responses to a hamburger meal in healthy volunteers. L Food Funct., 4, 384-391.
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