Avocado Seeds Are Edible and Good for You – Fact or Fiction?
Traditionally, only the green avocado pulp has been widely used in the avocado industry, and the skin and the seeds have been discarded as waste (1). Even avocado oil, which you might think is extracted from the seed of the avocado plant, is made by pressing the pulp, and then separating the oil it contains from the non-oily part of the pulp.
In the recent past, however, some people have started to eat the avocado seed, or pit, as well, claiming that it is good for you because of the high levels of fiber, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds it contains. Manufacturers and marketers of dietary supplements have been quick to respond to the increasing interest in the use of the avocado seed as a source of health-promoting compounds, and all sorts of avocado seed powders are now sold all over the Internet—just look at the slew of avocado seed powders available on Amazon alone!
However, considering that the avocado seed has not been consumed widely as a food for most of modern history, you should use a critical eye to assess the claims made about its edibility and health benefits before you blend a dehydrated, chopped avocado pit into your smoothie or sprinkle avocado seed powder on your breakfast cereal. To help you get started with your research into the potential health benefits and side effects of the avocado seed, here are some interesting facts:
Yes, Avocado Seeds Are Loaded with Antioxidants
A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Chemistry analyzed the antioxidant capacity of edible portions and seeds of five (sub)tropical fruits, including avocado, and found that the seeds of the tested fruits had much stronger antioxidant activities than the edible portions (2). The fact that the avocado pit has strong antioxidant activities is not surprising, given that this big seed contains a number of polyphenolic compounds such as protocatechuic acid, chlorogenic acid, syringic acid and rutin, all of which are known for their strong antioxidant properties (1, 3).
The much-touted health benefits of antioxidants are believed to be linked to their ability to neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are generated when your body is exposed to things like air pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and pesticides, but they also occur as by-products of normal metabolic processes. Many experts believe that diets that do not contain enough antioxidants to counteract the harmful of effects of free radicals promote the development of various types of diseases as well as pre-mature aging.
But Not Everything That Contains Antioxidants is Good for You (or Even Edible)
So, given everything we know about the antioxidant activities of avocado seeds and the health benefits of antioxidants, eating avocado seeds or powder made from these somewhat bitter seeds is good for you, right?
Not so fast. Not everything that contains antioxidants is good for you, or even edible! Take pokeberries, for example. Although these deep purple berries contain anthocyanins, the same antioxidants that make blueberries such a superfood, they are actually poisonous (4) because they also contain a wide range of other phytochemicals, some of which are toxic and can cause all sorts of adverse reactions.
Obviously, the pokeberry example is a bit extreme, but the point is this: a plant may contain both beneficial compounds and harmful substances, or substances that counteract the positive effects of the beneficial compounds. So, rather than looking at the amount of antioxidants in avocado seeds, we should be looking at studies that have focused on specific biological activities of avocado seeds or avocado seed extracts. And that, folks, is exactly what we are going to do next, so keep reading.
Potential Health Benefits of Avocado Seed Extracts
There is a convincing body of evidence suggesting that avocados are anti-inflammatory, but early studies show that certain avocado seed extracts might also have anti-inflammatory properties. These properties have been linked to their ability to inhibit the activity of an inflammation-promoting enzyme called Phospholipase A2, and to decrease the generation of various pro-inflammatory mediators. (5)
One in vitro study found avocado seed extract induced apoptosis in breast cancer cells (6). Apoptosis is the body's natural way of getting rid of damaged or useless cells, but this mechanism is typically faulty in cancer cells, allowing them to grow uncontrolled. Further studies are needed to determine whether avocado extracts have anti-cancer activity also in vivo.
Improved Blood Sugar Control
Avocado seed extracts have been shown to reduce blood glucose levels both in diabetic and non-diabetic rats (5). Whether these results translate to humans is unclear and requires further study.
Several animal studies have investigated the potential cholesterol-lowering effects of avocado seed powder/extract, and the findings have been encouraging. Also studies that have explored the ability of avocado seed extracts to treat high blood pressure in animals have yielded promising results (3, 5). However, it is important to keep in mind that, although both high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, it will take further research before any conclusions can be drawn about the potential cardioprotective effects of avocado seeds in humans.
So, Should You Start Eating Avocado Pits?
While the results of the early studies exploring the potential health benefits of the avocado seed have generally been very promising, it is important to keep in mind that avocado seeds do not have a long and widespread history of use as a food, and research investigating the safety of avocado seed consumption is limited.
What's more, the studies that have explored the beneficial effects of avocado seeds have been primarily test tube studies and experiments testing the effects of avocado seed extracts in animals, not studies exploring the effects of powdered whole avocado seeds in humans.
So, the bottom line is this: if you want to err on the side of caution, stick to the green, creamy part of the avocado until more research is conducted to establish whether the pit is safe to eat—the green, creamy flesh of the avocado has tons of health benefits! Or, if you are put off by the short shelf life of fresh avocado, try avocado oil which is packed with cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fatty acids, appetite-suppressing oleic acid, as well as skin-protecting antioxidants such as vitamin E and carotenoids.
1. S. Gomez et al (2014). Avocado Seeds: Extraction Optimization and Possible Use as Antioxidant in Food. Antioxidants, 3(2), 439-454.
2. Y. Soong and P. Barlow (2004). Antioxidant activity and phenolic content of selected fruit seeds. Food Chemistry, 88(3), 411-417.
3. M. Pahua-Ramos et ak (2012). Hypolipidemic effect of avocado (Persea americana Mill) seed in a hypercholesterolemic mouse model. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 67(1), 10-6.
4. FDA Poisonous Plant Database. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Database accessed in August 2016.
5. D. Dabas et el (2013). Avocado (Persea americana) Seed as a Source of Bioactive Phytochemicals. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 19(34), 6133-6140.
6. S. Lee (2008). Antioxidant Activities and Induction of Apoptosis by Methanol Extracts from Avocado. Journal of the Korean Society of Food Science and Nutrition, 37(3), 269-275.
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