Avocado: A Superfood with Many Health Benefits
Avocados are more than just the main ingredient in guacamole dip – they are a real superfood loaded with a wide range of nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals such as carotenoids, fiber, folate, glutathione and monounsaturated fatty acids. In this article, we explain in detail why eating avocado is so good for you and how you can reap the health benefits of this creamy superfood.
Carotenoids for Healthy Joints
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder, affecting millions of people around the world. This degenerative disease develops when cartilage in a joint deteriorates as a result of oxidative stress and inflammation. Although there is no cure for this debilitating disease, there are a few things that may help prevent or delay the development of the disease.
An Australian study published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy, for example, reported that fruits and vegetables rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, the primary carotenoids in avocados, are associated with decreased risk of cartilage defects. As you may know, cartilage defects are an early indicator of osteoarthritis. In other studies, extracts made from avocado and soybean oils have been shown to improve symptoms and reduce the need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in hip and knee osteoarthritis patients.
Effects of Avocado on Eye Health
Lutein and zeaxanthin, the same carotenoids that are thought to give avocados some of their osteoarthritis-fighting properties, may also help keep your eyes healthy. A study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology in March 2008 found that women with high dietary intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin had a 23% lower risk of nuclear cataracts than women with low levels of these carotenoids.
In another study, reported in the July 2009 edition of the British Journal of Nutrition, participants who received lutein supplements during a 12-week trial period experienced a significant improvement in visual performance.
Avocado – A Cancer-Fighting Superfood?
Along with the superfood asparagus, avocados are one of the most concentrated dietary sources of glutathione, a tripeptide compound that has been linked to a number of potential health benefits. A population-based case-control study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, for example, found a significant correlation between increased glutathione intakes from raw fruit and vegetables and decreased risk of oral cancer. The potential anti-cancer effects of glutathione-rich foods, such as avocados, are believed to be linked to the antioxidant properties of glutathione and to its ability to bind with cellular mutagens.
In addition, preliminary research suggests that avocado extracts rich in lutein and zeaxanthin may exert inhibitory effects against Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria linked to the development of gastric ulcers and stomach cancer.
Eating Avocados is Good for Your Cardiovascular System
Avocados are an excellent source of several cardioprotective nutrients and phytochemicals, such as fiber and folate. Both epidemiologic and clinical studies suggest that fiber can help lower the levels of LDL cholesterol (the "bad cholesterol"), while folate has been shown to reduce high homocysteine levels, another well-known risk factor for heart disease. In addition, avocado contains phytosterols, plant-based sterols that are structurally similar to cholesterol and that act in the intestine to lower cholesterol absorption.
This green superfood is also loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) which have been proven to lower cholesterol levels in numerous studies. In one such study, the researchers compared the cholesterol-lowering effects of an avocado-enriched diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) against the effects of a high-complex-carbohydrate diet. Fifteen women were enrolled, all of whom were between 37 and 58 years old.
Both diets were found to lower total cholesterol levels, but the effects were more pronounced during the avocado diet (an 8.2% decrease versus a 4.9% decrease). During the avocado/MUFA diet, but not during the complex carbohydrate diet, the women also experienced a significant drop in their LDL cholesterol levels.
Avocado's Benefits for the Skin
Pure health benefits aside, avocado may also provide beauty benefits. The MUFAs in this creamy superfood help keep your skin smooth by moisturizing it from the inside, while the vitamin E, carotenoids and glutathione act as antioxidants, scavenging free radicals which have been linked to premature aging and wrinkling of the skin.
A great way to reap the benefits of avocado for the skin is to incorporate it into smoothies (its mild flavor and creamy texture make it an ideal replacement for bananas in smoothies). If you need inspiration, check out our recipe for a spinach, avocado and pineapple smoothie or an avocado blueberry smoothie featuring chia seeds.
A recent study found that half a Hass avocado eaten at lunch significantly decreased self-reported hunger and desire to eat, and increased satiety over five hours following the lunch. This randomized, single-blind crossover study involved 26 healthy overweight adults and was published in the November 2013 issue of the Nutrition Journal.
These findings did not come as a surprise, however. Avocados – along with olive oil and a few other foods – are rich in oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fatty acid that converts into oleoylethanolamide (OEA) when it reaches the small intestine. OEA, in turn, is a natural appetite suppressant which works by activating a brain area that increases the feeling of satiety.
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