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The Incredible Edible Avocado PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Novick, M.S., R.D.   
Tuesday, 17 September 2002 18:05

The Incredible Edible Avocado

Jeff NovickLutein is a pigment found in certain vegetables and provides the yellow color for some of the foods it is found in. Lutein is also a phytochemical known as a carotenoid, which helps protect against eye disease such as cataracts and macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. New research shows that lutein may stop blood vessels from clogging up and could help people resist the hardening of the arteries, a condition which leads to heart disease.

Researchers looked at hundreds of men and women and checked the thickness of a key artery in the neck. Signs of hardening here are thought to be reliable indicators of the level of artery hardening throughout the body, including the vessels supplying blood to the heart.

In the study of 480 middle-aged men and women, California researchers found that those with the highest blood levels of lutein showed the least thickening in their artery walls over 18 months. The research was led by Dr. James H. Dwyer of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and reported in the June 19th issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association (Circulation 2001;103).

avocadoThe volunteers — who all had no history of heart disease — had their blood tested for signs of lutein twice, at an interval of 18 months. Those with the highest levels of lutein in their blood had the smallest increases in thickening within the neck artery. Those with the lowest levels had more than five times the increase over the 18-month period. The lutein link held after factors including age, smoking, use of heart medications and intake of other vitamins were considered.

In a separate experiment, researchers looked at lengths of artery removed during surgery, and found that artery walls pre-treated with lutein were less likely to experience a chemical reaction which is thought to contribute to hardening. The higher the dose of lutein, the smaller the chemical reaction was.

The researchers suggested that lutein may form part of the reason why people with a high consumption of fruit and vegetables are less likely to develop heart disease. Good sources of the pigment include broccoli, lettuce, cucumber, peas, asparagus, beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, spinach, and watercress.

However, new research from UCLA indicates that California avocados are the highest fruit source of lutein among the 20 most frequently consumed fruits. In addition they found that avocados have nearly twice as much vitamin E as previously reported, making avocados the highest fruit source of this powerful antioxidant.

Vitamin E is known to slow the aging process and protect against heart disease and common forms of cancer by neutralizing free radicals, which may cause cellular damage.

According to Dr. David Heber, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, the data strengthens the healthful profile of the avocado. “Avocados are recognized as an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, which is known to lower cholesterol levels, but the antioxidant and phytochemical properties of avocados are less well recognized. These plant nutrients naturally found in fruits and vegetables work together to reduce oxidant stress and prevent disease.”

Other phytochemicals found in avocados include glutathione, which functions as an antioxidant like vitamin E to “mop up” free radicals. Avocados also contain four times more beta-sitosterol than any other fruit, which helps lower blood cholesterol levels. The avocado's beta-sitosterol content combined with its monounsaturated fat content help avocados to lower cholesterol levels in some studies, according to Heber.

Heber, along with 35 scientists at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, has long encouraged a diet based on five to 11 servings per day of a diverse selection of fruits and vegetables like the California avocado. Worldwide research demonstrates that a high intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with better health due largely to their disease-fighting properties.

Most evidence for health effects of plant compounds such as lutein and vitamin E, has been obtained from laboratory techniques or using experimental animal models. There are a wide range of phytochemicals or plant compounds in fruits and vegetables that may have beneficial effects on health and it is likely that the complex mixture of these compounds, rather than any one nutrient, contributes to their protection against heart disease and cancer.

This is why individual supplements can never be the answer. They can never recreate the complex mixture of the nutrients that appear in food. So, for the best health, we need to emphasize a healthy diet that includes lots of servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each and every day.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Avocados are very high in many healthy nutrients. Besides the above mentioned nutrients, a 100 gram serving of avocado also contains 5 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 634 mgs of potassium, 65 mcg of folate, and 612 IUs of vitamin A. However, they are also high in calorie density (about 800 calories/lb) and high in fat (about 85% fat). Even though it is the healthier fat, we still don't want to overeat on any fat. So, while avocado can be an important addition to a healthy diet, we need to be careful not to overdo it. One hundred grams (3.5 ounces) of an avocado is 177 calories and 17 grams of fat. Therefore, if you are trying to lose weight, limit your intake of avocados to no more than 1/8 to 1/4 a day. If you are at a healthy weight, limit your intake to no more than 1/4 – 1/2 small avocado a day. And to “dilute” out the calories, eat the avocado with foods that are much lower in calorie density like fresh fruits and/or vegetables.

Top 5 Fruits for Vitamin E Content

(Per 100g Raw, Edible Portion Fruit)
NOTE: 100g = 3.5 ounce

  • Avocado 4.31 IU
  • Kiwifruit 1.67 IU
  • Nectarine 1.33 IU
  • Grapes 1.04 IU
  • Peach 1.04 IU
(Source for data: UCLA Center for Human Nutrition and USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.)
Top 5 Fruits for Glutathione Content

(Per 100g Raw, Edible Portion Fruit)

  • Avocado 27.7 mg
  • Lemon 8.7 mg
  • Grapefruit 7.9 mg
  • Nectarine 7.4 mg
  • Peach 7.4 mg
(Source for data: Jones, D.P., Nutrition & Cancer 17:57-75,1992.)
Top 5 Fruits for Beta-Sitosterol Content

(Per 100g Raw, Edible Portion Fruit)

  • Avocado 75 mg
  • Orange 17 mg
  • Cherries 12 mg
  • Apple (with peel) 11 mg
  • Banana 11 mg
(Source for data: Duester, K.C., JADA 101(4), 2001, and Wihrauch, J.L. & Gardner, J.M., JADA 73(1), 1978.)
Top 5 Fruits for Lutein Content

(Per 100g Raw, Edible Portion Fruit)

  • Avocado 293 mcg
  • Plum 240 mcg
  • Kiwifruit 180 mcg
  • Pear 110 mcg
  • Grapes 72 mcg
(Source for data: UCLA Center for Human Nutrition and USDA Carotenoid Database.)

©Copyright 2001. All Rights Reserved. Health Science is the publication of the National Health Association. This article reprinted from the Fall 2001 issue.

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