Just like organic extra-virgin olive oil, avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) which our bodies quickly burn for energy; they are what’s considered the right type of fat. On top of that, avocados are also low in natural sugars – a double win.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University analyzed the effects avocados have on cardiovascular risk factors by swapping saturated fats from the average American diet of overweight and obese volunteers with MUFAs coming from an entire avocado. Other than being overweight, all 45 men and women, aged between 21 and 70 years, were healthy, non-smokers with average or well-controlled blood pressure levels.
First, the volunteers spent two weeks consuming an average American diet with 34 percent of their daily calories coming from fat, 51 percent from carbohydrates and 16 percent from protein. After two weeks, they were either put on a low-fat or a moderate-fat diet without avocado, or a moderate-fat diet with one additional avocado per day.
For the study, the researchers used Hass avocados – the ones with bumpy, dark green to black skin commonly found in most grocery stores. During the five-week avocado experiment, the researchers reported that compared to the baseline average American diet, bad cholesterol was 13.5 mg/dL lower after consuming the moderate-fat diet that included an avocado every day.
In addition, the avocado consuming group showed more favorable blood measurements when it came to total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL and non-HDL cholesterol, among other factors. As noted by Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., senior study author, chair of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee, and distinguished professor of Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, these parameters are all important cardio-metabolic risk factors. (RELATED: Find more information about how to protect your heart at Heart.news.)
While Kris-Etherton implied that more research is needed before new nutrition policy recommendations can be made, consumers can already start reaping the benefits by adding an avocado a day to their heart-healthy diet. Though avocados are not yet a mainstream food in America, they are rapidly gaining popularity in many homes. While most people are still uncertain about how to use this fat-rich fruit, avocados are a versatile food that can be added to many of your meals. In addition to guacamole, Kris-Etherton recommends adding avocados to salads, smoothies or sandwiches, and vegetable, chicken or fish dishes.
Since saturated fats can increase bad cholesterol levels and raise the risk of cardiovascular diseases, the researchers stressed the importance of replacing saturated fats in the diet with heart-healthy MUFAs or polyunsaturated fatty acids to lower the odds of heart disease.
The researchers also noted that other beneficial bioactive compounds such as fiber, phytosterols, polyphenols and other beneficial phytochemicals in the Hass avocados could have contributed to the cholesterol-lowering and heart-protective effects. Therefore, it is important to make whole avocados part of your heart-friendly diet.
"This was a controlled feeding study, but that is not the real-world -- so it is a proof-of-concept investigation. We need to focus on getting people to eat a heart-healthy diet that includes avocados and other nutrient-rich food sources of better fats," Kris-Etherton said.
Previous research has shown that the Mediterranean diet – which includes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, and MUFA-rich foods – not only includes healthier fats, but also contains certain micronutrients and bioactive compounds that may play a crucial role in reducing the risk of heart disease.