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Whether you're planning to whip up some guacamole or add a few avocado slices to your tacos and burritos this Cinco de Mayo, you may be wondering: Are avocados good for you?
Despite recent reports that avocado prices are on the rise (increased demand paired with a smaller-than-normal crop size has caused prices to shoot to the highest they've been in 19 years), avocados are indeed a healthy addition to any meal.
For decades, the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of “healthy” has been synonymous with low fat, which avocados decidedly are not. But the FDA is currently re-evaluating the term’s meaning on packaged food labels. Right now, a food can be labeled healthy if its fat content is predominantly mono- or polyunsaturated. That’s because the most recent scientific evidence suggests that eating more of those types of fat and less of artery-clogging saturated and trans fats can help your health.
Avocados aren't packaged food, but whether high-fat food can be called healthy is still something many people are confused about. Here's what you need to know about this nutritious and versatile fruit.
Half of a medium avocado has 114 calories and 10 grams of fat. “That’s a lot of fat for a fruit or vegetable, but it is the type of fat we want people to eat,” says Lisa Sasson, M.S., R.D., a clinical associate professor of nutrition at New York University.
About 64 percent of the fat in avocados is monounsaturated, which lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
And in contrast to junk foods, which supply little to no nutrition in exchange for a load of calories, says Sasson, avocados give you a healthy array of vitamins and minerals not often found together in one place. These include folic acid and vitamins B6, C, E, and K.
Avocados are particularly rich in blood-pressure-lowering potassium (avocados have more potassium than bananas) and fiber. Half of an avocado contains almost 5 grams of fiber, about 20 percent of the amount you need in a day.
They also contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are linked to eye health and help to give the fruit’s interior its color. “These antioxidants accumulate in the retina and lens of the eye,” says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser. “There, they are thought to filter the blue UV rays from the sun—which can damage these eye parts—helping to prevent macular degeneration and possibly cataracts.”
Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, other dark green vegetables such as broccoli and zucchini, and egg yolks are also sources of these two healthful compounds. But avocados have the additional perk of being rich in monounsaturated fats, which some research suggests may help reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
Even more beneficial: The fat in avocados helps the body better absorb antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin, not just from the avocado itself but from other fruits and vegetables you eat at the same time. So pairing guacamole with crudités or tossing avocado chunks into a smoothie, salad, or omelet are good vision-saving diet strategies.
What to Do With an Avocado
Avocados’ one-two punch of fat and fiber makes them a particularly filling food. Guacamole is probably the most familiar avocado-based dish, but there are plenty of other ways to use the fruit. “People claim they don’t have time to make breakfast or lunch,” says Sasson, “but all you have to do is cut and mash an avocado with a little salt and pepper, spread it on toast, and top with slices of tomato. In three minutes or less you can have a delicious, healthy meal.”
Other ideas: Whip avocados into smoothies, blend into dressings, work into egg dishes, add to salads, or use to top a burger or in place of butter or mayonnaise on a sandwich; fill halved avocados with chopped veggies and serve as a side; or drizzle slices with a little balsamic vinegar for a snack.
Shopping and Storage Tips
Consumer Reports’ food-safety experts say that conventional avocados from Chile, Mexico, and Peru have very low levels of pesticides.
Choose avocados that are firm; they should ripen in three to four days (though you can speed that up by storing them out of the sun in a paper bag with a banana). That long ripening time means you have to plan your avocado eating. But Sasson notes that it’s a small price to pay for near-perfection in the food world. “Nowadays everybody is eating supplemented and fortified foods,” she says. “Avocados have all of these wonderful nutrients and nothing is added; this is the way we should be eating.”
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