Avocado

Avocado is a nutritional powerhouse that can help prevent cardiovascular diseases as part of a healthy diet. Find out more about this fruit's many benefits.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Avocado, zaboca
  • Scientific namePersea americana
  • Plant typeTree
  • Main producer(s)Mexico
  • Main Economic UseFood industry
Avocado

Avocado, a fruit originally from Mexico, has been one of the most popular natural foods for centuries. Researchers believe it may have been first cultivated as a food crop in South America after being transported from Mexico around 10,000 BCE. By 900 AD, the avocado was being cultivated in Central and South America, where it was mostly prized for its culinary value and its alleged aphrodisiac properties. Modern science has revealed the tangible benefits of avocado, which are now enjoyed around the world.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionCardioprotective, Hypocholesterolemic
  • Key constituentsOmega fatty acids, aliphatic acetogenins
  • Ways to useCapsules, Food, Ointment
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Avocado

The complex action of avocado's nutrients brings about the following medicinal benefits for avocado consumers:

  • Hypocholesterolemic. The fats found in avocados, omega-3 fatty acids and other polyunsaturated fats, help to lower LDL cholesterol levels.

  • Anti-inflammatory. Because of these anti-inflammatory properties, avocados can ease arthritis and osteoporosis pain.

In addition, avocado can help fight other conditions, such as:

  • Preventing heart attacks or stroke. The heart healthy fats found in avocado help reduce the risk of getting heart disease.

  • Lower blood sugar levels. The healthy fats and oils found in avocados can help reduce glucose levels within the body.

  • Soothing and moisturizing irritated skin. The healthy oils and fats found in avocado help to soak into the skin and moisturize it when applied as a facial mask or body cream.

How It Works

The main reason for avocado's varied medicinal properties is the high nutritional value found in its fruit, in particular omega fatty acids. In addition, recent research in Japan identified a combination of aliphatic acetogenins, which are specific phytonutrients exclusive to the avocado fruit that have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The full nutritional value of avocados is rounded up by the copious amounts of vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), C (ascorbic acid), E (tocopherol), and K, as well as dietary potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium.

Olive and sacha inchi also possess cardioprotective properties, and similar anti-inflammatory benefits can be found in herbs like turmeric and cherry.

Avocado Side Effects

Avocado is likely safe for most people when taken in its food form, although it is possible for some individuals to have an allergic reaction when consuming avocados. In its medicinal form it is possibly safe, even when taken in the long term. However, it may cause mild skin irritation when applied topically if there is a potential allergy or sensitivity to avocados.

Cautions

While it is not common, those who suffer from a latex allergy may potentially suffer from an avocado allergic reaction. For this reason, those who suffer from latex allergies should limit their intake of avocados until they know how it will affect them.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should limit their avocado intake to its food form rather than its medicinal forms. However, consuming avocados is likely safe due to its high monounsaturated fatty acid content.

Also, because avocados are high in calories, those who are trying to lose or manage their weight should limit their avocado intake.

How to Consume Avocado

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFruit
  • Edible usesOil

While there are three main medicinal forms of avocado, the most beneficial means of consuming avocados is in its concentrated capsule form. However, depending on the ailment, consuming avocado is advantageous in all of its states.

Remedies

Main preparations: Capsules, cream

  • Capsules. In its most concentrated forms, avocado oil capsules contain high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are beneficial for lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol levels. Avocado capsules can also reduce joint pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Cream. When applied topically, avocado creams are highly useful soothing irritated skin.

Foods

Main ways: Fresh (sliced or crushed)

In its purest form, avocado has incredibly potent medicinal properties. Eating raw avocado can lower LDL cholesterol levels, thanks to its hypocholesterolemic properties and its high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are a source of good cholesterol. Fresh avocado also has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps soothe arthritis pain when consumed. Whether it is sliced or crushed, avocado can also be combined with other foods to increase its nutritional value.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets

Fresh avocado is available year round in major food markets. Although avocado is typically purchased as the whole fruit, several other forms are also available, such as ready-made guacamole. Raw avocado is easy to find in most grocery stores or local markets around the world. Avocado supplements, typically in the form of capsules, can be found online and stores specializing in natural health products.

In the U.S., the most widely available cultivar of avocado is the 'Hass' avocado, which has a nutty, rich flavor with 19% oil.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFruit
  • Light requirementsPartial shade
  • SoilLoamy sand
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatSubtropical regions
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones0a (< −53.9 °C (−65 °F)), 9a (From −6.7 °C (20 °F) to −3.9 °C (25 °F)), 9b (From −3.9 °C (25 °F) to −1.1 °C (30 °F)), 10a (From −1.1 °C (30 °F) to +1.7 °C (35 °F)), 10b (From +1.7 °C (35 °F) to +4.4 °C (40 °F)), 11a (From +4.4 °C (40 °F) to +7.2 °C (45 °F)), 11b (From +7.2 °C (45 °F) to +10 °C (50 °F))
  • Plant spacing average7 m (22.97 ft)
  • Potential diseasesPhytophthora spp.

Like with many tropical plants, avocados need special care in order to thrive, especially for irrigation. Follow the guidelines below in order to grow an avocado tree:

Growing Guidelines

  • Avocado trees tend to grow best planted in loamy sand soils with a pH of 6.0 - 6.5 and a large quantity of coarse organic matter.

  • Although their resistance to cold will depend upon the variety, as a general rule, they require a temperature always above 32°F (0°C) in order to survive.

  • When irrigating, it is advisable to soak the root system well and let the surface dry before irrigating again.

  • A balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium should be used to fertilize the avocado tree. It can be advantageous to add zinc to this mix, too.

More detailed information about growing avocado can be found in the herb garden section.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Avocado is an evergreen perennial fruit tree, typical of subtropical climates. It possesses a pear-shaped fruit with an immense nutritional value, which has led to its extensive cultivation and crossbreeding. The avocado tree can grow up to 66 feet (20 m) tall and can be recognized by its 5 - 10 inch (12 - 25 cm) long leaves and greenish-yellow flowers. The edible part of the tree, the avocado fruit possesses a single large seed, and can range from 3 - 8 inches (7 - 20 cm) long.

  • Classification
    Avocado is a member of the Lauraceae family, which comprises 2000 species across 50 genera, and it is characterized by flowering trees and shrubs, many of them aromatic, such as bay laurel and cinnamon. Avocado (Persea americana) is one of the around 70 species in the Persea genus that are exclusively from the New World.
  • Varieties and Subspecies of Avocado
    The avocado tree is only partially self-pollinating, which has favored the development of different varieties and cultivars through selective breeding. There are well over 20 varieties of avocado cultivated around the world nowadays, although they all belong to the Mexican, Guatemalan, or West Indian types, depending on their origin.

    In addition, cultivars have been developed to enhance certain aspects of the fruit or the plant's hardiness against cold or pests. The most important cultivars include 'Hass', 'Fuerte', 'Pinkerton', 'Lula', and 'Choquette' avocados. Cultivars that belong to the Mexican type are currently the most widely cultivated worldwide, accounting for approximately 80% of global yield.

Historical Information

Avocados found their way to Europe after the Spanish Conquest, in the early 16th century. They were introduced to South Africa and Australia 300 years later, and nowadays, they are popular around the world.

Economic Data

Mexico remains the number-one provider of avocados, producing over 1 million metric tons every year. Indonesia takes second place, and the U.S. third. Demand sometimes outstrips supply due to avocados being a seasonal plant. Many South American countries provide avocado during the off-season, allowing a strong avocado industry to thrive.

Popular Beliefs

Avocados, native to central Mexico, held great significance for the ancient Aztecs. The name avocado came from the Aztec word ahuácatl, which means testicle. While the name is in reference to the fruit's shape, it was considered a powerful aphrodisiac for the Aztecs, leading the men to keep their daughters inside during the avocado growing season for protection.

Other Uses of Avocado 

Avocado has a smooth and creamy texture, pretty green color, and refreshing scent, which makes it ideal to use in personal care products. Its high healthy fat and oil content also mean it is a good moisturizer and adds shine to hair.

Bibliography

  • USDA Plants Database
  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, p. 122
  • Journal of Food Science, Heat-induced off-flavor in avocado flesh, 1970
  • Archives in Medicinal Research, Monounsaturated fatty acid (avocado) rich diet for mild hypercholesterolemia, 1996
  • The Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts, p. 440
  • Allergy Proceedings, Prevalence of avocado allergy among atopic patients, 1995
  • The Journal of Nutrition, Defatted avocado pulp reduces body weight and total hepatic fat but increases plasma cholesterol in male rats fed diets with cholesterol, 2002