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.

Avocado Medicinal Properties

Quick Facts (Medicinal Properties)
  • Medicinal actionCardioprotective, Hypocholesterolemic
  • Key constituentsOmega-9, omega-3, aliphatic acetogenins
  • Ways to useCapsules, Food, Ointment
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe
Avocado Medicinal Properties

Health Benefits of Avocado

The complex actions of the nutrients in avocado bring a variety of health benefits. Avocados has been shown to contribute with:

  • Regulating cholesterol levels. The healthy fats in avocados have been shown to be effective for reducing LDL, or "bad" cholesterol.

  • Supporting heart health. Avocado consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.

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

  • Reducing inflammation. Scientific studies has shown that consuming avocados can help ease the inflammatory pain caused by arthritis and osteoporosis.

  • Lowering blood sugar levels. Avocados have hypoglycemic properties, which help reduce glucose levels, thus contributing to avoid sugar spikes after meals. For this reason, avocados are ideal for people with hyperglycemia and diabetes.

  • Soothing damaged skin. The healthy oils in avocado act as natural skin moisturizers when applied topically.

How It Works

The main compounds in avocado are healthy fats, mainly omega-9, or oleic acid, which is a mononsaturated fatty acid and makes up to 70% of the ripe fruit (depending on the variety), and omega-3 (a polyunsaturated fatty acid) in lower proportions.

The high monounsaturated fatty acid content in ripe avocados has been shown to improve lipid profile in both healthy individuals and patients with mildly elevated cholesterol levels, even when combined with high triglycerides, which contributes to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

In addition, aliphatic acetogenins, which are phytonutrients exclusive to the avocado fruit, have been shown to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

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.

Avocado Nutrition

Avocado Nutrition

The full nutritional value of avocados is rounded up by copious amounts of vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), C (ascorbic acid), E (tocopherol), and K, as well as minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium.

The avocado fruit also provide very small amounts of minerals, such us calcium, iron, as well as vitamins A (as carotenoids), B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), and B3 (niacin).

In spite of their high fatty content, avocados are a great weight loss friendly food. This is due to their high content of dietary fiber, which provides a prolonged feeling of fullness, thus reducing food cravings between meals.

100 grams of avocado provide 160 calories and 27% of the daily value for dietary fiber.

How to Consume Avocado

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

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.

Natural Forms

  • Raw. Eating raw avocado can regulate cholesterol levels and soothe joint inflammation. Whether it is sliced or crushed, avocado can also be combined with other foods to increase its nutritional value.

  • Powder. After being dehydrated and finely ground, the avocado seed can add nutritional value to juices and smoothies. It also can help regulate blood sugar, reduce inflammation, and aid with constipation.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Oil. Rich in vitamin E and oleic acid, avocado oil is obtained from the seed of the fruit. It moisturizes the skin and promotes hair's health. Additionally, it has a very high smoke point (520°F or 271°C), which makes it great for culinary uses.

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

  • Capsules. Avocado oil capsules contain high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are beneficial for regulating  cholesterol levels, as well as for reducing joint pain.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets

Natural Forms

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.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Avocado supplements, typically in the form of capsules, as well a other avocado products, such as creams and oil can be found at some markets, pharmacies, and specialized health stores. However, online retailers usually store a wide variety of avocado 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 

  • Cosmetics. Because of its healthy oil and creamy texture, as well as its pretty green color and refreshing scent, the avocado pulp makes a great moisturizer agent, used in many personal care products.

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
All About Avocado