Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wellness Wednesday: Avocados

I decided to write about the health benefits of avocados because they are one of my favorite foods, but they tend to get a bad rap because they are higher in fat than other fruits. While that is true, there are many good things about avocados, including the fat they contain. Here is why avocados should not be avoided:

- They can help defend against certain cancers (namely oral cancer and breast cancer) and inhibit the growth of prostate cancer.

- Avocados are good for your eyes. They are high in carotenoid lutein, which protects against cataracts and macular degeneration. In fact, avocados have the highest levels of carotenoid lutein than any other commonly consumed fruit.

- Avocados have high amounts of vitamin E, folate, and potassium. Potassium helps keep your blood pressure in check. Folate is good for your heart and helps prevent strokes. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps prevent cancer.

- Avocados can help lower cholesterol levels. Beta-sitosterol is another compound found in high levels in avocados. Beta-sitosterol helps to lower cholesterol levels. Avocados, like most plant-based foods, do not have any cholesterol either. This is also where the fat levels come into play. Avocados are high in mono-unsaturated fats. These are the "good" fats that we sometimes hear about and they help to remove cholesterol from the body.

- Avocados are also very high in protein and fiber, more so than most other fruits.

So now you know what a nutritional powerhouse avocados are, you are ready to go out and buy some right? If you have never bought avocados before, here is some brief information on choosing and preparing an avocado.

- There are two main types of avocados: California/Haas and Florida avocados. The Hass avocado is smaller with a pebbly skin and range in color from green to purplish-black. The Florida avocado is much larger with smooth, shiny green skin. I prefer the Haas, as I find them to be much more flavorful.

- The best way to tell the ripeness of an avocado is to check the stem. If it comes off easily, the avocado is ripe. Do not choose bruised or soft fruit and do not squeeze the fruit as avocados do bruise easily.

- It is often best to buy avocados before they have ripened and then bring them home and place them in a paper bag. Within a day or two, they will have ripened.

- Do not place avocados in the refrigerator, as they get mushy.

- To cut open an avocado, slice in half, around the center pit. Then gently twist the two halves apart. You will be able to remove the pit easily with the tip of a spoon if the avocado is ripe. Another way is to whack the pit with a knife and then gently turn the knife and lift the pit out. If you are only using half of the avocado, leave the pit in the other half and wrap in cellophane to prevent the fruit from discoloration.

- Avocados are very versatile and can be eaten many ways. You can use them in recipes like guacamole, smoothies, or salad dressing. You can dice them up and use them on salad. Slice them up and use them on burgers or sandwiches. I also like to mash mine and spread on sandwiches in place of mayo. They are also yummy eaten as is. I sprinkle mine with a little garlic salt for a yummy treat.

How do you eat avocados? Do you have any great avocado tips to share?

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