By Dr. Shari Jainuddin,ND
Avocados have been all the rage for the last decade or so. Don’t get me wrong, I have been incorporating them into my diet any way I can. But when I was growing up in the Midwest, I don’t think I ever saw an avocado in my house. Store bought guacamole was close as it got. That was a long time ago and our food system has all sorts of fruits and vegetables accessible (at least physically) in most parts of the country. Now that I’ve taken root in California, it seems timely for me to take a closer look at this local fruit (a large berry actually) that has yet to fade from the limelight.
So what makes them so dang special? There is such a thing as “good fat” and avocados have the goods. In fact, they are the only fruit that contains monounsaturated and some polyunsaturated fat. Here is a quick explanation of what that means. A fat molecule has a chain of connected carbon atoms. Fats that have two hydrogen atoms on each carbon in that chain means it is “saturated”. (No more room at the inn!) Thus, monounsaturated fats (mono meaning one) have one carbon in the chain that has only one hydrogen instead of two and that qualifies that molecule as being “unsaturated”. This lack of a hydrogen causes the carbon to have a double bond with the carbon next to it, which also creates a kink in the chain. Because there is a kink in the chain, molecules can’t pack as tightly together and will stay liquid at room temperature (as with olive oils). To loop back to polyunsaturated fats (poly means more than one), they have more than one carbon in the chain that does not have a second hydrogen and thus is also “unsaturated”, a little more unsaturated than the monounsaturated fat actually, and will have more than one kink in its chain too. Think of saturated fats as stacking together like a deck of new cards and unsaturated fats as trying to stack cards that have all been bent in some way one or more times; they don’t stack as tightly.
What’s the big deal about good fats? I remember a time when we were told all fats were bad. That is not the case anymore. Good fats can reduce “bad” cholesterol levels (we also know that not all cholesterol is bad), reduce inflammation, and reduce the risk cardiovascular disease and events. As a fat, they can increase absorption of nutrients that are fat-soluble, such as vitamins A, D, K, and E. Avocados themselves contain vitamins A, C, E and a smattering of the B’s, especially folate (B-9). The nutrient fun doesn’t stop there. If you’re talking about potassium, this berry has the banana beat and is also rich in fiber, which the standard American diet typically lacks. These are just the some of the sweet highlights of this savory fruit. With so many health benefits on its resume, it is no wonder why the avocado is still holding center stage.