Written By: Crystal Rice

Photo By: Gerard Paquette Photography

Functional foods provide health benefits beyond basic nutrients and may help reduce the risk of acute and chronic illnesses.

Just think, would you put bad gas in a luxurious Mercedes? Ditch butters and hydrogenated oils and fill up your body’s tank with premium fats.  Not all fats are created equal, so do not hesitate to reach for some fresh avocados on your next grocery trip if you want your body to reap all the benefits this functional food has to offer.  This rich fruit has earned its fame from being the base ingredient in guacamole and has often been given a bad name due to its high fat content.  But lets get the story straight, avocados are a nutrient-dense food with numerous research-based health benefits. Adding avocados to your meal plan can help meet the government’s recommendations for daily servings of fruits, fiber, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals. So whether you are trying to eat healthy or a competitive athlete, listen up to get the most bang for your buck!

Health Benefits

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 is based on the key principle that nutrients should come from foods (Reference 3).  Americans are under consuming essential nutrients in their diets while over consuming foods loaded with bad fats and cholesterol (Reference 3). Avocados are packed full of essential nutrients with the star players being dietary fiber, potassium, vitamins B6, K and E.  Potassium is vital for a regular heart beat, maintaining fluid balance within the body, and helping control muscle contraction (Reference 4). Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and powerful antioxidant that reduces the body’s tissues from damage and promotes healthy skin and hair. Vitamin B6 is used by the body to help metabolize proteins and amino acids, while Vitamin K is responsible for blood clotting and has been shown to increase bone density (Reference 4).

Disease Prevention

Research has shown that the nutrients found in avocados may help prevent inflammation while its antioxidant components may providanti-cancer benefits. (Reference 2).  The monounsaturated (good) fats found in avocados have been shown to promote heart health. A major risk factor for heart disease is an increased LDL (bad) cholesterol which is associated with an increased intake of saturated (bad) fats. Monounsaturated fats, when eaten in moderation and in place of saturated fats, can decrease the risk heart disease and even help reduce blood cholesterol levels (Reference 3).  This super fruit has additional heart-healthy advantages since they are naturally free of trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.

How to Enjoy

Avocado has a creamy texture with the power to transform your meals and leave your taste buds satisfied. Try substituting mayonnaise or high calorie salad dressings by mashing up an avocado to use as a sandwich spread or mixed in salads.  One serving is 1 ounce or 2 Tbsp which contains 50 calories, 3g carbs and 4.5g fat (Reference 1).  In comparison, 2 Tbsp butter has 204 calories, 61 mg cholesterol, 23 g fat, 14.6 g saturated fat, and 164 mg sodium (Reference 1).  This dark green fruit, which is grown in California and Florida, is ripe and ready when it is slightly soft with no sunken spots. When storing an already cut up avocado, sprinkle lemon juice on the top before placing in an air tight bag to prevent browning.  Avocado slices with salmon, sweet onion, and lime juice makes for a tasty and physique-friendly meal.

References:
1)  California Avocado Commission. 2012. http://www.avocado.org/nutrition/
2)  World’s Healthiest Foods. 2012. http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=5
3) U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC.
4)  Peckenpaugh, Nancy. 2003. Nutrition Essentials and Diet Therapy. 9th Edition. Chapter 4. Elsevier Science.

Crystal Rice is a registered nurse, certified personal trainer, and nationally-qualified bikini competitor. She received her Bachelor’s of Science in nursing from Ramapo College of New Jersey and is pursuing a Master’s of Science in health systems management from the University of Virginia. Rice started competing in the sport of figure in 2007 and is now a WBFF competitor, fitness model and Total Body Advantage athlete.