Experience California. Try an avocado.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

August 2009

For all of California's bad press the state does have something good to share: the avocado. Maybe the place deserves to be called the land of fruits and nuts but one of those fruits just happens to be one of the most nutritious plant foods around: the avocado. But like martinis and oysters, the average person needs to acquire a taste for them.

Preparing avocado slices to put in a salad or on a BLT sandwich takes a little work but Easterners who enjoy chestnuts during the Christmas holidays can probably relate to that. And look at what you get for your effort.

To the calorie-conscious, this fat-laden fruit seems like a no-no but a whole one has only about 300 calories and it takes only about one-quarter of an average-sized avocado to make up a serving. Nearly 90 percent of the fat is the healthy kind: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

There is no cholesterol in any plant foods but a regular intake of avocados lowers total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and raises HDL (good) cholesterol. The ingredient responsible for these benefits is beta-sitosterol and avocados have several times as much of this phytonutrient as any other fruit.

Like most plant-based foods, avocados are high in two nutrients that are pitifully lacking in the typical American diet, potassium and fiber. Avocados contain more potassium than most fruits do, even bananas. Half of an avocado provides about as much fiber as most people eat all day.

The benefits of a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables include a variety of vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients. That could help to explain why cancer, especially that which involves the intestinal tract, is less likely to occur in population groups whose diet include lots of fruits and vegetables. There is no specific evidence that eating avocados lowers cancer risk in humans but laboratory studies of cells derived from human mouth cancer point in that direction.

One of the nutrients in avocados is lutein, a phytonutrient that has consistently been linked to a reduction in cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading causes of blindness in older persons.

Nutritionists note that the sodium content of avocados is very low. Not that it matters much. Who would think of eating guacamole without salty chips to dip into it and drinking a margarita from a salt-rimmed glass!

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.