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The real health benefits of avocado

According to believers, the creamy green fruit helps with weight loss, cancer prevention and boosting heart health. But how much of that is true?

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Avocado

Image, Roberto Caruso.

Avocados are often sold as nutrient-dense, good-fat-filled superfoods that can improve your heart health, prevent eye disease and help you shed pounds. Recent headlines even claim they might fight leukemia. But is it actually possible that there’s so much good in your guac? We dip into the science to find out.

Are avocados good for your heart?

Yes, as long as you’re eating them instead of saturated fats. A 2015 Cochrane Review found that cutting down on saturated fats reduces the risk of heart disease by about 17 percent — but you can’t just lower your overall fat intake; you have to sub in other fats instead.

Enter the avocado. It’s a quality source of monounsaturated fat (a.k.a good fat), and “there’s a lot of research pointing to the health benefits of monounsaturated fats,” says Sheila Kealey, an Ottawa-based nutrition researcher who works with the University of California at San Diego. Although polyunsaturated fats (like olive oil) are best for your heart, monounsaturated fats seem to work as well. Bonus: Avocados are also rich in phytosterols, which help lower cholesterol levels.

Can avocados help you lose weight?

It’s tricky. Avocados have a lot of calories — about 230 of them per medium-sized avocado. But they’re also full of fat and fibre, which makes them very filling. Just be mindful of your daily calorie intake. “If you’re replacing potato chips with avocados, that’s probably a good thing,” Kealey says. “If you’re just adding them to your diet, not so much.”

Do avocados help fight cancer?

A recent study, led by researchers at the University of Waterloo in partnership with the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), inspired headlines like “An avocado a day keeps leukemia away.” But those stories failed to point out that the researchers were actually looking at avocatin B, a compound found in avocado seeds, not in the flesh that we normally eat — and that they were injecting the compound directly into leukemia cells grown in a lab. These compounds could eventually lead to a new leukemia drug. But it certainly doesn’t mean your avocado on toast is now a cancer-fighter.


Related: The real health benefits of coconut oil


Can avocados can help reduce birth defects?

Maybe. They’re a good source of folate, which reduces the risk of spina bifida, a birth defect that became more common as we shifted away from fruits and vegetables and towards processed foods. Still, Health Canada advises women of childbearing age to take a folic acid supplement in addition to eating a healthy diet.

Are avocados full of vitamins and minerals?

Avocados are packed with nutrients. “What’s neat about avocados is that they’re a whole food, so they bring fibre, potassium and magnesium,” says Kealey. Avocados are also high in vitamin E (which helps boost immunity), vitamin K (which strengthens bones), and lutein (which is good for your eyes). And since a number of meta-analyses suggest that manufactured vitamins can now do more harm than good, we now know that we can only really get the benefits of those vitamins by eating them in foods.

But while avocados are a much better choice than processed foods like margarine, they don’t have an edge in nutrition content over other fruits and vegetables. “Avocados are good for you, but so is basically anything in the produce aisle,” Kealey says.

More: 
23 ways you can use an avocado, from breakfast to dessert
The real health benefits of chia seeds
3 super simple appetizer platters for the holidays

Video: How to pit an avocado