Most people associate avocados with the making of guacamole but their uses and health benefits are extensive, though not widely known. Also known as an alligator pear, an avocado is a large berry with a single seed inside.
An Introduction to Avocado
Native to Central America, avocados are part of the Lauraceae family and are typically grown and cultivated in tropical or Mediterranean climates. They are notoriously difficult to grow given that they only thrive under particular conditions – a constant warm temperature, no frost and little wind – and all parts of the plant are susceptible to disease.
Avocados mature while on the tree, but ripen once they are off the tree. When ripe, the skin is dark green and they feel slightly soft when pressed. Avocados ripen more quickly if placed in a bag with an apple or banana. This is because apples and bananas release ethylene gas which ripens the fruit.
Varieties of avocado
There are hundreds of varieties of avocados, although unlike some other fruit and vegetables, the differences between varieties are not huge. Hass avocados are the most popular, contributing to up to 95% of commercially produced avocados, perhaps because it is one of the tastiest, yet hardiest varieties, and one of the few types with a long growing season.
The biggest competitor of the Hass avocado is often seen as the Reed avocado. It has a rounder shape than the Hass, with pale and creamy flesh. The Reed tree requires less water to survive than the Hass tree.
Although it is possible to source Hass avocados all year round, they are in season in spring and summer. Fuerte avocados, however, are at their best in the autumn and winter months, making them a better option at that time of year. The appearance and taste of the Fuerte is very similar to that of the Hass avocado.
The Zutano avocado is also in season during winter months. The fat content of this avocado is less than the Hass avocado, making it a lighter option, but with the same amount of flavour. It is less creamy in texture.
Avocados have a higher fat content (about 75%) than other types of fruit, but as it is mostly monosaturated fats, this is excellent for those whose diet limits high-fat foods. It has no cholesterol but is packed with vitamins and minerals, in particular, vitamins K, B6 and C, as well as copper, folate and potassium. In fact, avocados contain more potassium for than bananas.
160kcal | 2g protein | 15g fat | 9g carbohydrate | 7g fibre
Avocados are now known as a superfood, due to their many health benefits. Avocados are very high in healthy fat and low in saturated fats. Healthy fats are good for reducing the risk of heart disease, lowering cholesterol and promoting physical and mental well-being.
However, the high quantity of healthy fat is not the only thing for which avocados should be promoted. They are also relatively high in soluble fibre which promotes the growth of good gut bacteria, improving overall digestion and metabolic health.
The absorption of nutrients is important if you are to obtain the most benefit from the food you are eating and avocados have been found to improve the absorption of nutrients from other fruits and vegetables, making them a great addition to salads.
Lutein is an antioxidant which can promote eye health, thus reducing the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Avocados contain high levels of this antioxidant, suggesting that they could be beneficial for your eyes too.