Avocados: Even Healthier than We Thought

Don’t you just love it when you learn that something delicious is actually good for you? Me, too! That’s why I’m passing on some great news about avocados. We’ve known for some time that these fruits (yes, fruits — avocados have seeds) seem to have nutritional super powers. Not only do they provide healthy, monounsaturated fat and 11 grams of fiber, they can help lower your cholesterol and protect you from a long list of diseases.

And now we know that they also improve our absorption of two key nutrients — alpha and beta-carotene. Both are types of vitamin A, which helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucus membranes, and skin. It also promotes good vision and produces the pigments in the retina of the eye.

You are probably most familiar with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives the rich color to orange and yellow fruits and vegetables (think carrots). Less well-known alpha-carotene, also an antioxidant, is pretty powerful stuff — it has been linked with a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, cancer and just about everything else (researchers phrase this as “all causes”). Foods highest in alpha-carotene include broccoli, green beans, green peas, spinach, turnips greens, collards and leaf lettuce.

The news about avocados and alpha and beta-carotene comes from a study at Ohio State University where researchers looked at how avocado boosts our absorption of these two important nutrients. This was a pretty simple study. First the researchers asked 12 healthy men and women to eat an avocado plus some tomato sauce that was high in beta-carotene. They found that compared to eating tomato sauce without avocado, beta-carotene absorption was more than doubled. What’s more, the added avocado more than quadrupled conversion of the inactive form of vitamin A in the tomato sauce to the active form (take my word for it — this is a good thing).

Avocado + Carrots = A Winning Combo

The second phase of the study involved raw carrots and avocado. The researchers reported that the avocado bumped up the absorption of beta-carotene from the carrots 6.6 times. It also boosted absorption of alpha-carotene 4.8 times and increased the conversion of inactive vitamin A to the active form of “A” 12.6 times!

What a great excuse for adding avocado to your raw carrot snacks (but just for the record, the study participants — poor things! — each ate a whole avocado for the tests. You probably won’t eat that much avocado with your carrots, will you?)
By the way, the researchers disclosed that the Haas Avocado Board supported the study and also provided the avocados used.

Avocados certainly belong in the Omni Diet. Try my avocado wrap, which combines avocado with hummus, red bell peppers and bean sprouts. If you’re looking for a kid friendly snack, one of Chloe’s (our ten year old) favorite snacks is mashed avocado on gluten free toast or in a coconut wrap. Or for a surprising treat try my Amazing Avocado Gelato. Kids love it, and so will you.

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