From toast toppings to desserts and smoothies, the versatile avocado is often touted as a health food. Find out about the nutritional highlights of avocados.
A selection of avocados with one split in half
The popularity of the avocado is down to its rich, creamy, velvety texture and mild flavour. The avocado or Persea Americana is a fruit that belongs to the family of Lauraceae; a group that also includes members such as cinnamon and laurel. There are dozens of varieties of avocado ranging in size, colour and texture. All are native to tropical climates and when harvested, the flesh softens to a buttery texture that has become extremely popular in everything from toast toppings to desserts.
Try our favourite healthy avocado recipes.
The Hass and Fuerte avocados are the two main varieties sold in the UK. The Hass avocado hails from Guatemala and has a dark purple/brown, pebbled, slightly rough, thicker skin. The Hass avocado is oval in shape. In contrast the Fuerte avocado, from Mexico has a thin, smooth, brighter green skin. It contains less oil, making it less creamy. The thin skin of the Fuerte is less robust and so often picked under ripe to prevent becoming damaged in transport. As a result Fuerte avocados take longer to ripen – and sometimes don’t – so Hass avocados are often the better bet.
A bowl of avocado, black bean and tomato salad
Avocados are native to Central and South America and did not appear in the UK until the mid-1900s. They are now commercially produced in the US, Caribbean, Mexico, Brazil, Israel and Australia. Sadly the climate restricts avocados growing in the UK.
Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fat and vitamin E. However, avocados are high in calories due to the high fat content. Half an avocado counts as one portion of your 5-a day and those managing their weight might want to consider limiting the number of avocados they consume to two per week while increasing the portions of other lower calorie fruits and vegetables.
Avocados have more soluble fibre than other fruit and contain a number of useful minerals such as iron, copper and potassium and are a good source of the B vitamin, folate.
100g of avocado contains about 19g of fat, of which 12g are monounsaturated fats (only 4g of saturated fat).
The guidance around the types of fat we should be consuming for a healthy diet is ever changing. Currently, it is recommended that we choose unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated fat (like that found in avocados) as they are supposedly better for heart health than saturated fat.
Research suggests that monounsaturated fat helps to protect against heart disease and lowers blood pressure. The oils provided by an avocado include oleic acid and linoleic acid and are therefore recommended as part of a balanced diet to prevent high cholesterol.
There is no doubt that the calorie content of avocados is greater than other fruits and vegetables. One small study has shown the fat content of avocados can lead to feelings of satiety which can help with appetite regulation.
However, as research has developed, the avocado has been commended as a good example of a nutrient dense food. Alongside the benefits outlined above, they are a rich source of antioxidant vitamin E, plus a group of carotenes which are thought to help keep the eyes healthy.
A spicy pasta dish topped with sliced avocado
How to select and store
Avocados are best eaten when they are perfectly ripe. To achieve this, leave them at room temperature for anything up to a week and feel them gently from time to time. When ripe, avocados should feel slightly soft when you apply some pressure.
A firm avocado will ripen in a paper bag over a couple of days or by putting them next to a banana in the fruit bowl. Avocados should not be put in the fridge until they are ripe. Once opened, you can squeeze lemon juice on the flesh to protect it from browning.
Avoid those which are overripe with brown, fibrous flesh as it will taste bitter and mushy and is an indication of rot.