Ingredient of the Month: Avocado
Rich, smooth and creamy, avocado are one of my favorite foods, and something I eat them pretty much every day! They’ve become such a staple in my family’s diet that they’re missed when we run out and have neglected to restock the pantry! I keep insisting that one day, I’m going to grow my own avocado trees!
Avocados have a reputation for being one of nature’s superfoods, but did you know that they’re actually a fruit? Technically, they’re the fruit of the avocado tree, and are botanically a large berry that contains a single large seed. Native to Mexico and Central America, avocados are not sweet, but distinctly and subtly flavored, with a smooth, buttery texture, and are used in both savory and sweet dishes, though in many countries not for both. Here in North America, they’re commonly mistaken for a vegetable, and are frequently added to salads or play the leading roll in any guacamole recipe!
Nutritional curriculum vitae
This unassuming fruit can easily be ranked as one the world’s healthiest foods. Bursting at the seams with nutrients, avocados are an excellent source of fat soluble vitamins A, E and K, and water soluble vitamins B and C. Featured minerals include magnesium, potassium, iron and copper.
Unlike it’s fruity relatives, the humble avocado is high in protein and low in sugar. What’s more, avocados contain more soluble fiber than most foods, which helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, facilitate bowel regularity and maintain healthy weight. One cup of avocado has 23% of the daily value for folate, a nutrient important for heart health.
Packed with phytonutrients, avocados are disease-fighting superheroes, containing anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce the risk of inflammatory and degenerative disorders that can affect every part of the body including joints, internal organs, the skin and connective tissue.
Ongoing research promotes avocado for it’s cancer-fighting prowess. One study published results maintaining that the phytochemical content in avocados are so robust that they could bypass the need for chemotherapy for patients with oral cancer. Another study shows that an extract of avocado’s phytonutrients inhibits the growth of both androgen-dependent and androgen-independent prostate cancer cells. Researchers have also noted that the significant amount of monounsaturated fat in avocados plays and important role in cancer-busting. Indeed the rich oleic acid content has been show to offer significant protection against breast cancer.
Plentiful with healthy fats
Avocados are composed of approximately three-quarters fat. Yes, you read that right! But before you freak out, be assured that its the healthy sort of fat! Being one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fats in the world, these fats have been shown to reverse insulin resistance and regulate blood sugar levels. Also, the high fat content of avocados is a benefit because it means that this fruit is low in sugar, and a much better source of energy than the high fructose content found in most fruits.
It’s understandable if you’re still a little skeptical about whether the fat in avocados is healthy. But be assured; there is a growing body of evidence that supports this fact. One study verified that an avocado-enriched diet can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels in adults who had excess levels of cholesterol in their blood stream. Another study shows that by replacing “heart healthy” whole grain with avocado in a typical diabetic diet can improve triglyceride levels without adverse side effects. Yet another study confirms that regular avocado intake has more benefits for blood cholesterol levels then a diet based on carbohydrates. In light of all of this, it can be concluded that the fat in avocados is indeed good for you!
The perfect avocado
Choosing the perfect avocado depends on color, softness and when you plan to eat it. Here are a few guidelines when purchasing avocados:
Bright green and hard, it will take about 3-4 days to ripen
Dark green, but still firm, it will take 1-2 days to ripen
Very dark green and feels slightly soft, it is ready to eat
If the avocado is dark and squishy, it’s too ripe and likely bruised
Another way to assess the ripeness is to remove the stem, leaving a small hole that provides yet another clue:
The hole is light-green, the avocado is either ripe and ready to eat, or not yet ripe - giving it a gentle squeeze can help determine it’s ripeness
The hole is brown, then the avocado is probably over-ripe
Ripening avocados can be done by simply leaving them out on the counter, but if you’re in a hurry to eat them, store the avocados in a brown paper bag with an apple. Once ripe, they can be stored in the refrigerator in the vegetable crisper, and will keep for 5 to 7 days.