We know the avocado as that savory fruit that, like nuts, contains "healthy fat." We smother and smush it onto bread and call it a meal — because, somehow, it's both decadent and simple.
Now there's yet another reason to love the coveted alligator pear. New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has found that eating an avocado a day, as part of an overall diet rich in healthy fats, may help lower our bad cholesterol — known as LDL.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University recruited 45 overweight participants between the ages of 21 and 70 who volunteered to try three different types of cholesterol-lowering diets.
One was a low-fat diet that included lots of fruits, low-fat dairy, poultry, whole grains, and small portions of red meat, but no avocados.
The other two diets were moderately high in fat, with about 34% of total calories consumed per day coming from fat. The types of foods and meals were similar to the low-fat diet, but included more nuts and oils. The only difference between them was that one included a whole avocado a day, while the other didn't include it at all.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that the only diet that included avocados led to significant reductions in LDL cholesterol, compared to the other two diets.
Just how big was the difference, though? Well, the avocado diet decreased LDL cholesterol about 14 milligrams per deciliter of blood, while the low-fat diet caused a decrease of about 7 mg/dL, and the moderate-fat diet lowered it about 8 mg/dL. In other words, a pretty big difference.
The scientists offer possible explanations for the results, saying that avocados provide us with a unique combination of vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytosterols, and other dietary bioactives. Furthermore, the avocado diet provided 35% more fiber than the diets without it.
This means that "avocados may provide greater benefits to cardiovascular disease risk factors compared to a calorie matched low fat diet," said Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., RD, lead author of the study.
It's important to note, however, that this study was funded by the Hass Avocado Board, and to keep in mind that it was a small study that cannot be generalized to all populations. But it does provide further insights on the positive effect of the type of fat in avocados on cholesterol and therefore heart health.
The findings don't necessarily indicate that you should be overloading up on the guac, as good as it is — even if it no longer costs you extra. It's still pretty caloric.
But today, we salute the fruit. How can something be so tasty and luscious and also so good for us at the same time? It's an anomaly, really. A green machine.