No matter what kind of healthy eating principles you follow, avocados can be a staple superfood. It's no secret, either, as avocado consumption in the U.S. has tripled since 2001, according to the USDA, and the average American now eats 8 pounds of them a year.
So, what exactly are the benefits of avocados? Here's a look at what the fruit (yep, it's a fruit!) can do for your gut, skin, and overall health.
Benefits of avocados.
Avocados are filled with healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals that support our overall well-being in a few key ways:
They support heart health.
Beta-sitosterol is a phytosterol that is similar in structure to cholesterol and leads to lower levels of cholesterol in the body via the hepatobiliary system (through excretion).
They promote a healthy gut.
You may not associate avocados with fiber, but they have a fair amount of it. "A medium-sized avocado contains 3.4 grams of fiber—11% of our suggested daily value," says Heather Munnelly, FNTP, a functional nutritional therapy practitioner. "Whole food fiber leads to a diverse and robust microbiota. The healthier our gut bacteria are, the healthier we are."
Wilson adds that with a healthy gut and adequate fiber comes regular bowel movements—an essential part of the body's detoxification system.
They moisturize and nourish the skin.
Munnelly says that most fruits contain high amounts of sugar that are then quickly digested by the body. Avocados are different, however, and instead contain high levels of oleic acid, the same fatty acid found in avocado oil and olive oil. Oleic acid has several health benefits, but a big one is related to skin health.
They can help lower inflammation in the body.
"Avocados are packed with anti-inflammatory compounds like carotenoids, vitamins C and E, and phenolic compounds," says Wilson. "All of these substances have been shown to protect against oxidative damage and chronic disease while improving cognitive function."
Oleic acid plays a role here, too, says Munnelly. Previous research has found that diets high in oleic acid have a positive impact against inflammatory-related diseases4 and activate the pathways of certain immune-boosting cells.
Avocados are also a great source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid. ALAs have been shown to lessen inflammatory damage for those with colitis5, and have neuroprotective effects6.
They can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Avocados are often touted as a food that helps people lose weight, particularly belly fat. But does eating avocados really support a healthy weight?
Not exactly. "While avocados don't directly burn fat, they are a good source of nutrients to support weight loss or maintain weight," Wilson explains. "The high fat and fiber content in avocados can help people feel more satiated, which helps to regulate appetite. And we know that people who eat fiber-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, tend to maintain a healthier body weight7 compared to those who don't."
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association helps bust the belly fat myth. The subjects were split into two groups: One group ate a large avocado every day for six months, while the other made no changes to their diet. After six months, the researchers found no differences in belly fat between the two groups. However, the group that ate a daily avocado did experience a decrease in total and LDL cholesterol.
"This proves an important point: There are no silver bullets in nutrition," says Munnelly. "Eating avocados but doing 10 other things in your daily life that contribute to high cholesterol and extra belly fat might not get you the results you're looking for."
Strengthens eye health.
Perhaps this is an unexpected benefit of avocados, but Wilson says they are rich in two carotenoids: lutein and zeaxanthin. "These two phytochemicals are found in eye tissue and help protect against eye damage8, like that from UV light," she says.
The carotenoids in avocados are especially important because they have a built-in absorption benefit—intrinsic fats in the fruit help enhance the bioavailability and absorption of these fat-soluble carotenoids.
Avocados nutritional value.
- Calories: 130
- Fat: 12 grams (The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 25-35% of total calories)
- Fiber: 6.7 grams (Roughly 3% of the RDA depending on age and gender)
- Protein: 2 grams (The RDA is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight)
- Magnesium: 29 mg (9% of the RDA for women and 7% for men)
- Folate: 81 mcg (20% of the RDA for men and women)
How many avocados should you eat a day?
One reason to love avocados is that they're super versatile: You can eat your avo in guacamole, smother it on a slice of toast, add it to your smoothie for extra creaminess, or add it as a garnish to an omelet, salad, or chili. Research has even found that eating avocado alongside other whole plant foods helps increase the body's absorption of phytonutrients such as beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, adds Munnelly.
As a general rule of thumb, Munnelly recommends sticking to one-half an avocado as the standard serving size with your meal or as a snack. Avocados are particularly beneficial if you follow a ketogenic diet or Mediterranean diet pattern due to their nutrient composition of healthy fats.
Here are just a few nourishing ways to eat (or wear!) your avocado to reap the benefits.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention this widespread phenomenon. A nutrient-dense combo of bread (preferably whole grain) with avocado, avocado toast is a good source of healthy fat that's easy to customize. Add your own creative additions with plant-based options like tomatoes or vegan cheese, or top with a fried egg or smoked salmon. This Detox Bruschetta Recipe is one of our favorites.
- Hair masks: The oils in avocados are so potent they can penetrate the hair shaft to moisturize it rather than sitting on top of the hair. Plus, healthy fats help prevent hair breakage, hair care expert Muhga Eltigani previously told mindbodygreen.
- Face masks: The vitamins in avocados (specifically vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and pantothenic acid) fight against free radicals10 and can help minimize sun damage to the skin.
Sustainability of avocado & how to minimize waste.
Avocados grow best in the warm, humid conditions of South and Central America. This means that in the U.S., "avocados often need to be shipped long distances to reach the supermarket," says Munnelly. "We know that transportation is a significant contributor to climate change gas emissions11. When possible, try to purchase avocados that are grown as close to you as possible."
Not to mention, according to a water footprint calculator, it takes 60 gallons of water to grow just one avo.
To help reduce the environmental impact of the fruit, Wilson also recommends buying avocados that are labeled Fair Trade and/or organic. When you're done enjoying your avo, the leftover pits can even be used to dye your clothes a wonderful shade of pink!
It's always a bummer to reach for an avocado and find that it's still not quite ripe.
A hard, green avocado typically needs four to seven days to ripen. However, there are a few tricks you can use to speed up this process. For instance, Munnelly recommends wrapping your avocados in tin foil and placing them in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.
"To store cut avocado and prevent it from getting brown and mushy, squeeze some fresh lemon juice on it and place it in an airtight container," says Munnelly. "Cold water will also work if you don't have lemon juice on hand. It helps if you don't remove the pit before storage." Here are more hacks to keep your avocados fresh.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much avocado should I eat in a day?
A half to a whole avocado is plenty to reap the nutritional value and health benefits, without going overboard on calories or fat content.
Do avocados burn belly fat?
Nope. But the fat and fiber in an avocado will keep you satisfied for longer, helping you maintain a healthy weight and reduce cravings.
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but an avocado a day can also provide lots of health perks for your gut, your heart, and even your hair. Beware, however, that the avocados you find in the grocery store tend to have a pretty hefty carbon footprint. Maybe it's time to grow your own backyard avocado tree?
Colleen Travers is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health, nutrition, diet, fitness, and wellness trends for various publications and brands. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, SHAPE, Fit Pregnancy, Food Network, and more. She lives on Long Island with her two kids, two rescue pets, and husband.