WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Consuming an entire avocado a day may seem like treacherous territory to health-conscious individuals trying to lose or maintain weight due to its high calorie count and fat level. Recent research, however, demonstrates that the fruit (yes, avocados are a fruit!) contains many nutritious elements that contribute to a balanced, heart-healthy diet.1
WHY THIS MATTERS
The National Institutes of Health report that more than one-third (35.7%) of adults are considered to be obese and almost 3 in 4 men and women (74%) are considered to be overweight or obese in the United States.2 Overweight and obese individuals are at risk for a host of negative health outcomes, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (excess fat and inflammation in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol), osteoarthritis (a health problem causing pain, swelling, and stiffness in one or more joints), some types of cancer: breast, colon, endometrial (related to the uterine lining), and kidney; and stroke.2
Heart disease (also known as cardiovascular disease, or “CVD”) refers to a clustering of diseases that affect your heart. Of the top ten causes of death for adults, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heart disease ranks at number one, and stroke comes in at number six.3 Diet is a major contributing factor that influences the likelihood of preventing or developing CVD. The foods you eat can promote healthy arteries and veins and enable blood to flow easily and freely to the heart, as food influences your cholesterol level.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. High LDL levels put excessive stress on the heart, making it much harder for the heart to pump blood effectively throughout the body. HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, helps remove bad LDL cholesterol from the arteries.4 HDL keeps arteries flexible and enables blood to flow freely to the heart.
Which foods promote heart health? Foods contain various levels and different types of fats, and there is often confusion regarding which fats and how much fat to incorporate into your diet. It’s helpful to think of fats in three distinct categories: the good, the bad and the ugly.5
The Good: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated (MUFA)
- Food sources: oils, fatty fish, nuts, seeds and avocados.
- These foods get the green light because they help lower LDL levels and provide your body with essential fats it needs but can’t produce itself.
The Bad: Saturated
- Food sources: beef, pork and chicken fat; cheese, butter and tropical oils.
- These foods get the yellow light because they can increase LDL levels and can lower HDL levels.
The Ugly: Hydrogenated Oils and Trans Fats
- Food sources: partially hydrogenated oils, fried foods, some baked goods and margarine.
- These foods get the red light because they not can not only raise LDL and lower HDL, but also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you’re aiming to promote heart health, research has shown that regularly eating avocados can help. Researchers assigned 45 overweight and obese study participants to three types of cholesterol-lowering diets for five weeks each: a low-fat diet, a moderate-fat diet and the avocado diet. The moderate-fat diet and avocado diet were similar in their type and amount of fat.
Researchers found that consuming one avocado a day on the avocado diet resulted in more CVD benefits compared to the low-fat or moderate-fat diets. The avocado diet provided benefits beyond just the healthy fat content, leading to reductions in many factors that contribute to CVD, particularly through lowering LDL levels and raising HDL levels. The additional benefits on the avocado diet may be due to the phytosterol (a group of compounds found in plant-based foods that have been found to help lower cholesterol) and fiber content of the avocados. Once again, a whole food confers benefits beyond its individual components. So, let your taste buds enjoy guacamole just as much as your heart does!
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