Amazing Avocados

Avocados are a delicious and healthy fat source loaded with nutrition, and they help the body absorb more nutrients from other healthy foods. One avocado provides 9 grams of fiber, 36% of the daily value of vitamin K, and 20% of the daily value of vitamins C and B6. Avocados contain 60% more potassium than bananas, which may help reduce blood pressure and to protect against heart disease and other circulatory problems. One avocado contains 30% of your daily value of folate, which may help lower your risk of getting heart disease. Avocados contain other heart-healthy ingredients, including vitamin E, glutathione (an antioxidant), and mono-unsaturated fats. An avocado also contains a whole host of other vitamins – thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, as well as minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese.

While there are 21 grams of fat in one avocado, nearly all of it is healthy fat that lowers cholesterol. This fat also enhances nutrient absorption from other fruits and vegetables that are eaten with the avocado. Research has shown that the absorption of fat-soluble lycopene and beta-carotene (two key carotenoid antioxidants) increases significantly (between 200 – 400%) when fresh avocado or avocado oil is eaten with a salad consisting of romaine lettuce, spinach, and carrots. Avocado added to salsa and other fruits and vegetables increase carotenoid absorption as well.

The 227 nutrient-dense calories from one avocado (or 25 calories per tablespoon) are easier to justify if you substitute it for unhealthy fats like butter, margarine, and mayonnaise. Avocados have half the calories, plus the nutritional advantage other fats don’t offer.

Avocado is relatively low-carb food, with about 19% of its calories coming from carbohydrates. It’s also low in sugar, with about 1 gram of sugar per avocado, placing it very low on the glycemic index. At the same time, one average-size avocado provides about 13 grams of dietary fiber and 4 grams of protein, making it an important dietary source to help control blood sugars.

Researchers believe that the avocado’s amazing carotenoid diversity is a key factor in its anti-inflammatory properties. The list of carotenoids found in avocados includes well-known carotenoids like beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lutein, as well as several lesser-known carotenoids.

An avocado’s creamy consistency makes it one of the first fresh fruits that babies can enjoy, and it can be an important part of your baby’s growth and development.

Avocados do not ripen until picked, so fresh ones will be as hard as rocks. Look for fruits with an even, unblemished texture, a uniformly hard or soft feel over its entire surface, and one that feels heavy for its size. The flesh of ripe avocados will yield when pressed gently. However, ripe ones bruise easily with excessive handling in the markets, so it is best to ripen your own at home.

To ripen, place the avocado in a brown paper bag and store at room temperature for 2 to 5 days, away from direct sunlight. The addition of an apple, pear, or kiwi to the bag will speed up the ripening process. Do not store unripened fruit in the refrigerator. After being chilled, they don’t ripen properly. Once ripe, they can be stored in the refrigerator, unpeeled, for up to two weeks.

The greatest concentration of carotenoids in an avocado is located in the dark green flesh that lies just beneath the skin. Once the avocado is cut in half, try peeling the skin off to obtain the most of this dark green layer.

To store the unused half, place a few slices of raw red onion in the bottom of a storage container. The half of avocado that contains the pit should be placed on the red onions, pit side down, so the onions are in contact with the meat of the avocado. Seal the container with a lid and store in the refrigerator. This storage method is the most effective way to keep the unused avocado from turning grayish brown.  Just scrape off the top layer of the stored avocado if some browning occurs.

Avocados only freeze well if they are mashed. Add one teaspoon lime or lemon juice per avocado and mix well. Use a freezer-weight ziplock bag and fill the bag with mashed avocado. Remove the air from the bag, then zip closed and freeze.

Instead of spreading mayo or cream cheese on your sandwich or hamburger, use mashed avocado or avocado slices instead. Spicy Avocado Spread also makes a delicious sandwich or a flavorful addition to grilled chicken or fish. Add chunks of avocado with some freshly grated Romano cheese to a green salad. This decreases the need for as much salad dressing (light balsamic vinaigrette goes well with avocado) while enhancing the salad’s taste and nutrition. Diced avocados are wonderful additions to tortilla soup, black bean soup, or pesole soup; add them just prior to serving. Don’t forget to add avocados to tacos and burritos as well as Mexican green salads. Try this Avocado Black Bean Roasted Corn Salad for an easy, healthy, and delicious dish to bring to parties and cook-outs. Avocados are great in smoothies and as a fat substitute in many desserts. Frozen Lime Pie is good as well as my Chocolate Mint Pie. The possibilities are endless.

Take this month’s Healthy Challenge and replace unhealthy fats in your diet with avocados. Add nutrition along with a great taste and you’ll get a healthy feeling of satisfaction.