The unexpected health benefits of avocado

In addition to its high content of monounsaturated fats beneficial for heart health, the avocado also contains a host of molecules with anti-cancer potential. Take a look at this delicious fruit that deserves to be better known…

Originally from Central America, where it was already cultivated more than 7,000 years ago, the avocado was called “testicle” (ahuacatl) by the Aztecs, probably in reference to its resemblance to the shape of this organ.

Following its discovery by the conquistador Hernan Cortès during the conquest of Tenochtitlan (Mexico) in 1521, the avocado (called aguacate by the Spaniards) was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, where it became a luxury food, reserved to the aristocracy and the wealthy bourgeois. Fortunately for us, the avocado is now grown on a large scale in several countries around the world, allowing easy access to this fruit.

The avocado can stay on the tree for several months and only ripens 6 to 8 days after picking. At the market, a firm avocado is therefore a sign of freshness.

After buying it, you can speed up its ripening by surrounding it with other fruits – bananas, for example – which produce ethylene, a gas essential to fruit ripening.

Avocados are full of “good” fats

One of the main characteristics of the avocado is its very high fat content. Indeed, it is suspected that the very low fat diet of the Aztecs played a determining role in their effort to cultivate the avocado tree and thus obtain a valuable source of essential fats.

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The fats associated with avocado are mostly monounsaturated, like those found in olive oil. These fats have very positive effects on health by increasing the levels of HDL-cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and decreasing those of the LDL-cholesterol (the bad), two actions that considerably reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Although the benefits of monounsaturated fats on these parameters have so far been mainly documented for olive oil, some studies have shown that the addition of avocados to the diet causes similar effects1. So don’t be afraid to eat avocados on the pretext that these fruits are very fatty: on the contrary, it is one of their main qualities!

Hundreds of molecules that prevent cancer

In addition to its high content of good fats, a recent scientific publication shows that the flesh of the avocado also contains several hundred phytochemical molecules that could play a role in the prevention of cancer. In addition to certain molecules very common in the plant world such as flavonoids (quercetin, luteolin, apigenin, etc.) or coumarins (scopoletin), avocados have the particularity of containing alkanols, a class of fat-soluble molecules which shows great inhibitory activity on cancer cells.

For example, several studies have shown that avocado extracts containing some of these molecules (persin, isopersin, persenone) stopped the growth of cancer cells from several different types of cancer, including those of the mouth, breast, prostate and lung.

In Guacamole or as an accompaniment, everything is good

This inhibitory effect seems to be due to the property of molecules extracted from avocado to block the division of cancerous cells, as well as to their ability to cause the death of these cells through the process of apoptosis. Even though further research is needed to better understand the mechanisms responsible for the anticancer effects of these phytochemicals in avocado, there is no doubt that their presence in avocado could have extremely positive impacts for cancer prevention. Whether plain, in guacamole or in combination with different meats or seafood, adding avocados to the diet is a simple way to take advantage of both the delicious taste and the preventive properties of these fruits.

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Lopez Ledesma et al. Monounsaturated fatty acid (avocado) rich diet for mild hypercholesterolemia. Arch. Med. Res.; 27: 519-523.

Ding et al. Chemopreventive characteristics of avocado fruit. week Cancer Biol; 17: 386-394.

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