It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago, avocados were only seen topping crunchy snacks, relegated to being the healthiest option in fast food restaurants. Over the last decade, the consumption of avocado has exploded, thanks to a powerful combo of loosened trade restrictions, Mexican food going mainstream, and a newfound place in the pantheon of “health foods”.
Most people probably don’t remember the days when avocados (Persea americana) were called “alligator pears” and used to explode out of California for three weeks a year.
Originally hailing Central America, the avocado tree can grow across almost all Mediterranean and tropical climates. Thanks to this, cultivation has branched out in over 20 different varieties and cultivars of avocado – some juicier, some creamier, and even some Amazonian varieties with a hint of sweetness.
The decadent results of experimenting with this decadent fruit often don’t feel like diet food – so why are avocados so popular on the health food scene?
Can avocados help with weight loss?
Although few would question avocado’s health food credentials at this point, it may still feel like a bit of a stretch to think of avocados as a weight loss staple – at least not on the same level as lettuce and chicken breasts.
Ultimately, weight loss is a matter of calories in versus calories out. This means that, if combined with a smart plan and frequent trips to the pool, treadmill, or squash court, there is no reason for your diet to banish every indulgence. There is no such thing as one perfect weight loss food, and in fact, it could be argued that maintaining variety is key if you are seeking long-term, sustainable results.
How can avocados help you lose weight?
If you still feel you need extra reasons to add avocado to your efforts, add these to the list:
Avocados are nutrient dense
If you are chasing healthy weight loss, then it’s important to ensure every bite is as full of nutrients as possible. Get as much of your nutritional requirements from food, including micronutrients and trace minerals.
The nutritional profile of Hass avocados (the most commonly sold and studied variety) shine on their own: Just half an avocado is a great source of B-group vitamins (especially folate, riboflavin, and niacin) as well as vitamins C, K and E (which is also an effective antioxidant.)
Avocados make a great low-carb breakfast or side
Even if they don’t feel like one, avocados are a fruit – just a very convenient one for those who are trying to go low-carb. The nutritional profile of half an avocado has less than 9 grams of carbs, most of which (up to 7 grams) is fiber.
Avocados keep you full for longer
Low in carbs and high in fats, avocados are digested slowly and keep you fuller for longer. A study performed in California showed that dieters who included one side of avocado to their lunches felt more satiated for up to 5 hours, and experienced smaller blood sugar fluctuations in the evening.
Avocados are full of potassium
No weight loss plan is complete without extra physical activity – sweat included. If you intend to do this safely and frequently, you will need to find a way to replenish your electrolytes without too many added calories.
Often, those seeking to escape the added sugar found in most sports drinks like to reach for the ubiquitous post-workout banana. However, bananas are not your only option: avocados are also high in potassium, with up to 300 mg per serving and a fraction of the sugar content.
Avocados are full of healthy fats
If you are a newcomer to weight loss, chances are you’re not only chasing numbers on a scale. People seeking to improve their blood cholesterol panels, or who are facing a heightened risk of heart disease, will want to pay special attention to avocados.
Avocados are rich in unsaturated fats, which can help you lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, and therefore lower your risk of stroke.
Avocado oil has earned special recognition here thanks to its high content of oleic acid – the fatty acid that provides extra virgin olive oil with most of its health benefits. Unlike olive oil, however, avocado oil has a higher smoking point and can be heated without spoiling the flavor.
Avocados are cheap and available especially when in season
Adjusting to a healthier diet may be a blow to your grocery budget. Unfortunately, not all of us can afford frequent trips to a specialized health foods store to stock up on the latest nutritional trend. Fortunately, avocado consumption has grown enough that they can be considered a staple. During the months of April through June, you may even be able to find them on sale.
Avocados are versatile
Losing weight often feels extra hard for those who enjoy culinary indulgences or experimentation. It can be easy to feel constrained by a monotonous diet if you are sticking to salad and grilled chicken on a daily basis.
For foodies, avocados offer many opportunities to test your cooking skills. From grilled avocado slices to avocado-based desserts, a quick Google search will yield fascinating possibilities for this weekend’s cook-out.
Reasons to be wary of avocados
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the perfect food. If you are struggling with your weight, there are a few reasons to keep your avocado consumption in check.
Avocados are high in calories
Any weight loss effort will require you to pay attention to your serving sizes. However, at 160 calories for just 100 grams of avocado pulp, avocados call for moderation. Calories can quickly add up if you are looking for a power-up between meals – in this case, you may want to reach for an apple or some chopped strawberries instead.
Avocados are relatively low in protein
It’s important to ensure that each one of your meals has enough protein. This matters whether you are trying hard to gain muscle or if you are fighting the slow, creeping weight gain that hits after 50.
For those who are seeking to lose large amounts of weight, however, protein intake is doubly important, as it will protect you from losing muscle mass – which will severely hinder your weight control efforts later on.
Despite its other benefits, the protein content in avocados is unremarkable. When added to a main dish, make sure you pair them up with a lean meat, eggs, or some legumes.
Avocados often summon unhealthy snacks
The combination of mashed avocados, onion, lime juice, and cilantro is almost a match made in heaven, as well as a party platter favorite.
However, it is usually accompanied by nachos, chips, and other unhealthy snack alternatives. Even many common healthier substitutions, like toasted pita, can quickly override your daily goals – especially if you are following a low-carb diet.
Avocado specialty products aren’t cheap
Raw avocados are relatively cheap, but if you’re seeking to go the extra mile and reap the benefits of avocado oil, make sure to check your budget first: despite an ever-growing variety of brands and presentations, it remains limited to the “fancy foods” aisle. On average, 25 oz of avocado oil can cost two to three times as much as extra virgin olive oil.
Avocados tend to have a lot of food mileage
Although now available year round, any avocados you buy during the winter months will have travelled a long way. This adds to their carbon footprint as well as their price tag.
For the environmentally conscious, it might be important to find a local substitute, or simply to turn them into a sporadic treat during the first half of the year.
What do the studies say about the weight loss benefits of avocados?
Judging avocado’s potential as a weight loss method is tricky, as different studied have focused on its effects as either a dietary substitution or a dietary addition, with differing results.
However, a major, nation-wide survey conducted between 2001 and 2008 did find a strong correlation between avocado consumption and overall better nutrition – in particular, with a more balanced intake of micronutrients.
This same study also found that people who eat avocados on a regular basis also have a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, which is linked to both heart disease and pre-diabetes.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that avocados directly lower the risk of diabetes. These results should consider avocados as part of an overall healthy diet, based in fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as preferring unsaturated fats instead of saturated ones.
The most supported contribution of avocado to your health is not weight loss, however, but heart health – which could be much more impactful for your overall quality of life. Avocado oil has great potential for people seeking to lower their blood pressure, lower their LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and increase HDL cholesterol.
Bottom line: Your avocado intake should balanced
Avocados can be a great addition to your weight-loss journey, as they will bring some added zest and some extra nutrients to your safe foods list.
Adding a few slices to your lunch bowl is a good and easy way to get started. Other specialty avocado-based products, such as avocado oil, are still relatively expensive and rare, but a worthy investment if your cholesterol panel is in the red.
However, no sustainable diet can consist on avocados alone, and no magic ingredient will cancel out the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and frequent fast food. Sustainable, long-term lifestyle changes are the name of the game here. Of course, once those are in place, there is no reason to skip out on a creamy, healthy topping!