Recent research on avocado and heart disease risk has revealed some important health benefits that may be unique to this food. Avocado's reputation as a high-fat food is entirely accurate. Our 1-cup website serving provides 22 grams of fat, and those 22 grams account for 82% of avocado's total calories. And they do not necessarily provide a favorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fat; you get less than 1/4 gram of omega-3s from one serving of avocado and 2.5 grams of omega-6s, for a ratio of 10:1 in favor of omega-6s.
However, despite these characteristics, the addition of avocado to already well-balanced diets has been shown to lower risk of heart disease, improve blood levels of LDL, and lower levels of oxidative stress in the bloodstream following consumption of food. In one particular research study, participants in two groups all consumed a diet with the same overall balance, including 34% fat in both groups. But one avocado per day was included in the meal plan of only one group, and that was the group with the best heart-related results in terms of blood fat levels.
Most researchers are agreed that the high levels of monounsaturated fat in avocado—especially oleic acid—play a role in these heart-related benefits. Nearly 15 out of the 22 grams of fat (68%) found in one cup of avocado come from monounsaturated fat. (And by contrast, less than 3 grams come from the category of polyunsaturated fat, which includes both omega-6s and omega-3s.)
This high level of monounsaturates puts avocado in a similar category with olives, which provide about 14 grams of fat per cup and approximately 73% of those grams as monounsaturates. In addition to its high percentage of monounsaturated fat, however, avocado offers some other unique fat qualities. It provides us with phytosterols including beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol. This special group of fats has been shown to provide important anti-inflammatory benefits to our body systems, including our cardiovascular system. Not as clear from a dietary standpoint are the polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols, or PFAs, found in avocado.
PFAs are a group of fat-related compounds more commonly found in sea plants than in land plants, making the avocado tree unusual in this regard. However, the studies that we have seen on PFAs and avocado have extracted these PFAs from the seed (or pit) of the fruit, rather than the pulp. Since we typically do not consume this part of the avocado, the practical role of these PFAs from a dietary standpoint is less clear than the role of monounsaturates and phytosterols described above.
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