My family eats avocados often. I've heard that they're high in fat, but I've also heard that they are good for you. Can you clear this up for us? And can you recommend any recipes?
Avocados are high in fat. Fortunately, the fat is monounsaturated -- the kind that is heart-healthy and won't elevate your cholesterol. I think avocados are great, and they make a healthy substitute for other types of fat, including butter, mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, cream cheese, and cream. Sometimes I spread avocado, instead of butter, on dense and chewy whole grain breads.
Avocados also contain phytochemicals that can help prevent cancer and heart disease. The most important of these substances is beta-sitosterol, a plant sterol that can prevent cholesterol from being absorbed from the digestive tract. Some research suggests that beta-sitosterol can help reduce blood cholesterol levels. This remains to be confirmed, but avocados provide four times the beta-sisterol than equivalent amounts of bananas, apples, cantaloupes, or plums.
The more we learn about the health-enhancing properties of avocados, the more attention they are receiving from dietitians. They are a good source of glutathione (an antioxidant), soluble fiber, folate, and potassium. The latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued in May, recommends that avocados be included in a healthy diet along with other unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish such as salmon.
If you're just discovering avocados, here are some buying and preparation hints:
Test for ripeness with a gentle squeeze. If the fruit yields to pressure but doesn't remain dented, it's ripe. A firm avocado will ripen in a few days sitting on a kitchen counter.
To cut an avocado, slice it lengthwise around the seed and rotate the halves to separate. Lift the seed out with a spoon and then peel the fruit with a knife (or your fingers) -- or just scoop out the avocado meat with a spoon.
A cut avocado will turn brown. Squeeze some lemon juice on the cut if you aren't eating it right away. If an area turns brown, just scrape it off.
I think it's great you're eating more of this healthful fruit, but in any healthy diet, moderation is key. And keep in mind that avocados are relatively high in calories -- about 300 for a whole avocado. You can find lots of excellent recipes featuring avocados on the California Avocado Commission Web site. Enjoy!