Thursday, February 03, 2011
A historical legend tells us, a Mayan princess ate the first avocado in 291 B.C. Fortunately, you don't have to be royalty to garner the rewards of this tasty tropical fruit.
Avocados, are nicknamed "alligator pears" because of their bumpy skins, and come in several varieties. Some have a green covering while others are dark purple or almost black. Avocados can be either smooth or bumpy. Some are small, and others weigh as much as 4 pounds. Yet, when you slice them open, they all have the same delicious light green, nutty-flavored flesh inside.
The avocado got its name from the ancient Aztec word for "testicle." Maybe that's why men once thought eating avocados would boost their virility.
In earlier times, avocado pulp was used as a hair pomade to stimulate hair growth and to help heal wounds. Native Americans treated dysentery and diarrhea with its seeds. Even today, its oil can be found in many cosmetics.
But the avocado probably should have been named after the Aztec word for "heart," considering how it can help this vital organ. Loaded with monounsaturated fat, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants, the avocado fights high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
But that's not all. The "alligator pear" also snaps its mighty jaws at diabetes and cancer.
6 excellent ways avocados keep you healthy
1- Crushes cholesterol- The avocado is high in fat - 30 grams per fruit, but it's mostly monounsaturated fat. This fat helps protect good HDL cholesterol, while wiping out the bad LDL cholesterol that clogs your arteries. That means you not only lower your bad cholesterol, you also improve your ratio of good HDL to total cholesterol.
But there's more than just monounsaturated fat at work. An avocado contains 10 grams of fiber, as well as a plant chemical called beta-sitosterol. These both help lower cholesterol. Throw in vitamins C and E - powerful antioxidants that prevent dangerous free radicals from reacting with the cholesterol in your blood - and it all adds up to a healthier you.
In fact, one study from Australia demonstrated how eating half to one-and-a-half avocados a day for three weeks could lower your total cholesterol by more than 8 percent without lowering your HDL cholesterol.
During the same study, a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet also lowered the participants' total cholesterol - but slashed the "good" cholesterol by almost 14 percent.
2- Bashes high blood pressure- You've probably heard that bananas are a good source of potassium. What you probably don't know is that avocados, with over 1,200 milligrams of potassium per fruit, contain more than two-and-a-half times as much potassium as a banana. This is important because many studies show that potassium helps lower your blood pressure.
Magnesium, another important mineral found in avocados, could help lower your blood pressure, too. Some researchers think magnesium relaxes blood vessels and allows them to open wider. This gives blood more room to flow freely, reducing blood pressure. But results have been mixed. Some studies show magnesium lowers blood pressure, while others show no effect.
3- Strikes out stroke- When it comes to taking on a deadly killer like stroke, who wants to fight fair? Gang up on stroke with avocado's three heavy hitters - potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
In the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which included more than 43,000 men, researchers found that the men who got the most potassium in their diet were 38 percent less likely to have a stroke as those who got the least. Results were lower for fiber (30 percent) and magnesium (30 percent).
4- Hammers heart disease- By controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure, avocados can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
But avocados offer more protection. If you increase your daily fiber intake by 10 grams, the amount in one avocado, you decrease your risk of heart disease by 19 percent. Vitamin C, potassium, and folate, part of the B-vitamin family, have also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
Folate also helps your heart by keeping homocysteine from building up to dangerous levels. Homocysteine, a by-product of protein metabolism, can harm your arteries and increase your chances of a heart attack or stroke.
According to the California Avocado Commission, avocados have more folate per ounce than any other fruit.
5- Defends against diabetes- If you have diabetes, you're probably looking for ways to replace the saturated fat in your diet with more carbohydrates.
Instead, consider substituting some of those carbohydrates with monounsaturated fat, the kind you get from avocados. Not only do avocados lower your LDL cholesterol without lowering HDL cholesterol, they also can reduce the amount of triglycerides, another type of fat, in your blood. A high triglyceride level can be a warning sign of heart disease.
Eating high-fiber foods, like avocados, can benefit people with type 2 diabetes in several ways. One study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that a high-fiber diet (50 grams per day) lowered cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose, and insulin levels.
Avocados have earned the backing of the American Diabetes Association, which has included avocados in its collection of suggested recipes.
6- Curbs cancer- Another reason to eat a lot of fiber is its possible protective effect against certain cancers, particularly colon and breast cancer.
Researchers looking at data from The Seven Countries Study recently concluded that adding 10 grams of fiber to your daily diet could cut your risk of dying from colon cancer by 33 percent over 25 years.
Although a few studies have found fiber ineffective in preventing cancer, many experts still recommend eating plenty of high-fiber foods.
Avocado's arsenal of powerful antioxidants - glutathione and vitamin C - also help fight cancer by neutralizing harmful free radicals that can damage your cells. Glutathione may ward off oral and throat cancers, and vitamin C has been linked to lower rates of oral, breast, lung, stomach, and cervical cancers.
And don't forget about beta-sitosterol and folate. They may protect you from colon and breast cancer, too.