Archive for October, 2009

Raisins, Cinnamon, Almonds and Avocado?

Posted: October 5, 2009 by The Vegetarian Barbarian in Nutrition Conversations

Hey! There’s avocado in my protein bar!  Yes, I know.

Most people think of guacamole when they think of an avocado.  This was my first thought. It certainly sounded absurd when Scott approached me with the idea of putting it in my protein bars.   He used the term “nature’s butter” and I just shrugged it off.  But, the more I thought about it the more it made sense.   It is rather rich and creamy.   Think about the texture and it starts making a lot more sense.  I considered the nutrition of the avocado and I understood exactly where he was coming from.

Avocados aren’t a mystery – they’re everywhere nowadays.  What can be confusing are the nutritional benefits.  Let’s put the nutrition aside for a minute and ask the big question first:  Is it a fruit or a vegetable? Avocado is a fruit.  Technically it is a berry which consists of a single large seed (the pit) which is surrounded by pulp.

Another frequently asked question regards the fat content of an avocado.  Is it good fat or is it bad fat? Avocados have a high level of the “good” fat (unsaturated).  Some dieters have banished this green miracle fruit to the “fatty foods category” in an attempt to avoid excess fat.  The monounsaturated fat that it contains is the heart-healthy variety that nutrition experts say may lower your bad (LDL) cholesterol (Link to info at Diabetes.Organd Link to info at American Heart Association Web Site).

Part 1: Basic Understanding of Fat

Fats are either solid or liquid.  Generally speaking, the word “fat” is often used when referring to the solid form and “oil” is used when referring to the liquid.  Edible animal and plant fats are categorized as saturated and unsaturated.

The difference between the two types, on a molecular level, is the existence of a carbon-carbon double-bond.  Saturated fat has none of these bonds.  Mono- and polyunsaturated fats have one or more of these bonds.

Let’s define the word “saturated”.  The word itself actually refers to the Hydrogen Atoms in the structure.   Visualize a strand of pearls unclasped and straightened out in front of you.  Now think of each pearl in the strand as a Hydrogen Atom.  Because there is no space on the strand for anything else – we can call this strand “saturated” with pearls (hydrogen).   Replace a pearl with a carbon-carbon double-bond and you created a monounsaturated fat (one bond).   One step further, if you had replaced the 3rd hydrogen atom in the strand with the double-bond you would have created an Omega-3 fatty acid.

To the naked-eye a saturated fat would appear straight.  The hydrogen atoms help maintain its rigidity. .  The unsaturated variety appears bent or curved because it lacks the hydrogen.  The more double-bonds it has, the more bent it appears.  For example, a polyunsaturated fat is more bent than a monounsaturated.

As I mentioned above, there are more common names placed on unsaturated fats depending on the placement of the double-bonds.  Most people are familiar with the terms Omega-3, Omega-6, and (to a lesser extent) Omega-9.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health offer the following information regarding fats: Link.

Saturated fatty acids can stack very tightly (visualize laying bricks) because of its structure.  This characteristic provides the rigidity necessary for making food fats such as butter.  The downside to this efficiency is that is also allows saturated fat to stack very tightly inside our bodies.   The danger presented manifests in the form of clogged arteries and other assorted health risks.

Unsaturated fatty acids do not stack.  Remember, they are curved or bent and they are also fluid.  Consider a common monounsaturated fat acid called Oleic Acid.  Packed together they would help form the texture of our magical green fruit, the avocado.

Part 2: Facts about Avocados

  1. Avocados contain oleic acid – a good monounsaturated fat (Omega-9)
  2. Avocados contain no cholesterol
  3. Omega-9 may do the following
    1. Lower Cholesterol Levels
    2. Reduce atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
    3. Reduce insulin resistance
    4. Improve immune function
  4. Avocado is the only fruit that contains monounsaturated fat
  5. Avocados contain more than 25 essential nutrients
    1. Including fiber
    2. Vitamins B
    3. Vitamin C
    4. Vitamin E
    5. Folic Acid
  6. Avocados contain more potassium than bananas
  7. Avocado tastes awesome in our protein bars

The list of peer-reviewed and published benefits to each item listed above is endless.   As an added bonus, avocados also supply a healthy supply of Lutein.  This carotenoid is said to aid in lowering the risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration.  I can go on and on stating an avocado has this and this does that but you probably get it by now.  I will throw out one more nutrition buzz word though; antioxidant.  Let the “ooh’ing” and “aah’ing” commence!

Avocados are exceptional.  They have a host of health benefits and more importantly, they make the loaves taste awesome.  You honestly won’t even know there is an avocado lurking about the mix (the non-chocolate variety are tinged a little green though).  You probably won’t even notice the phytochemicals and folate in each bite – but those are in there too thanks to our oblong green fleshed friend.

Part 3: Phytochemicals, Antioxidants and You

A phytochemical is a substance that a plant naturally produces.   If you know that a carrot contains beta-carotene then you have an inkling of how it works.  Phytosterols are a group of phytochemicals that occur naturally in food.

High phytosterol intake has been linked with lower blood cholesterol levels (that’s a scientific way of saying eating your veggies).  One particular phytosterol is beta-sitosterol.  It is said to help inhibit the absorption of cholesterol and promote lower blood cholesterol levels (Duester KC. Avocado fruit is a rich source of beta-sitosterol. J American Dietetic Association. 2001;101:404-405).  Among all commonly eaten fruits, avocados contain the most beta-sitosterol and contain at least twice the amount of phytosterol found in other foods including corn and olives (olive oil is the typical example given when researching about monounsaturated fats and phytosterols).

The FDA approved the following claim in regards to plant based phytosterols: “(1)For plant sterol esters: (i) Foods containing at least 0.65 g per serving of plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 1.3 g, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of [name of the food] supplies ___grams of vegetable oil sterol esters.”  For the exact line on their approval form please see the bottom of this document.

Avocados also contain a powerful antioxidant called Glutathione (they contain others, I am just pointing out this specific one).  In fact, an avocado contains roughly three times the amount of Glutathione than any other fruit (17.7g per 100g of avocado).   Antioxidants, in general help the body by mopping up the free-radicals that are known to play a role in the development of heart disease and some cancers.  Although there is also some data that suggests Glutathione may help the body resist cell degeneration (i.e. old cells contain 20-30% less glutathione than new ones) it is largely unsubstantiated.

More bullet points!

  • Avocado contains Vitamin C & E
    • Antioxidants that promote healthy teeth and gums
    • Protect the body tissue against oxidation damage
  • Avocados contain Folate
    • A nutrient that promotes healthy cell tissue development.
    • Consuming enough folate is essential for pregnant women and women of child-bearing age
    • Avocados contain more folate per ounce than any other fruits.
  • Avocados contain Potassium
    • A mineral that helps the body’s fluids and minerals stay in balance

Due to its many beneficial nutrients, avocados are listed as nutrition superstars in the American Diabetes Association, The Mayo Clinic and The Nutrition Bible.

We’ve all been told (many times) that this food is good for you or that food is bad for you.  When that didn’t take they stated that everything is okay in moderation (including moderation).  We never really get the reason.  We’re told on T.V. that milk does a body good and oranges are a great source of vitamin C.  What does it matter or what does it mean?

These are the reasons I am pursuing my RD.  I want to understand more completely and I want to give this information to my family, friends and customers.  I am more than happy to discuss the health benefits of the mighty avocado on our forums or in email.  I will also suggest that you educate yourself.  It is important to know the why.

For us, we believe the future is ripe for avocados.


Amy – The Vegetarian Barbarianess