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We enjoy avocados in guacamole and other savory dishes on special occasions like Cinco de Mayo and Super Bowl Sunday. But for many of us, they aren’t reserved for celebrations. As the appetite for these versatile fruits has increased, cooks have been finding creative ways to add them to snacks, meals, and even desserts like avocado chocolate mousse. If they’re a regular part of your diet, you may be curious to know just how good they are for you nutritionally.
Very good, it turns out.
What Makes Them Healthy?
Part of what makes avocados so nutritious is their fat: There are 10 grams (and 114 calories) in half of a medium-size fruit. “That’s a lot of fat for a fruit or vegetable, but it is the type of fat we want people to eat,” says Lisa Sasson, MS, RD, a clinical associate professor of nutrition at New York University.
About 64 percent of the fat in avocados is monounsaturated, which lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
And in contrast to junk foods, which supply little to no nutrition in exchange for a load of calories, Sasson says, avocados give you a healthy array of vitamins and minerals not often found together in one place.
In particular, they're rich in blood-pressure-lowering potassium and fiber. (Avocados have more potassium than bananas.) Half an avocado contains almost 5 grams of fiber, about 20 percent of the amount you need in a day. Plus, they supply decent amounts of folic acid and vitamins B6, C, E, and K.
They also contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are linked to eye health and help to give the fruit’s interior its color. “Research has shown that these antioxidants may play a role in preventing the progression of eye diseases such macular degeneration and cataracts by stopping oxidative damage to the retina,” says Amy Keating, a CR dietitian.
Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, other dark green vegetables such as broccoli and zucchini, and egg yolks are also sources of these two healthful compounds. But avocados have the additional perk of being rich in monounsaturated fats, which some research suggests may help reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
The fat in avocados helps the body absorb antioxidants better, including lutein and zeaxanthin, not just from the avocado itself but from other fruits and vegetables you may eat at the same time. So pairing guacamole with crudités or tossing avocado chunks into a smoothie, a salad, or an omelet is a good vision-saving diet strategy.
What to Do With an Avocado
The one-two punch of fat and fiber makes avocados a particularly filling food. Guacamole is probably the most familiar avocado-based dish, but there are plenty of other ways to use the fruit. “People claim they don’t have time to make breakfast or lunch,” Sasson says, “but all you have to do is cut and mash an avocado with a little salt and pepper, spread it on toast, and top with slices of tomato. In 3 minutes or less you can have a delicious, healthy meal.”
Other ideas: Whip avocados into smoothies, blend into dressings, work into egg dishes, add to salads or soups, or use to top a burger or in place of butter or mayonnaise on a sandwich. Fill halved avocados with chopped veggies and serve as a side, or drizzle slices with a little balsamic vinegar for a snack.
Shopping and Storage Tips
Choose avocados that are firm; they should ripen in three to four days. (You can speed that up by storing them out of the sun in a paper bag with a banana.) That long ripening time means you have to plan your avocado eating. But Sasson says it’s a small price to pay for near-perfection in the food world. “Avocados have all of these wonderful nutrients, and nothing is added,” she says. “This is the way we should be eating.”
Advice From CR's Experts
Think that store-bought smoothie is healthy? On the 'Consumer 101' TV show, host Jack Rico learns how to whip up a more nutritious beverage right at home. And Consumer Reports' food expert, Trisha Calvo, explains why you need a healthy dose of the right kind of fat in your diet.