Far More than Guacamole

June 2, 2015 in Diabetic Menu Item, Health Claims, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

Government agencies and public health organizations have loosened the guidelines on eating “safe” fats. An important spinoff of their backing off from earlier recommendations is that value is being found in foods that have good fat. I’ve written recently about nuts (Beyond Snacks: Welcoming Nuts into Your Meals), one beneficiary of the new guidelines. Another example is avocados. Nuts and avocados are both being recognized as the nutritional powerhouses that they are.

I’ve told my story of avocado sandwiches in a past blog (Weird Food Is in the Eyes of the Beholder). As I relayed then, my classmates saying, “Yuck, What’s that?” did not stop me from eating avocado sandwiches. I realize that avocadoes have come a long way, from just a few people who would try guacamole to a wide variety of uses for avocado. Avocadoes were even a featured Super Bowl commercial this past year. The good news is that people are finally realizing that you don’t need to wait for Super Bowl Sunday or Cinco de Mayo to eat avocados. As a matter of fact, at our home we use them frequently. As a dietitian, I’ve realized that the fat in an avocado is primarily monounsaturated fat – a heart-healthy type of unsaturated fat. It’s the same type of fat that is in olives – think of the health of extra virgin olive oil. I generally don’t speak much about specific nutrients, but let’s just say it’s loaded with nutrients, vitamins, dietary fiber, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that help to keep you healthy.

A study conducted in Ohio and Germany has shown that adding an avocado to other vegetables (like you’d do in a leafy green salad) helps you absorb the fat-soluble nutrients in the salad. It’s like an extra benefit. So popping some diced avocado onto your tomato soup not only tastes great, but increases the absorption of the nutrients by three to five times.

Avocados only have 2.5 grams of carbohydrate (if you don’t count the fiber that you can’t digest anyway). So if you’re watching your blood sugar, avocados can be included in your eating-style without any guilty conscience or negative consequences.

Science is still learning about avocados. It appears that the phytosterols in avocados may lower cholesterol in the blood. Other components of avocados also may have anti-inflammatory properties. So this can not only change your way of looking at an avocado as an OK food to include, but maybe promote it to a great food to include in your new eating-style.

Lastly, in a study published in 2013 researchers from Loma Linda University found an extended period of satiety in persons who ate avocado with lunch. They just felt full longer. The researchers don’t know if it is the fat, the 112 extra calories, the fiber or some combination of factors that produced the satiety; but they suggested that they had enough information to warrant future trials of the effects of avocado intake on weight management, especially those with insulin resistance.

I found a wonderful website; Avocados From Mexico. The entire site is loaded with creative recipes; but don’t miss their favorites list. I found many recipes that need to be put on my list of “To Try Recipes.” I already use avocados fairly extensively, but my mantra is: variety is one of the joys of life, so why not try something new? I presently use avocado in sandwiches as a spread or just sliced; in wraps; salmon patty sandwich; egg salad with avocado sandwiches or salad topping; diced on salads; as a topping for reverse omelets (omelets with more veggies than egg, unlike the tiny veggie garnish on most omelets); and topping for soups to name a few.

Having lived much of my life in southern California, where I could pick a near ripe dark bumpy-skinned Haas avocado off a tree for a considerable part of the year, I got really spoiled. Haas avocados are like citrus, in that they can hold their fruit on the tree for a while; so you’re not stuck with using them all at once. As a tree becomes mature and large, you need lots of friends when it’s time to harvest them, or they will begin to fall to the ground. When I was young, my neighbor, had a mature – OK gigantic avocado tree and bushels of avocados would fall to the ground. Each year her dog would get downright fat by gorging on avocados that fell in the yard.

Since I no longer live where I can pick a ripe avocado off a tree, I’ve learned how to keep avocados in stock at home without much spoilage. If you’ve been using very many avocados for very long, you know that as they ripen they become fragile. When I go shopping, here in the mountain west, I look for nice plump, hard avocados with no blemishes, like cuts in the skin. Then I take them home and just put them in a fruit dish; they generally ripen in 3 to 5 days, depending upon the weather and the size of the avocado. When they are ripe (yield to slight pressure) I put them into a fruit drawer of the refrigerator. A little note about gentle pressure: If you don’t get it right, you will discover in the few days after squeezing slightly too much, the avocado will develop ugly bruises. When you don’t bruise them or neglect them before putting them in the fridge, they can last for a good week in its cool confines. Certainly, sometimes you’re out of avocados and need some prior to the 3 to 5 day ripening period. Then you’ll have to be very careful with your slight pressure and choose them fully ripe, so the grocer won’t be left with bruised fruit.

The reason for selecting hard avocados is that the grocery clerk invariably clunks your fully ripe avocado down in the shopping bag, often followed by another crash into the cart …. Bam a big ole bruise – or two, which of course, just get wasted when you have to cut the bruises off.

If you are not able to use an entire dish of guacamole or have a cut avocado left over, one way of keeping them from oxidizing and becoming dark is to coat them with lemon juice, or ascorbic acid solution (vitamin C sprinkles, like Ball’s Fruit-Fresh – a little water with the Fruit-Fresh, toss slices or diced avocado in the solution to keep green). If you are using mayonnaise in your recipe the vinegar in the mayonnaise has acetic acid with will also work to keep the avocado light. One last method is to put plastic wrap right on the surface of the cut avocado or avocado mixture – blocking out the air is the goal. Don’t stretch the plastic wrap across the top of the bowl leaving inches of air to turn your avocado dark.

When I’m preparing an avocado, most of the time I cut it into four lengthwise quarters; then I grasp the skin at the thin end and pull it away from the flesh. This method doesn’t leave any of the nutritious carotenoid compounds, the dark green flesh immediately under the skin, like using a spoon to scoop it out would. Who wants to waste a morsel of tasty avocado anyway?

This is certainly a happy day; a day to learn that something as tasty as an avocado is nourishing and a beneficial food to add to your eating plan. There’s such a variety of ways to enjoy your avocado; so don’t get stuck just having it as guacamole (however delicious your latest guacamole recipe is.)