Why is avocado a superfood

By Ahmed Fathi Basyouni Donia

A brief history of the avocado
Health benefits explained
Why is avocado a superfood?
What do we know about the genetics of the avocado?
How can I optimise the health benefits?

Avocado has been hailed as the superfood of the 21st century. However, regardless of whether you’re enjoying it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, the wrinkly-skinned fruit of the avocado tree, has been boosting nutrition1 and providing functional medicine around the world for years

.

From avocado-art to avocado lattes, consumption of the avocado has now reached a fashion-peak leaving many people wondering what all the fuss is about.

Recent research serves to promote avocado as a nutritional powerhouse that can even improve the value2 of other foods eaten alongside it . Genetic profiling of the avocado is in the early stages but what we do know is that avocado can provide a bespoke boost for anyone looking to improve their overall health or those who have identified specific needs through DNA testing.

But what are the health benefits of avocado, why is it called a superfood, and how can you optimise the nutritional value of avocado to meet your individual health needs?

A brief history of the avocado

Avocado is believed to originate from New Mexico3, Central America. Historically referred to by a Nahuatl (Aztec) word: āhuacatl; which translated means testicle, the avocado was nicknamed due to its rough-skinned appearance and hailed by the locals as an aphrodisiac.

Avocado is now cultivated worldwide, although the most widely recognised people growing it are Mexican, Guatemalan and West Indian.

The Hass avocado; a purple, hard-skinned variety predominantly sold in the UK, originates from Guatemala, however, it was cultivated from a single seed planted in the garden of Rudolph Hass4 in California, 1926.

The Hass avocado became a roaring overnight sensation across America, due to its easy cultivation and high yield, and is the most commonly grown and exported type of avocado worldwide today. Hass is therefore the most likely type of avocado to find on your plate, or in your skincare and is the most frequently used in research exploring the functional and medicinal properties.

Health benefits explained

Avocado has a number of nutritional benefits which everyone reading this article should get to know; my hope is that this information will help understand how the of this fruit can best work for you!

To start, the avocado contains higher levels of fibre than any other fleshy fruit, meaning that it is a power player in the maintenance of a healthy digestive system. Such benefits have led to claims that the avocado can also help with weight loss5.

Exploratory studies support this claim; however, many argue that the high-fat fruit is a poor addition to a calorie-controlled diet and some research suggests that avocado pulp may interfere with hepatic fat metabolism6, actually inhibiting weight loss overall.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, there is no doubt that avocado can help keep you healthy, and research has found that those who eat the fruit regularly are more likely to have a better diet overall7.

In fact, most studies show that regular consumption of avocado makes no difference to weight-loss8 when compared with other fruits and vegetables;

B

oth will enable a person to shed the pounds and maintain overall good health if consumed as a part of an all-round healthy and calorie-controlled diet. Avocado is a food high in fat; however, for this superfood, fat is not considered to be a bad thing.

The type of fat in avocado is a healthy trans-fat called monosaturated oleic acid; which is also found in olive oil. Oleic acid is shown to reduce inflammation9 in different cell types as well as, improving overall cardiovascular health10.

Healthy fats have also been found to have an inhibitive effect on the expression of genes linked to cancer11, however, these findings are tentative. Despite their high-fat content, eating avocados lowers cholesterol12 and triglyceride levels in the body; high amounts of which have been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack or stroke.

It therefore seems that regardless of whether they help you to lose weight, a diet enriched with avocados is instrumental in the management of diabetes or high cholesterol; conditions commonly linked to obesity; due to its ability to keep your heart healthy13.

Avocado contains more potassium14 than the infamous potassium-rich banana which helps to reduce blood pressure and maintain healthy bones. Several studies have shown an increase in potassium intake to be key in the treatment of hypertension, which is another important factor for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Potassium deficiency15 has also been linked to health problems such as kidney stones and osteoporosis indicating the importance of incorporating potassium-rich foods (such as avocado) into your diet for kidney and bone health.

Avocados are rich in vitamins E and C, which together help strengthen the immune system and protect against cell damage from free radicals. Vitamin E is often cited as a leading aid for keeping skin healthy; with extracts being used in countless beauty products.

Avocado oil is highly advocated in research for its benefits to skin health16 and a recent study found that moisturiser containing avocado extract had an emollient effect17 on students elbows. Research supports an eclectic use of avocado; not all benefits come from just eating!

Finally, avocado is rich in antioxidants; lutein and zeaxanthin, which are essential for eye health and have been shown to drastically reduce the risk of cataracts18 in older adults.

We all know that antioxidants are good for you, however, it is the mixture of compounds which can have the greatest overall effect on health. The combination of high fat and large quantities of antioxidants in avocado, have been found to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer19 in a laboratory study.

There are no human studies yet, but these results are exciting in terms of uncovering the medicinal properties of avocado. Further preliminary research has found avocado extract to facilitate wound-healing20 in rats, and avocado-infused creams have been found effective in the treatment of arthritis21.

In fact, multiple studies have shown avocado to reduce inflammation2223 in a variety of cells when combined with soy bean extract. The future of medicine may include avocados but don’t delete your doctor’s number just yet! Include more avocado in your diet and see how you can reap the benefits.

Why is avocado a superfood?

The research shows that not only does avocado provide the essential fats, vitamins and antioxidants needed to maintain all-round good health, but regular consumption can be used to reduce the risk and even treat several conditions and diseases.

Avocado can be consumed as part of a healthy diet or extracts can be infused in beauty or medicinal products. But what gives avocado that well-earned title of ‘superfood’? Food scientists have been exploring the functional use of avocado and have made some startling discoveries. The fruit really earns its stripes when you start to combine it with other foods.

To explain, let’s go back to those healthy fats. The fat in avocado is resistant to heat-induced oxidation, meaning that it can be heated to a much higher temperature than other fats, before the molecular structure starts to break down.

This means that the nutritional value of avocado is retained throughout the cooking process; making avocado oil a much healthier choice in the kitchen.

Light in texture and flavour, avocado oil can also be added to salads or used to fry other foods, as well as having moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties if applied directly to the skin. Recent research has sought to optimise the oil extraction process24 to ensure maximum functional benefits when used in the management of certain conditions e.g. rubbing on those achy joints!

Not only do the fats in avocado retain their value through the cooking process, but they can also improve the absorption25 of antioxidants in other foods through our diet.

Foods high in fibre often cause valuable vitamins to be lost, however, the healthy fats in avocado facilitate absorption in the gut. From salad to salsa26, carrots to tomato sauce27, the nutritional value of food may be significantly enhanced by the addition of avocado oil, pulp or flesh.

Earning its title as a ‘superfood’, the addition of avocado oil to a salad has been found to increase the overall nutritional valuee28 of a meal, 15-fold.

Given its anti-inflammatory properties, avocado has even been shown to be a health-boosting bonus in a burger; significantly decreasing the inflammatory impact29 of the red meat. Adding avocado to your meal is therefore a great way to optimise the health benefits of other foods and increase absorption of essential vitamins and minerals you may be deficient in. Certainly super!

What do we know about the genetics of the avocado?

Due to limited genomic resources, to date there is restricted gene expression profile data30 for the avocado. The available transcriptome provides the groundwork for research into the genetic diversity of oil concentrations and overall health benefits, however, this research is in its early stages.

Significant genetic variability was found between five types of avocado grown at different temperatures in rural Mexico, corresponding with phenotype variability31 for oil and fibre content.

This research has given an exciting insight into the potential of growing different avocado strains at varying temperatures to induce varied results. Further to this study, significant variance was found in the properties of oils32 extracted from the five genotypes of Mexican avocado.

Further analysis revealed that fluorescence emission was the significant mediator between the genotypes which has big implications for the avocado farming industry. Finding a way to protect the nutritional value of the avocado may be a more pressing study than genetically boosting the benefits!

There have been further genetic findings relating to the medicinal use of avocado oil. Early studies have found that when used in vivo, it can inhibit alterations in gene expression33 due to oxidative stress, which causes hearing loss.

Similarly, avocado oil has been found to inhibit the expression34 of genetic processes undertaken by unwanted bacteria, potentially giving it powerful anti-bacterial properties.

Inhibitory effects have been found to facilitate the anti-inflammatory properties of avocado, particularly in the treatment of osteoarthritis35. Although findings are tentative, the prospect of using avocado oil as a gene inhibitor offers optimism for medical science.

The potential for using in vivo techniques for the suppression of cancer genes36 is under investigation[36].

What we know for sure, however, is that specific health concerns such as poor heart health37, poor response to dietary fibre38and risk of cataracts39 in older adults are all represented by genetic biomarkers which when identified, can indicate an individual’s vulnerability to disease or disorder.

Understanding your genetic make-up is essential in showing you how to improve your lifestyle e.g. by adding more avocado to your diet, to target vulnerabilities, or manage existing concerns, before they become problematic.

How can I optimise the health benefits?

The power of the avocado seems to just keep on going, but it can be helpful to think about how avocados can work best for you. Avocados can have particular benefits for certain groups of people or may be able to help you with specific nutrition and health concerns.

First of all, avocado has been found to contain a unique combination of nutrients which are essential for expecting and lactating mothers40. This includes folic acid which has been shown to reduce risk of spina bifida41 in newborn children, among other health benefits.

During pregnancy, a woman’s health needs are unique, and therefore optimising the nutritional value of avocado may be dependent on a variety of factors e.g. fluctuating hormone levels or the body’s existing levels of inflammation and toxicity.

By using DNA testing to help understand your individual health needs during pregnancy, you can work out which vulnerabilities may need to be addressed, to ensure the best results for you and your baby.

This can be done using Lumminary’s testing packages such as HealthPower, which offers an in-depth analysis of your body’s toxicity, hormonal fluctuation, inflammation and nutrition absorption; enabling you to take the right decisions to optimise your daily health.

When looking specifically to address nutrition or to lose weight, however, there may be alternative ways to help optimise the benefits of the avocado. A Gene Nutrition test will tell you whether your weight gain is the outcome of poor metabolism for saturated fats, for example, which could mean that you need to start replacing your dairy products with the healthy fats in avocado!

It will also let you know if you are deficient in vitamins A, B (6,9,12), C, D and E, levels of all of which can be increased by either eating avocado on its own or adding avocado to vitamin-rich food sources to improve absorption in the gut.

Monosaturated fats (MSF) such as those found in avocado are essential for heart health, however, some people tend to gain weight on a high MSF diet. Using your DNA to uncover the way your body will likely respond to dietary changes, can help you to make reasonable adjustments to ensure you don’t get unwanted results.

For example, it may be that increasing MSF to improve heart health, needs to be done as part of an overall calorie-controlled diet plan.

Such nutrition tests as dietPower by dnaPower, can help you to understand how your body regulates cholesterol and metabolises fats as well your natural tendency towards gaining weight and absorbing vitamins from your food.

This can help you to design a diet plan which uses avocado in the most beneficial way e.g. by helping you to understand which foods are best to combine with avocado flesh or oil for maximum health benefits.

Avocados are also highly beneficial for your skin health because of their ability to reduce inflammation and boost cell repair. A DNA Gene Skin test may be the best way to help you optimise avocado oil based beauty products, by targeting your skin’s vulnerabilities whether it be dryness or collagen degradation.

Understanding your body’s unique needs can help you to make the right choices when it comes to avocado!

Overall, understanding your bodies bespoke requirements is the best way to optimise the health benefits of the avocado. Whether you are looking to boost the nutritional value of other foods and maintain all round good health, or specifically target vitamin deficiencies, dull or dry skin, high cholesterol, poor heart health, or even treat inflammatory diseases, it may be worth investing your time and attention into how avocados can work for you.

Certainly, an all-round superfood and enviable fashion-icon, research is happening as we speak to uncover the medicinal properties of the avocado. In the near future, we will hopefully be hearing more about the cancer-fighting, would-healing power properties of the avocado, and so, the ‘āhuacatl’ will keep its superfood title for many centuries to come.

1 Mark L. Dreher & Adrienne J. Davenport (2013) Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 53:7, 738-750, DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2011.556759.

2 Unlu, N., Bohn, T., Clinton, S. & Schwartz, S. (2005). Carotenoid Absorption from Salad and Salsa by Humans Is Enhanced by the Addition of Avocado or Avocado Oil. The Journal of Nutrition. 35 (3): 431-436.

3 A.K. Cowan, B.N. Wolstenholme, in Encyclopaedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition), 2003.

4 A.K. Cowan, B.N. Wolstenholme, in Encyclopaedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition), 2003.

5 Mark L. Dreher & Adrienne J. Davenport (2013) Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 53:7, 738-750, DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2011.556759.

6 Naveh E, Werman MJ, Sabo E, Neeman I. Defatted avocado pulp reduces body weight and total hepatic fat but increases plasma cholesterol in male rats fed diets with cholesterol. J Nutr. 2002 Jul;132(7) 2015-2018. doi:10.1093/jn/132.7.2015. PMID: 12097685.

7 Fulgoni, V., Dreher, M. & Davenport, A. (2013). Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001–2008. Nutrition Journal. 12(1):1.

8 Pieterse, Z., Jerling, J. & Oosthuizen, W. (2003). Avocados (mono-unsaturated-fatty acids), weight loss andserum lipids. South African Avocado Growers' Association Yearbook. 26:65-71.

9 Harvey, K., Walker, C., Xu, Z., Whitley, P., Pavlina, T., Hise, M., Zaloga, G. & Siddiqui, R. (2010). Oleic acid inhibits stearic acid-induced inhibition of cell growth and pro-inflammatory responses in human aortic endothelial cells. Journal of Lipid Research. 51 (12) pp: 3470-3480.

10 Hammad, S., Pu, S. & Jones, P. (2016). Current Evidence Supporting the Link Between Dietary Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease. Lipids. 51 (5) pp: 507-517.

11 Yoneyama, S., Miura K, Sasaki S, Yoshita K, Morikawa Y, Ishizaki M, Kido T, Naruse Y & Nakagawa H. (2007). Dietary intake of fatty acids and serum C-reactive protein in Japanese. Journal of Epidemiology. 86-92.

12 Lerman-Garber I, Ichazo-Cerro S, Zamora-González J, Cardoso-Saldaña G & Posadas-Romero C. (1994). Effect of a high-monounsaturated fat diet enriched with avocado in NIDDM patients. Diabetes Care. 17(4):311-5.

13 Carranza-Madrigal J, Herrera-Abarca J, Alvizouri-Muñoz M, Alvarado-Jimenez M & Chavez-Carbajal F. (1997). Effects of a vegetarian diet vs. a vegetarian diet enriched with avocado in hypercholesterolemic patients. Archives of Medical Research. 28(4):537-41.

14 Lanham-New, S., Lambert, H. & Frassetto, L. (2012). Potassium. Advances in Nutrition. 3(6):820-821.

15 Palmer, B. & Clegg, D. (2016). Achieving the Benefits of a High-Potassium, Paleolithic Diet, Without the Toxicity. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 91 (4) pp: 496-508.

16 Pappas, A., Liakou, A. & Zouboulis, C. (2016). Nutrition and Skin. Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders. 17 (3) pp: 443-448.

17 Park, E., Kim, G., Kim, H., Park, E., Kim, G. & Kim, H. (2013). Effect of Moisturizer Containing Avocado Oil on the Skin Moisture and Personal Satisfaction of 20s Female College Students. Kor J Aesthet Cosmetol. 11 (5) pp: 951-957.

18 Delcourt, C., Carrie`re I Delage, M., Barberger-Gateau, P., Schalch, W. & POLA Study Group (2006). Plasma Lutein and Zeaxanthin and Other Carotenoids as Modifiable Risk Factors for Age-Related Maculopathy and Cataract: The POLA Study. Investigative Opthalmology & Visual Science. 47(6):2329.

19 Lu, Q., Arteaga, J., Zhang, Q., Huerta, S., Go, V. & Heber, D. (2005). Inhibition of prostate cancer cell growth by an avocado extract: role of lipid-soluble bioactive substances. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 16 (1) pp: 23-30.

20 Nayak, B., Raju, S. & Chalapathi, R. A. (2008). Wound healing activity of Persea Americana (avocado) fruit: a preclinical study on rats. Journal of Wound Care. 17 (3) pp: 123-125.

21 Saleem, S., Khan, R., Kazmi, I. & Afzal, M. (2019). Medicinal Plants in the Treatment of Arthritis. Plant and Human Health, Volume 3. Springer International Publishing: 101-137.

22 DiNubile, N. (2010). A Potential Role for Avocado- and Soybean-Based Nutritional Supplements in the Management of Osteoarthritis: A Review. The Physician and Sports Medicine. 38 (2) pp: 71-81.

23 Blotman, F., Maheu, E., Wulwik, A., Caspard, H. & Lopez, A. (1997). Efficacy and safety of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables in the treatment of symptomatic osteoarthritis of the knee and hip. A prospective, multi-centre, three-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Revue du rhumatisme (English ed.) 64 (12) pp: 825-34.

24 Tan, C. (2019). Virgin avocado oil: An emerging source of functional fruit oil. Journal of Functional Foods. 54: 381-392.

25 Unlu, N., Bohn, T., Clinton, S. & Schwartz, S. (2005). Carotenoid Absorption from Salad and Salsa by Humans Is Enhanced by the Addition of Avocado or Avocado Oil. The Journal of Nutrition. 135(3):431-436.

26 Unlu, N., Bohn, T., Clinton, S. & Schwartz, S. (2005). Carotenoid Absorption from Salad and Salsa by Humans Is Enhanced by the Addition of Avocado or Avocado Oil. The Journal of Nutrition. 135(3):431-436.

27 Kopec, R., Cooperstone, J., Schweiggert, R., Young, G. & Harrison, E. (2014). Avocado Consumption Enhances Human Postprandial Provitamin A Absorption and Conversion from a Novel High–β-Carotene Tomato Sauce and from Carrots. The Journal of Nutrition. 144 (8): 1158-1166.

28 Unlu, N., Bohn, T., Clinton, S. & Schwartz, S. (2005). Carotenoid Absorption from Salad and Salsa by Humans Is Enhanced by the Addition of Avocado or Avocado Oil. The Journal of Nutrition. 135(3):431-436.

29 Li, Z., Wong, A., Henning, S., Zhang, Y., Jones, A., Zerlin, A., Thames, G., Bowerman, S., Tseng, C. & Heber, D. (2013). Hass avocado modulates postprandial vascular reactivity and postprandial inflammatory responses to a hamburger meal in healthy volunteers. Food Functionality: 4 (3):384-391.

30 Ibarra-Laclette, E., Méndez-Bravo, A., Pérez-Torres, C., Albert, V. & Mockaitis, K. (2015). Deep sequencing of the Mexican avocado transcriptome, an ancient angiosperm with a high content of fatty acids. BMC genomics. 16(1):599.

31 Peraza-Magallanes, A., Pereyra-Camacho, M., Sandoval-Castro, E., Medina-Godoy, S. & Valdez-Morales, M. (2017). Exploring genetic variation, oil and α-tocopherol content in avocado (Persea americana) from northwestern Mexico. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. 64 (3):443-449.

32 Espinosa-Alonso, L., Paredes-López, O., Valdez-Morales, M. & Oomah, B. (2017). Avocado oil characteristics of Mexican creole genotypes. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology. 119 (10):1600406.

33 Nam, Y., Rodriguez, I., Jeong, S., Pham, T. & Nuankaew, W. (2019). Avocado Oil Extract Modulates Auditory Hair Cell Function through the Regulation of Amino Acid Biosynthesis Genes. Nutrients. 11 (1): 113.

34 Al-Yousef, H., Amina, M., Ahamad, S. & Hassan, W. (2018). Prospects of using Avocado oil for attenuating quorum sensing regulated virulence, bio-filming formation and its antibacterial and antioxidant activities. bioRxiv. pp: 486928.

35 Goudarzi, R., Taylor, J., Yazdi, P. & Pedersen, B. (2017). Effects of Arthrocen, an avocado/soy unsaponifiables agent, on inflammatory mediators and gene expression in human chondrocytes. FEBS Open Bio. 7 (2): 187-194.

36 Dabas, D., Elias, R., Ziegler, G. & Lambert, J. (2019). In Vitro Antioxidant and Cancer Inhibitory Activity of a Colored Avocado Seed Extract. International Journal of Food Science. vol: 2019: 1-7.

37 Vasan, R. (2006). Biomarkers of Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation. 113 (19): 2335-2362.

38 Crescenti, A., Solà, R., Valls, R., Anguera, A. & Arola, L. (2013). Polymorphisms in LEP and NPY genes modify the response to soluble fibre Plantago ovata husk intake on cardiovascular risk biomarkers. Genes & Nutrition. 8(1):127-136.

39 Babizhayev, M. (2012). Biomarkers and special features of oxidative stress in the anterior segment of the eye linked to lens cataract and the trabecular meshwork injury in primary open-angle glaucoma: challenges of dual combination therapy with N-acetylcarnosine lubricant eye d. Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology. 26 (1): 86-117.

40 Comerford, K., Ayoob, K., Murray, R. & Atkinson, S. (2016). The Role of Avocados in Maternal Diets during the Periconceptional Period, Pregnancy, and Lactation. Nutrients. 8 (5):313.

41 Bannink, F., Larok, R., Kirabira, P., Bauwens, L. & Hove, G. (2015). Prevention of spina bifida: Folic acid intake during pregnancy in Gulu district, northern Uganda. Pan African Medical Journal. 20(1).

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