The Magic Avocado (And Other Tall Tales)

After checking with Goop, the Dr. Oz’s of the world, and insert-the-name-of-any-one-of-a-hundred-internet-gurus, I think it’s time we hold an Oscar Night for the almighty avocado. An “Oscavo Night,” if you will. Because according to these “experts,” the avocado comes just shy of solving all problems known to mankind.

Let’s backtrack and first establish some important things, before I lose the avocado lovers to sarcasm:

  1. Avocados are delicious. I like them on tacos, on sandwiches, on toast, in salads, on burgers, on potatoes, in dressings…You might say “I could put that ish on everything!”
  2. Avocados pack a punch when it comes to nutrition. They’re full of heart-healthy fats, phytochemicals, vitamins, & minerals.
  3. Avocados are great for satisfying satiety and taste.
  4. Avocados (specifically the guac-variety) go perfectly with chips and margaritas. Enough said.

There are lots of articles and blog posts written by “experts” (defining this term requires a whole separate post, so I’m just going to leave this sitting here in quotes for you), explaining why “an avocado a day is recommended for everyone.”

Here’s the thing: no one food can provide the nutrition needed to keep you healthy.

(On a side note, if you like history, here’s a super weird and interesting story about a guy who moved to an island to eat nothing but coconut for the rest of his life: Death By Coconut – A Story of Food Obsession Gone too Far. Spoiler alert: He died a “mentally ill, rheumatic, severely malnourished sack of bones with ulcers on his legs.”)

Yes, avocados are rich in vitamins and minerals – just like many other fruits and vegetables. But avocados do not contain every nutrient needed in the diet – which is where the old adage “eat a variety of foods, every day, consistently,” comes in. By varying your intake and getting about 2 cups of fruit and 3-4 cups of vegetables into your system every day, you’re ensuring you’re covering your needs. There is no magic nutrition in an avocado. It just has a lot of nutrition packed into one food item.

Yes, avocados can help with satiety, and there has been some research that shows that those who ate avocados daily lost weight – because they were full and ate less. They didn’t lose weight because they ate avocados. That’s a flawed take-away. They lost weight because their energy intake went down, simply because they were full. The take-away is that eating a diet with enough satisfying healthy fats (and volume) will reduce cravings and lead to lower calorie intake. Lower calorie intake leads to weight loss. It’s science, not magic.

On that calorie front, let’s address one more thing: most Americans eat too much food every day. This isn’t news – we’ve known this for decades. Serving sizes are too big, physical activity is too sparse, and most Americans are taking in way more energy than they expend. The average avocado contains in excess of 300 calories. Adding 300 calories to the daily intake of most Americans would not be helpful. Three-hundred extra calories per day equals 2100 extra calories per week, and 8400 extra calories per month….Unless those calories are replacing other calories in the diet (or that person’s monthly caloric expenditure increases by 8400 calories), that daily avocado will lead to 2 extra pounds of fat storage per month. Yes, I know earlier I said eating an avocado can lead to increased satiety and thus decreased appetite in research studies. If you believe that you will reduce your other daily food intake by 300 calories to off-set the avocado, cool. But that brings me back to my earlier point about needing a variety of foods in the diet in order to meet nutritional needs…Do you see where we run into an issue here?

Yes, avocados contain healthy fats that can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and in turn help reduce the risk of heart disease. Just like nuts, seeds, olives, and mono- and polyunsaturated oils do. Again, science, not magic. It’s not the avocado that lowers cholesterol. It’s intake of mono- and polyunsaturated fats (as part of a balanced diet and appropriate overall energy intake) that helps lower bad cholesterol.

Yes, avocados can help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) – but not because they are avocados! The name of the vitamins even says it: they are fat-soluble. This means they need fat in the diet in order to be absorbed into the body. Any fat will do. Yep, any dietary fat will do just fine to help absorb these vitamins. And most Americans get plenty of dietary fat daily to absorb their fat-soluble vitamins. There is no need to add a daily avocado to get your beta-carotene on!

I know this all sounds like I’m dissing the avocado. Far from it – I’m a big fan. What I’m not a fan of is glorifying one single food. That’s fad-diet talk. That’s media-sensationalism. That is tricking you into believing that taking a “pill” (in this case in the form of a daily avocado) is enough to take care of your body. It isn’t. But don’t look at that as a bad thing. It just means that it is your job to enjoy lots of foods. Every day. Sure, eat avocados! Eat them regularly, if you like them and can afford them. But don’t think they are magic or better than other foods. They are one food item in your overall healthy diet.

It’s not sexy, but the science hasn’t changed and human metabolism & nutritional needs still rely on this basic fact: you need a variety of healthy grains & starches, whole fruits & vegetables, lean protein sources (incorporate lots of plant proteins like nuts, seeds, soy, and legumes), and healthy fats. Do that every day, forever. (Oh, and move your body every day.)

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