From avocado toast to avocado-laden soups, smoothies, and even brownies, it’s safe to say the world has become avo-obsessed. But do the health benefits of avocado really live up to the hype, or are we all just enthralled because they taste so good?
We sat down with Freshly’s head nutritionist Brooke Scheller, DCN, MS, to find out. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of avocado, their nutrition, and even how to ripen them with expert insights from Scheller, including her favorite tricks for incorporating them into meals.
Health benefits of avocado
We wanted to get straight to the heart of the issue. We know avocados are relatively high in calories thanks to their healthy fats, but does the rest of an avocado’s nutrition make it worth working this fruit into your meal plan? Scheller thinks so, and the science backs her up. Here’s what you need to know.
Avocados are packed with nutrients
Few of us have a need to sit down and look at a food’s actual nutrition stats, but it’s worth doing with avocados to see the nutrients stack up. A 100g serving of avocado (3.5 ounces) packs in:
- Calories: 160
- Fiber: 6.7g
- Vitamin B5: 14% of the daily value (DV)
- Vitamin B6: 13% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 17% of the DV
- Vitamin E: 10% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 26% of the DV
- Folate: 20% of the DV
- Potassium: 14% of the DV
Scheller loves that avocados provide plenty of potassium since she notes that many Americans are deficient in this important mineral. Potassium functions as an electrolyte in your body, which it uses to manage fluid balance. This potassium content is important for another reason:
May help lower blood pressure
When it comes to high-potassium foods, bananas get all the credit. But a 100-gram serving of avocado actually packs in more potassium than a banana. A diet high in potassium has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure), a risk factor for serious health issues such as heart attack and stroke. Specifically in the case of stroke, a high-potassium diet was able to lower study participants’ risk by 24%.
May help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Hypercholesterolemia (abnormally high cholesterol) and high triglyceride levels are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. But adding avocado to your diet may be one delicious way to help bring those numbers down into a healthy range. One study that included participants with normal cholesterol levels and those with higher cholesterol levels found that a diet rich in avocado successfully lowered total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Even better, the participants eating more avocado also had modest increases in their “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
May help you absorb other key nutrients
We all need a wide range of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy and feel our best. But we also need different types of vitamins: some are water-soluble and some are fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins can dissolve in water and are easily used by the body. If you get too much, your body simply gets rid of the rest. Fat-soluble vitamins on the other hand are stored by your body until they’re needed—though they’re also harder for your body to absorb and put to use. They require fat.
That’s where avocado comes in. “Avocado helps with the absorption of specific vitamins like A, D, E, and K,” Scheller notes. That’s why it’s important to balance your meals with some fat. Your salad full of leafy greens provides a considerable dose of vitamin K, but your body can’t use it unless you include some fat on your meal, such as avocado. Antioxidants are the same way. In fact, adding this fruit to either salad or salsa can increase antioxidant absorption between 2.6 and 15 fold.
How to cut an avocado
If you’re a fan of this fruit, you likely follow the same pattern: You cut the avocado in half lengthwise, twist to pull the halves apart, and get rid of the pit by giving it a solid tap with your knife. You then slice and scoop out however much of the fruit you need for your avocado recipe. But Scheller says there’s a better way.
“The most nutrient-dense part of the avocado is the dark green color just inside the rind,” she explains. “If you scoop out the avocado, you can miss out on some of the nutrients in the fruit.” So the best method is to actually peel the skin off of the avocado instead of scooping it out. If it’s ripe, the skin should come off easily. Simply slice the avocado in half; then, cut into wedges and peel the skin. If you really must scoop, make sure you’re getting as much flesh off the peel as possible.
Don’t get rid of that pit unless you’re using the whole avocado, either. Leave the pit in the avocado, sprinkle it with lemon or lime juice, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the fridge for up to a day in order to avoid browning. This way of storing avocado keeps the tender fruit as fresh as possible for as long as possible.
How to tell if an avocado is ripe
It’s tempting to go around squeezing the avocados at the grocery store to find one just perfect for tonight’s avocado toast—but please don’t. Squeezing the fruits may damage them. And if you don’t buy the fruits that you’ve squeezed, you’re leaving behind damaged and potentially bruised avocados for other shoppers. Instead, you can remove the stem off of the end of the fruit to look at the color underneath.
An avocado is ripe when the color under the stem is green and the stem comes away easily. If you can easily remove the stem but find brown underneath, the fruit is already overripe. And if the stem feels stubborn and either doesn’t come off or is hard to remove, the avocado isn’t ripe yet.
If you really must squeeze an avocado, hold it in your palm and lightly squeeze without using your fingertips, which are more likely to damage the fruit. The outside may also give you some clues, although avocados can vary by type. Less ripe fruits will have a smoother, greener skin. The skin darkens as the avocado ripens and in many cases also develops a rougher texture.
How to pick an avocado
Picking the right avocado depends on your needs. You can use the guide above to figure out roughly how ripe the fruits are, but you’ll want to plan which avocados you pick according to how you’ll use them. If you plan on using them that day or the next, choose a ripe avocado. But you should likely also pair these fruits with a couple green, underripe avocados, which can take 4 to 5 days to ripen. This way, you only go grocery shopping once, but you have avocados that will be ripe when you need them throughout the week without going soft and mushy.
How to ripen avocado
If you plan the avocados you buy according to when you want to use them, no extra steps beyond placing the fruit on your counter is necessary for ripening the avocados. But sometimes that doesn’t work out because of what the grocery store does and doesn’t have in stock. If you can only find underripe avocados but you want to use them in a couple days rather than 4 to 5, simply pop them in a paper bag along with a ripe banana.
You want the banana for its natural plant hormone called ethylene. This hormone is released by ripe bananas and triggers the ripening of your avocados. The paper bag contains the hormone to ensure it works its magic on those hard avocados.
Ways to incorporate avocados into meals
Avocado toast is far from your only option for enjoying this fruit. In fact, there are plenty of sweet and savory ways to work avocado into your meals for maximum variety. Scheller loves adding avocados to smoothies because they make them nice and thick. “My favorite recipe is coconut milk (amount to taste/thickness), half an avocado, half a banana, and a sprinkle or two of cacao powder for a chocolate kick,” she says. “It’s nice and sweet and gets thick like ice cream.” But those main meals can be savory, too, and Scheller enjoys using them as a topping: “Avocado is also a great addition to Freshly meals. I like adding slices on top of our chili and tacos.”
Avocado also makes a great snack or appetizer. Scheller suggests making a quick guacamole with mashed avocado, fresh-squeezed lime juice, chopped cilantro, salt, and pepper. Her trick for extra flavor is adding lots of lime juice. Instead of pita chips for dipping, she opts for fresh veggies like endive, radishes, peppers, cucumbers. If you’re hosting, you can simply multiply the recipe for a larger serving size.
But thanks to their rich texture and neutral flavor, these fruits also make surprisingly good ingredients for dessert recipes. Scheller’s healthy dessert hack is to puree a ripe avocado in a blender or food processor and use it to replace the oil in a brownie recipe. “The natural fat from the avocado will add richness and a nutrient boost, too,” she says. You can also use avocado as a base for a vegan chocolate mousse.
Is it possible to eat too much avocado?
Scheller wants you to know that, yes, unfortunately there is too much of a good thing when it comes to avocado. “Avocados are high in fat,” she explains, “which means they’re also high in calories. Though the fat they contain is the good kind, you can still blow your calorie budget by having one too many scoops of guac.” A healthy serving size of guacamole is between 2 tablespoons and ¼ cup, depending on your daily calorie needs, which is shockingly easy to blow through with just a couple of chips.
So if there’s such a thing as too much of the fruit, what’s a good serving size of avocado? “I recommend limiting your serving size to ⅓ of a medium avocado which has about 80 calories,” Scheller suggests, adding that this is compared to the 240 calories a whole avocado provides.