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Almost everyone knows the famous food-related piece of advice: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." But it may be time to rephrase that saying. Recent studies have shown that replacing bad fats (saturated fatty acids) with good fats (unsaturated fatty acids) can benefit cholesterol and help support both heart health and weight management. These studies point to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet as one pathway to better eating habits. One particular study focuses on the benefits of avocados as a novel way of introducing healthier fats into your diet.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study sought to test the effect avocados had on traditional cardiovascular risk-factors by substituting the saturated fatty acids in the average American diet with unsaturated fatty acids found in avocados. Risk factors included: total cholesterol, triglycerides, small dense LDL, and non-HDL cholesterol.
Forty-five healthy, overweight, or obese patients ranging in age from 21 to 70 were selected. Placed on three different cholesterol-lowering diets, participants consumed an average American diet—consisting of 34% calories from fat, 51% carbohydrates, and 16% protein—for two weeks prior to starting one of the following cholesterol-lowering diets: a lower-fat diet without the consumption of avocado, a moderate-fat diet without avocado, and a moderate-fat diet that included eating one avocado per day.
When compared to the average American diet, LDL, commonly known as "bad cholesterol, was lower after consuming the moderate-fat diet that included an avocado. LDL was also lower for the moderate-fat diet without the avocado, but not as much; it was 8.3 mg/dL lower when compared to the avocado-a-day diet, which was 13.5 mg/dL lower.
"In the United States, avocados are not a mainstream food yet, and they can be expensive, especially at certain times of the year," said Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D, R.D., senior study author, Chair of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee, and Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. "Also, most people do not really know how to incorporate them into their diet except for making guacamole. But guacamole is typically eaten with corn chips, which are high in calories and sodium. Avocados, however, can also be eaten with salads, vegetables, sandwiches, lean protein foods (like chicken or fish) or even whole," she said.
The focus behind many heart-healthy diets has been to change the types of fats consumed rather than eliminate them. The Mediterranean diet seeks to do this by going heavy on the vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, and foods rich in unsaturated fatty acids. Research on avocados now puts them in the same group and presents an easy way to start replacing bad fats with good ones. Although it can be tough always sticking to a particular way of eating, integrating an avocado into your daily eating habits can be a great starting point to support good heart-health and weight management. Start your avocado-a-day routine today!