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You may have noticed that researchers have been zeroing in on our guts as a measure of our overall health. Over the last few years, the link between the gut microbiome, the population of microorganisms in our digestive tract, and well-being have been highlighted in numerous scientific papers – for example, having the right types of bacteria in our digestive systems has been singled out for improving brain performance, helping with weight loss, lowering heart disease risk, elevating the muscle response to exercise, and bring on more robust immune system functioning.
In terms of how to boost your microbiome, plant-based foods are often touted for their gut-pleasing effects. Listen up, avocado toast fans: An avocado-a-day can keep an unhappy gut at bay.
A little avocado goes a long way
A recent investigation published in the Journal of Nutrition involving 163 adults between 25 and 45 years old who were either overweight or had obesity but were otherwise healthy discovered that the participants who added avocado to a single meal every day for 3 months had a higher count of gut microbes capable of breaking down dietary fiber and producing health-promoting metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids, compared with those who did not include the creamy fruit in their diet.
Short-chain fatty acids (SCAs) are produced by the gut microbiota during the fermentation of certain components of the food we eat and are emerging as important players in human health as they impact metabolism and inflammation. (Participants provided blood, urine and stool samples throughout the 12-week study period.) Daily avocado consumption was also associated with a greater microbial diversity of beneficial bugs, leaving the study authors to conclude that it can have a positive effect on our “digestive physiology.”
Why the microbiome-boosting powers of the mighty avocado? One could surmise that it’s largely due to the combination of fiber (one avocado delivers a whopping 13.5 grams) and bioactive compounds found within the creamy flesh. While we can’t break down all the fiber found in foods like avocado, various types of microbes can and thrive in the process of doing so – a definite win for our microbiome and overall health. Sadly, recent data suggests that only 7.4% of American adults met the Institute of Medicine’s suggested daily fiber consumption, which is 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed.
Avocados offer benefits that go beyond gut health too
Worried that eating calorie-rich avocado will inflate your waistline? Avocados are certainly high in fat; however, the researchers found that while the avocado group consumed slightly more calories than the control group, slightly more fat was excreted in their stools. This is a sign that avocado eaters were absorbing fewer calories from their diets.
This was likely because of the reduction that eating avocados had on levels of bile acids, compounds the digestive system secrets that allow us to absorb fat. Perhaps this is why another study in The Journal of Nutrition found that women who consumed an avocado every day for 12 weeks had reduced visceral abdominal fat, the dangerous fatty tissue found inside your abdominal cavity that wraps around your internal organs, compared with those who didn’t eat avocado.
Recent research published in Nutrition Journal also found that adding half an avocado to peoples’ lunch decreased their desire to eat over the next three hours by a lofty 40 percent. This hunger-quelling power could be another way that the calories in avocado won’t necessarily show up on your waistline – add avocado to your lunch sandwich and you may eat fewer calories later.
Science has uncovered a handful of other health perks with eating avocado that’ll surely please guacamole aficionados. For instance, a recent study conducted at Pennsylvania State University found that consuming avocado daily can help lower levels of circulating oxidized LDL cholesterol – a form of cholesterol that is particularly detrimental to heart health. The researchers credit some of this benefit to the antioxidants including lutein found in avocado. Roughly 65 percent of the fat in avocados is monounsaturated, which helps lower overall LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
And people who ate a medium avocado daily for six months saw a big boost in working memory (46 percent) and problem-solving efficiency (47 percent), a study in the journal Nutrients found. Antioxidants like lutein present in avocados may lower oxidative stress damage of the brain.
Avocado is a calorie-dense food, but also a nutrient-dense one; containing important micronutrients many Americans don’t eat enough of like potassium for better blood pressure control (they have more potassium than a banana), vitamin E and vitamin K.
How to add more avocado into your diet
Want to add more avocado to your daily diet but not sure when it’s ready to go and at its best? Gauging the ripeness of an avocado can be tricky, and it’s deflating to slice into one when eager to add it to sandwiches, salads or smoothies, only to discover it’s gone past prime or isn’t fully ripe throughout.
It turns out avocados don’t ripen uniformly. And there’s one area you should squeeze to tell if it is ripened and at its creamy delicious best. Avocados ripen first at the stem end, then down to the bottom of the fruit. That means you should gently squeeze the bottom, opposite end of the stem, to determine if your avocado is fully ripened. It should feel slightly squishy, but not too much so. Your guac will thank you.