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Avocados: History of an unlikely but legitimate healthy food craze

From California to Manila, avocados are a common ingredient on restaurant menus around the world.They can be f...

Posted: Dec 8, 2017 1:34 PM
Updated: Dec 8, 2017 1:34 PM

From California to Manila, avocados are a common ingredient on restaurant menus around the world.

They can be found not only spread on toast and tacos but in ice cream, smoothies, hummus and even pasta sauce.

One 17th-century Spanish poet described avocados as "healthy for sick people"

Now, experts tout the health benefits -- and one concern -- of avocados

The consumption of avocados in the United States, has been climbing since 1989, when only about 1.1 pounds were consumed per capita, according to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center, a research group that receives grants from the US Department of Agriculture.

By 2014, about 7 pounds were consumed per capita, and now avocados are a popular food item -- especially due to their health benefits. But what exactly makes them good for you?

"Avocados are a fruit and one of the few fruits that are high in fat and low in sugar," said Dr. Donald Hensrud, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program in Rochester, Minnesota, and a specialist in nutrition and preventive medicine.

"Along with nuts, olive oil and canola oil, the fat content in avocados are predominantly monounsaturated fat, which is responsible for many ... health benefits," he said. "Avocados also contain other nutrients including B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, copper and fiber, which add to their health benefits. They have a higher potassium content than bananas."

Yet long before the green-hued fruit became a modern-day health food staple, the history of the avocado was preserved in the Americas some 10,000 years ago.

The avocado's name is thought to come from the Aztec word ahuacatl, which means testicle, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. The name presumably is tied to the shape of avocados.

When Spanish conquistadores arrived in the Americas, avocados attracted their attention, leading to the earliest-known written description of the fruit published in Sevilla in the early 1500s by explorer Mart-n Fern-ndez de Enciso.

Yet before the avocado was distributed throughout Spanish colonies, Europe and the United States, the fruit was consumed for taste as well as for health, according to a 2007 article in the Harvard Papers in Botany.

In 1605, Spanish soldier and poet Garcilazo de la Vega described the avocado as "delicious and very healthy for sick people," according to the article. De la Vega could have been on to something, as avocados are now seen as a source of the healthy dietary monounsaturated fat.

Monounsaturated fats are good for your health in many ways, such as helping lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol levels and being high in vitamin E, which promotes healthy vision, a healthy immune system and other benefits, according to the US National Library of Medicine.

"In addition, the relatively high fat content in avocados is associated with a low glycemic response, which is the tendency of a food to raise blood glucose," Hensrud said. "Evidence from large populations studies suggests that consumption of monounsaturated fats such as contained in avocados decreases overall mortality."

How could you get those health benefits? Avocado toast has become a trendy way to consume the buttery fruit in the US, but Jenna Stangland, a registered dietitian at the physical therapy clinic Viverant in the Minneapolis area, said there are many other ways to include avocado in your daily diet.

"Avocado oil I think is getting to be easier to find in the grocery stores and more common as a type of oil to use in cooking or a marinade or as an ingredient in a homemade salad dressing, and then that oil contains the healthier fats rather than an oil that would have higher saturated fats," Stangland said. Avocado has a very high smoke point, the temperature at which oil starts to smoke, which makes it a good choice for cooking.

"It's common to do fruit and yogurt and ice cubes in smoothies, but ... adding that avocado adds a really nice creaminess plus a healthy fat that might not be in a smoothie otherwise," she said. "Another one that I've tried, I haven't made myself, are avocado pops. ... It's like a frozen treat that includes that healthy fat."

However, because avocados are high in calories, Stangland cautions to watch portion sizes. For instance, topping a salad with about a half-cup of avocado adds 117 calories to your meal.

"Just doing a layer of the avocado on the toast comes out to be about a serving," Stangland said. "At restaurants, or even preparing a dish at home, putting sliced avocado on top of a fish or on top of a salad, it can be really easy to just slice up the whole avocado to put it on top of the salad, and then that's going to be a lot more dense in calories."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501097

Reported Deaths: 9990
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34338538
DeSoto32117403
Hinds31939628
Jackson24494382
Rankin21995390
Lee15543235
Madison14581280
Jones13851242
Forrest13453251
Lauderdale11991317
Lowndes11050188
Lamar10521135
Pearl River9533237
Lafayette8550140
Hancock7732127
Washington7438158
Oktibbeha7146131
Monroe6777177
Warren6694176
Pontotoc6664102
Neshoba6637206
Panola6531131
Marshall6467134
Bolivar6317148
Union602894
Pike5820152
Alcorn5669101
Lincoln5436135
George496879
Scott472898
Tippah469281
Prentiss467281
Leflore4658144
Itawamba4636105
Tate4588111
Adams4587119
Copiah448592
Simpson4446116
Yazoo444187
Wayne439772
Covington428894
Sunflower4239105
Marion4226108
Coahoma4160105
Leake408288
Newton381779
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Stone360364
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Attala331589
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay308076
Chickasaw300367
Clarke292494
Calhoun279446
Holmes267987
Smith264050
Yalobusha234047
Tallahatchie228051
Greene219348
Walthall218763
Lawrence212940
Perry205556
Amite205156
Webster202946
Noxubee186740
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171743
Carroll169138
Tunica159839
Benton148838
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132737
Humphreys129538
Franklin120228
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64120
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 819597

Reported Deaths: 15406
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1147901924
Mobile725791338
Madison52306697
Shelby37597350
Baldwin37245552
Tuscaloosa35101612
Montgomery34106740
Lee23526246
Calhoun22225488
Morgan20941378
Etowah19825500
Marshall18361304
Houston17384412
St. Clair16054339
Cullman15443293
Limestone15343199
Elmore15241286
Lauderdale14302295
Talladega13836283
DeKalb12649261
Walker11202370
Blount10192176
Autauga10043148
Jackson9871184
Coffee9210191
Dale8897185
Colbert8860201
Tallapoosa7084198
Escambia6772134
Covington6712183
Chilton6641162
Russell636659
Franklin5959105
Chambers5607142
Marion5005127
Dallas4973200
Pike4795106
Clarke475584
Geneva4571127
Winston4516103
Lawrence4321117
Bibb425186
Barbour357776
Marengo338090
Monroe331464
Randolph329764
Butler326396
Pickens316284
Henry312666
Hale311388
Cherokee302860
Fayette292880
Washington251551
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245275
Clay243368
Macon234663
Lamar224147
Conecuh186153
Coosa180240
Lowndes175164
Wilcox168839
Bullock151644
Perry138840
Sumter133038
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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