avocado-71567_640Researchers in the US have identified a relationship between people who eat avocados and a range of health factors including overall diet quality, energy and nutrient intake, indicators of health like waist circumference, body mass index, and body weight, as well as a potentially reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.

You might be surprised to hear that in the US, it is estimated that less than 3% of men and less than 6% of women eat the recommended number of daily fruit and vegetable servings. In Australia, it is estimated that people eat only half the recommended quantity of fruit and vegetables.

Dietary guidelines often recommend that people eat more fruit and vegetables because they are excellent sources of nutrients including dietary fibre and vitamins. But in addition to these benefits, increasing fruit and vegetable intake can be an excellent way to incorporate foods that are less energy dense (or lower in kilojoules).

Nutritional profile of avocados
An avocado is approximately 80% water and fibre. Unlike other fruit, it is low in sugar and high in monounsaturated fatty acids. According to Australian Avocados, half an avocado includes the following nutrients and antioxidants:

  • 5g of fibre (17% of adult fibre needs)
  • 36% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for folate
  • 31% of RDI for vitamin K
  • 24% of RDI for vitamin E
  • 15% of RDI for potassium
  • 13mg of vitamin C (29% of an adult’s RDI)
  • 2.3mg of vitamin E (24% of an adult’s RDI)
  • 0.32mg of copper (18% of an adult’s RDI)
  • 170 mg GAE of total phenolic antioxidants

Study design
In this study, (funded by the Hass Avocado Board) researchers analysed the dietary habits of 17,567 adults to understand if people who eat avocados have better overall health indicators. Data was collected through an initiative known as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES, Center of Disease Control and Prevention) which examines the health and nutritional status of a representative cross-section of the population.

The NHANES study included in-person interviews where participants were asked to recall their food intake over the previous 24 hours. The results were then analysed using the MyPyramid Equivalents Database and this data was grouped into seven major food groups. Avocado eaters were identified as anyone who reported eating any amount of avocado during their dietary recall period.

The researchers also evaluated health indicators including body weight, body mass index, waist circumference and HDL cholesterol. Finally, a further factor – the risk of metabolic syndrome – was included, which was determined if the participant met three out of five criteria relating to waist circumference, triglycerides, HDL-C, blood pressure and fasting glucose.

Diet quality and food group/nutrient intakes were adjusted for age, gender, ethnicity, poverty, income ratio, self-reported physical activity level, smoking status, alcohol and energy intake.

When analysed, approximately 2% of study participants were avocado eaters. Mean intake was approximately half of a medium sized avocado; containing approx. 114 calories (of which 95 calories come from fat). Men tended to eat more avocado than women.

People who ate avocados:
• ate significantly more vegetables and fruit
• had higher overall diet quality
• had higher intakes of total fat and higher intakes of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat
• had higher intakes of dietary fibre, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K
• had lower intake of added sugars
• ate significantly lower carbohydrate
• had lower body weight, BMI and a smaller waist circumference.
• had a 50% lower odds ratio for metabolic syndrome than those who did not eat avocado.

There were no significant differences between avocado eaters (and non-eaters) for intakes of total grains, dairy, meat, beans and discretionary fats.

This study does not suggest that eating avocados will automatically lead to weight loss, or improved health markers. However, the results do show that people who eat avocados have some significant health differences when analysed with people who don’t eat them. It’s possible that people who eat avocados also eat a range of fruit and vegetables and that eating avocado is one part of their overall nutrition.

What this means for you
As a weight loss professional, you might want to refer to this interesting study when discussing your clients’ nutritional intake. They might be surprised to know that people who incorporate avocado into their diets have such strong health markers.
Reference: Fulgoni III, V. L., Dreher, M., & Davenport, A. J. (2013). Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutrition Journal, 12, 1.