The History And Health Benefits of Avocados

November 12, 2021

Avocados have exploded in popularity recently. They’re the most iconic food of the ketogenic diet. They’ve obtained “meme status” amongst millennials due to their love of avocado toast and guacamole. And avocados have a ton of health benefits, which we’ll dive into later in this article. 

But the superfood — and the tree they grow on — has a bizarre and interesting history. 

Let’s dive into avocados' unusual rise to fame and then we’ll look at some of the best health benefits these superfruits have. 

Where did avocados come from? 

Researchers believe the first human ate an avocado about 10,000 years ago in Puebla, located in South Central Mexico. But they never made it to America until the 19th century — and it took until about the 20th century for them to come into Europe. 

Even though the first humans ate avocados some 10,000 years ago, the trees that avocados grow on weren't domesticated until 5,000 years later by Mesoamerican tribes. That means the domestication of avocado trees is as old as the invention of the wheel! 

Now you’re probably wondering how the heck avocados survived for 5,000 years without the domestication of avocado trees. 

And here’s where things take a turn down bizarre street: 

Before its domestication, it’s thought that avocados survived thanks to large mammals that have since gone extinct. 

Here’s the theory: 

These large, long-extinct mammals’ stomachs had the ability to eat the entire avocado  — yes, including the skin and the mildly toxic seed inside the avocado. Researchers believe that the seed was ready to sprout by the time it was excreted from the large mammals. 

Hey, I warned you avocados had a strange history! 

Let’s add another flavor of weird to this quick history lesson: 

Remember how I said Mesoamerican tribes first domesticated the avocado tree? Well, they also thought the fruit provided sustenance and possessed supernatural powers. 

The Aztecs thought the fruit bestowed unbelievable strength to anyone who ate it. The Aztecs also believed avocados were an aphrodisiac which boosted fertility for both men and women.  

While avocados do have some aphrodisiac properties — such as vitamin B6, vitamin E, and folic acid — ancient Aztecs believed it was an aphrodisiac because of its unique shape. This is why they referred to avocados as the “fertility fruit.”

But the Aztecs weren’t the only ancient Mesoamerican tribe that cherished avocados. The ancient Mayans did too. And they even represented the 14th month of their calendar by the glyph for the avocado. 

avocado glyph
Ancient Mayan glyph for the avocado (K'ank'in). This represents the 14th month on the Mayan calendar.

Not to mention, growing avocado trees also has an unusual benefit: 

Growing avocado trees helps balance the nitrates in the soil, which boosts the fertility of the soil making other plants easier to grow. 

Maybe the Aztecs were onto something when they named it the fertility fruit… 

But fertility fruit isn’t the only “pseudonym” avocados went by. Avocados had a few other names over the years too such as: 

  1. Alligator Pear — which was an early English name for the fruit because lazy speakers misinterpreted "avocado pear" as alligator pear. I don’t think you could think up a scarier name for a fruit. This name stuck around from the 17th century until the early 1900s when American growers renamed it as a marketing effort.  
  2. Butter Fruit — which came from the buttery texture avocados have, mostly in India. In fact, if you ask an Indian avocado farmer what they’re growing, they’ll still answer with “butter fruit.” 

Despite growing for 5,000 years without being domesticated and living through more name changes than most fruits ever experience, avocados survived. 

But they still had a shaky history in America. 

The strange history of avocados in America

Avocados made their way to America in 1833. But they were only mildly popular in places where avocado farms existed — such as California, Florida, and Hawaii. 

If you lived outside of those 3 states, you avoided avocados until the 1950s, where they became a staple part of a delicious salad. 

Prior to the 1950s, avocados had a stigma around them thanks to the ancient Aztecs. Since they had a reputation of being an aphrodisiac, they were taboo among conservative Americans. 

And that’s not the only popularity setback they had… 

Avocados dealt with more adversity 30 years later in the 1980s. 

Why? 

Americans became more nutrition-conscious during the 80s. And this is around the time that the low-fat craze exploded on the scene. 

Fat was demonized as well as every type of food that had high fat contents, which included avocados. 

But then we realized not all fats are created equal. That there’s a difference between good and bad fats. And that there’s a ton of nutritious benefits of the unsaturated fats in avocados. 

This helped avocados regain their popularity they lost in the 1980s. And they never looked back since. 

How much has their popularity grown? 

In 1985, domestic consumption of avocados was a scant 436 million pounds. By 2020, that number increased six-fold! Today, Americans consume over 2.6 billion pounds of the superfood with a strange history. And America accounts for 79% of avocados exported from Mexico.

But that’s not all: 

Like I mentioned earlier, the avocado has become the iconic staple of the ketogenic diet. It has entered the pop culture lexicon — appearing on T-shirts and in commercials. And I even had avocado dog toys for my pups (that they've since destroyed). 

And for good reason — avocados are one of the best foods you can eat! 

So let’s dive into what exactly makes these superfood berries so beneficial for your health. (Yeah, that’s right… avocados are considered berries!) 

The top 5 health benefits of avocados 

Avocados have a strange history — but that's not the only reason they're one of the most unique fruits. 

Why? 

Most fruits contain a bunch of carbs and not much of anything else. But avocados are one of the only fruits loaded with healthy fats. They also have one of the lowest sugar amounts, which is why avocados are the iconic symbol for the ketogenic diet. 

But there are far more benefits than having a high amount of healthy fats compared to other fruits. 

Let’s jump into the top 5 health benefits of avocados and why they belong in your diet. 

1. Avocados are a nutrition powerhouse 

When it comes to fruit, avocados are one of the most nutritious. Each avocado contains a wide array of nutrients, including 20 different vitamins and minerals your body craves. 

While each avocado varies in size, here’s some of the nutrients you get from a 100g avocado:

  • Vitamin K1: 26% of your daily value (DV) — which helps prevent blood clotting and promotes healthy bones (1)
  • Folate (B9): 20% of your DV — which promotes normal cell function and tissue growth (plus, folate’s essential for pregnant women) (2)
  • Vitamin C: 17% of your DV — which is a powerful antioxidant for your immune system and skin health (3
  • Potassium: 14% of your DV — which is an essential mineral for blood pressure control and heart health (4). In fact, avocados have more potassium than bananas! 
  • Vitamin B5: 14% of your DV — which turns your food into energy, especially fats (5
  • Vitamin B6: 13% of your DV — which helps you metabolize proteins, fats, and carbs and creates red blood cells and neurotransmitters (6
  • Vitamin E: 10% of your DV — which is a powerful antioxidant (7

Plus, avocados contain small amounts of other important nutrients like copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, vitamin A, and vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin). 

All this for just 160 calories makes it one of the most nutrient-dense fruits available. And they contain 2 grams of protein, 15 grams of healthy fats, and 9 grams of carbs — with 7 grams of fiber (bringing the net carbs down to only 2 grams). 

The 15 grams of healthy fat goes a long way for your satiation levels, which brings me to my next benefit: 

2. Avocados support healthier weight management 

One of the reasons avocados are touted as the iconic food choice of the ketogenic diet is because they promote a healthier weight management. This is why many people consider avocados as a weight loss food. 

As you might know, eating healthy fats makes you feel fuller for longer. While protein is the most satiating macro, fats are much more satiating than carbs. 

The mix of high healthy fats and high fiber amounts both help you feel fuller for longer. 

And studies back this up: 

In 2013, researchers examined the impact eating hass avocados had on participants' satiation levels, meaning how long people felt full after eating an avocado. 

Their results? 

The folks who ate an avocado with a meal felt 23% more satisfied after eating. And they had a 28% lower desire to eat over the next 5 hours compared to those who didn’t eat avocados. 

5 hours! 

Try adding an avocado to your breakfast and see the satiation-increasing results for yourself. 

More: 

Avocados also improve your heart health (which we’ll discuss in the next section) because of the monounsaturated fats avocados have. 

These monounsaturated fats might come with other weight loss benefits including (8): 

  • Your body burns them at a higher rate than other types of fat
  • Your body may increase the rate at which it burns fat 
  • Your body may burn more calories after eating monounsaturated fats
  • They reduce your appetite and your desire to eat after a meal 

Alright, let’s jump into the heart and cardiovascular benefits of avocados… 

Avocado info 2

3. Avocados enhance your cardiovascular health 

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the world. In America alone, 659,000 people die from heart disease — which translates to 1 in every 4 deaths! 

And avocados have shown to improve various markers of heart health — including cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood pressure, and others. 

Specifically, avocados reduce blood triglycerides by up to 20% (9). 

They lower LDL -- the “bad” cholesterol -- by up to 22% (10). And increase HDL -- the “good” cholesterol -- by up to 11% (10).  

But that’s not all:

Remember how I said that avocados contain more potassium than bananas (which are usually thought of the best source of potassium)?

Well, most Americans have a potassium deficiency. In fact, up to 98% of Americans don’t get enough potassium.

Here’s why this matters for your heart health: 

Potassium deficiencies are linked to higher blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure (11). 

Let’s dive deeper into how avocados protect your heart: 

77% of the calories contained in avocados come from fats. This alone makes it one of the fattiest plant foods in existence. In fact, avocados contain more fat than many types of meat. 

But there’s a specific type of fat inside avocados that protects your heart (and may even help prevent cancer). 

What’s this type of fat? 

It’s called oleic acid — and it’s a monounsaturated fatty acid. (It’s also a major component of olive oil — which is why I only use olive oil and avocado oil when I cook. And because they’re DELISH.)

Studies have shown that replacing some saturated fat in your diet with monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat can lead to health benefits — like increased insulin sensitivity, better blood sugar control, lower levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and increased levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol (12). 

Plus, oleic acid has been associated with reduced inflammation, which lowers your risk for various cardiovascular diseases (13, 14). And it seems to have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer (15).  

Also, check out this study that looked at the dietary habits and health of fellow avocado-eaters: 

Researchers analyzed 17,567 participants in a study. 

And avocado-eaters were much healthier than people who didn’t eat this buttery and delicious fruit. 

Specifically, avocado-eaters had a much higher nutrient intake and were half as likely to develop metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of symptoms that increase your risk for heart disease and diabetes. 

They also weighed less, had a lower BMI, and a significantly skinnier waist. And they had much higher levels of HDL cholesterol — the “good” kind. 

Now, that’s not to say that avocados magically improve all these various markers of your health. But eating them increases your satiation — reducing how much you eat junk foods or other foods that wreck your health. 

All these benefits stack up and seem to make you healthier in general. Pretty interesting right?

Alright, let’s move onto the our next benefit: 

4. Avocados are jam-packed with fiber

Avocados have a rich fiber content. Fiber accounts for about 7% of the total calories, which is high compared to most other foods. 

Fiber is especially important if you’re following a low-carb protocol  as high-fat diets slow digestion and decrease GI motility. Fiber is the perfect remedy for this — and avocados kill two birds with one stone here. 

But how does fiber improve your health? 

Fiber can contribute to weight loss, reduce your blood sugar spikes, improves your digestion, and it’s linked with a lower risk for many diseases (16, 17). 

Plus, avocados contain about 25% soluble fiber — which feeds the friendly gut bacteria in your intestine, an important part of optimal body function

Let's dive into the last reason why avocados are a nutritious superfood.

5. Avocados may help you absorb other nutrients better

We already discussed how avocados are a nutrition powerhouse. But they might also help your body absorb other nutrients you get from your food or supplements. 

Your nutrient intake is only half the battle. If your body can’t absorb the nutrients you eat, they exit via your digestive system without providing you with any benefits. 

So the second half of the battle with your nutrients is absorption.

Some nutrients are fat-soluble, meaning they absorb in your body with fats and oils. Otherwise, your body can’t use them. 

Some common fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, D, E, and K. And common fat-soluble minerals include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc. 

Not only do avocados provide you with a bunch of nutrients and antioxidants, but they also help you absorb nutrients from all the other foods you eat. 

Win-win! 

Easy ways to incorporate more avocados into your diet 

Now that you understand the top 5 benefits of avocados, let’s cover a few easy ways to include more avocados into your diet (even if you don’t like the buttery texture or taste). 

If you like the taste of avocados, they make a great addition to any breakfast. Not only do they keep you full for longer, but they also help your body absorb more nutrients from your food throughout your day. 

Just chop up half an avocado, sprinkle pink Himalayan salt and pepper on it, and add it to your eggs (or whatever else you eat for breakfast). 

Or you can chop up half an avocado and add it to your salad. Salads have a bunch of fat-soluble nutrients that go to waste when you don’t have avocados. 

But what if you don’t like the taste? 

Even though many people adore avocados, not everyone does. 

That’s where avocado oil comes in to save the day! 

Cooking with avocado oil or drizzling some onto your salads are two easy ways to incorporate more avocados into your diet even if you don’t like them.  I personally LOVE the avocado oil spray by Primal Kitchen 

I am also a very big fan of this ultra-clean avocado oil mayonnaise by Sir Kensington.  

Also, many of my clients used to HATE avocados, but they found their taste buds changed when they started eating healthier. If it’s been a while since you’ve had an avocado, give it another shot. And keep trying them — your taste buds might surprise you!

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