An avocado is a fruit and not a vegetable! It is actually a member of the berry family. It is colloquially known as the Alligator Pear, reflecting its shape and the leather-like appearance of its skin.
In the past, the avocado had a well-entrenched reputation for inducing sexual prowess and wasn't purchased or consumed by any person wishing to protect their image from slanderous assault. Growers had to sponsor a public relations campaign to dispel the ill-founded reputation before avocados became popular. Avocados got their name from the Spanish explorers. They couldn't pronounce the Aztec word for the fruit, know as ahuacatl, "testicle," because of its shape. The Spanish called the aguacate, leading to the guacamole we know today.
Avocados must reach full maturity before they are picked, however, they do not soften on the tree. The tree can actually be used as a storage unit by keeping the fruit on the tree for many months after maturing. Avocados are the fruit from Persea americana, a tall evergreen tree that can grow up to 65 feet in height. Avocados are native to Central and South America and have been cultivated in these regions since 8,000 B.C. In the mid-17th century, they were introduced to Jamaica and spread through the Asian tropical regions in the mid-1800s. Cultivation in United States, specifically in Florida and California, began in the early 20th century.
The health benefits of avocados are numerous - how lucky for us! Avocado has sometimes received a "bad rap" as a vegetable too high in fat. While it is true that avocado is a high-fat food (about 85% of its calories come from fat), the fat contained in avocado is unusual and provides research-based health benefits. The unusual nature of avocado fat is threefold. First are the phytosterols that account for a major portion of avocado fats. These phytosterols are key supporters of our inflammatory system that help keep inflammation under control and are particularly well-documented as helping with problems involving arthritis.
Second are avocado's polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (PFAs). PFAs are widely present in ocean plants but fairly unique among land plants—making the avocado tree (and its fruit) unusual in this regard. Like the avocado's phytosterols, its PFAs also provide us with anti-inflammatory benefits.
Third is the unusually high amount of a fatty acid called oleic acid in avocado. Over half of the total fat in avocado is provided in the form of oleic acid—a situation very similar to the fat composition of olives and olive oil. Oleic acid helps our digestive tract form transport molecules for fat that can increase our absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like carotenoids. As a monounsaturated fatty acid, it has also been shown to help lower our risk of heart disease. So don't be fooled by avocado's bad rap as a high-fat food. Like other high-fat plant foods (for example, walnuts and flaxseeds), avocado can provide us with unique health benefits precisely because of its unusual fat composition.
Despite how exciting that all is, no single category of nutrients in avocado is more impressive than its carotenoid antioxidants. Optimal absorption of these fat-soluble phytonutrients requires just the right amount and combination of dietary fats—and that is exactly the combination that is provided by avocado! This great match between avocado's fat content and its carotenoids also extends to the relationship between avocado and other foods. Consider, for example, a simple salad composed of romaine lettuce, spinach, and carrots. This simple salad is rich in carotenoids, and when we eat it, we definitely get important carotenoid benefits. But recent research has shown that if one cup of avocado (150 grams) is added to this salad, absorption of carotenoids will be increased by 200-400%! This improvement in carotenoid absorption has also been shown in the case of salsa made with and without avocado.
Avocado Lentil Salad
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