Avocados, like tomatoes, are a fruit that actually looks and behaves like a vegetable. And like olives, they are naturally high in fat. In fact, between 71 percent and 88 percent of the calories in avocados derive from fat. Like olives and olive oil, however, the fat they contain is primarily monounsaturated; thus, avocados can be an important addition to diabetic meal plans and heart-healthy diets.
Avocados are native to Central America; in the United States, they are grown in Florida and California, with California producing almost 90 percent of the crop. Florida avocados are larger cost less. Because they contain less fat, they also have fewer calories. The most popular California variety, the Hass avocado, weighs about half a pound and has a thick, pebbled skin that turns from green to a purplish black as the fruit ripens. Each fruit has about 177 calories. Florida avocados , which are not so rich and creamy, have smoother skin and contain about 112 calories each.
Avocados have more potassium than do bananas, are very low in sodium and contain almost 10 percent of an adult's daily requirement for iron. They also contain loads of of beta carotene, folic acid, copper and vitamins B-6, C and E. When mashed, they have the consistency of mayonnaise, but as much fiber as whole wheat bread or corn on the cob.
Because they contain vegetable products, they have no cholesterol. Some heart specialists say that the oil in avocados (which is very low in saturated fat) may contain special properties for lowering cholesterol, much like olive oil.
To select avocados, look for those free of blemishes. Unripe avocados are firm, while those that have ripened will yield to gentle pressure from your hand. Be sure they are not overly ripe and starting to rot.
If you buy unripe avocados and want to use them in something like guacamole (a creamy avocado dip), you can store them in a bowl at room temperature. To speed up the ripening process, put them in a paper bag with an apple for two or three days.
Generally, you should not store avocados in the refrigerator. However, if they are already quite ripe, they can be refrierated for four or five days. Any longer and they will start to discolor and produce unpleasant changes in flavor.
When you're ready to use an avocado, cut it lengthwise around the seed. Gently rotate the two halves to separate them. Remove the seed by sliding the tip of a spoon underneath it and lifting it out. You can then easily peel the avocado or simply scoop out the insides. If they are not too ripe, they can be easily cut into slices or cubes.
Avocados make a great dip for raw vegetables, and a wonderful topping for a plain old hamburger or a BLT (hold the bacon, please).
Guacamole itself is a very simple treat indeed. Simply mash up some avocados, sprinkle with lemon juice to keep them from turning black, add finely diced onion and tomato, and garlic and cilantro. When blended with vinegar or lemon juice, avocados also make an interesting salad dressing that gives you added nutrients you wouldn't get by simply using regular salad oil.
Because avocados mash so easily, they can be used as baby food; and without garlic and hot sauce, they have a mild flavor children seem to like.
If you substitute a tablespoon of guacamole for the equivalent mayonnaise, you can save about 75 calories.
Tired of the same old tuna sandwich? Try mixing water-packed tuna (drained), diced celery and diced onion. Add some guacamole, and put the mixture in a toasted pita picket with some fresh lettuce and maybe a slice of tomato or cucumber.
Here are a couple of recipes, courtesy of the California Avocado Commission.
California Avocado Mandarin Salad
This is a quick salad that incorporates many colors and flavors. Great for a brunch or light supper.
9-10 ounces of mixed salad greens
1 15-ounce can of mandarin oranges, well-drained
1 6-ounce cooked and sliced chicken breast
2 thin slices of red onion (cut in half and sliced into crescents)
1/4 cup pecans, toasted
1/2 cup prepared bottled light Italian or balsamic vinaigrette dressing
2 ripe California avocados, seeded, peeled and cut into chunks
In a large salad bowl, combine salad greens, mandarin oranges, chicken, onions and pecans. In a small bowl, combine the dressing and 1/2 cup avocado cubes. Mash and blend into dressing.
Add remaining avocado cubes to salad. Toss and dress the salad. Makes four servings, each of which has 360 calories, 21 g fat (mostly unsaturated), 35 mg cholesterol and 10 g fiber.
Avocado Pineapple Relish
1/2 cup diced pineapple, fresh or canned
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon salt
Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 California avocado (8 ounces), diced
Combine pineapple with next onion, lemon juice, mint, salt and pepper flakes. Gently fold in the avocado. Let chill 1 hour to blend the flavors. This dish is best served the day it's made. Serve with grilled meat, poultry or fish, or layer it on a turkey, ham or cheese sandwich.
Makes four servings, each of which has 70 calories and 6 g of fat (mostly unsaturated).
Sheldon Margen, M.D., was a professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley. Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the University of California at Berkeley "Wellness Letter." They are the authors of "The Simply Healthy Lowfat Cookbook," The Wellness Low-Fat Cookbook (Random House, 1994) and The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition (Random House, 1992).
Source: Health & Wellness