I wasn’t planning on a lengthy post today, but I’ve been getting a high volume of questions from you guys about avocados and how many I eat. Just last night, I got the following two comments:
i know avo’s are your favorite food, but i CAN’T seem to get over their fat content! PLEASE devote a whole post to them & help dispel all of the myths about how fattening they are. i feel like if i eat a avo everyday, i will turn into one (if you know what i mean). thanks gena. you are a true inspiration.”
“I am with Lisa about the avocados, please make a post about it! I’ve never really eaten them before and always hated guacamole (I know, crazy right?) but I really want to try them! I’m hesitant about their fat content mostly, but I’m thinking if I just start out with 1/4 of one I can work my way up to 1/2 or whole?”
Nothing frustrates me more than the bad rap so often attributed to the poor, innocent avocado—not to mention society’s generally foolhardy ideas about what is or isn’t “fattening.” The “fat free” crazy of the mid-90s may be over, but our attachment to the idea that fats in food inevitably turn into stored fat on the body persists.
To dispel the “fat myth,” we need a two-pronged attack plan. We need to address the health angle (“are raw fats ‘bad’ for me?”) and the cosmetic angle (“will eating raw, plant-based fats make me gain weight?”). Let’s start with the health angle.
All fats are not created equal. I cannot stress this enough! When you’re wondering whether or not something is “fattening” it’s not so much the quantity of fat in the food you need to worry about, but rather the quality of fat in question. Mono and polyunsaturated fats (like those in avocados, young coconuts, nuts, and raw, cold-pressed oils) are the “good fats” we hear so much about:. They contain antioxidants, oils that help joints, nerves, and bones, properties that help to lower the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol, and proven effects on lowering high blood pressure. They also help us to feel sated, to digest fat-soluble vitamins (A,K, D and E), and they promote brain function. These fats—provided we eat them in reasonable quantities—are not only beneficial, but vital to our diets. Certainly, these fats are caloric, and so we need to eat them in moderation. But moderation doesn’t have to mean elimination: 1/4 of an avocado, 2 tsps of healthy oils, and one ounce of nuts are all reasonable serving sizes of healthy fats.
What about cholesterol? To begin, it’s important to note that we need cholesterol in order to thrive, and that all of our bodies contain natural stores (there is no cholesterol in non-animal food sources, but even vegans and vegetarians produce cholesterol in their own livers–up to 800-1500 milligrams a day). When doctors test our blood for cholesterol numbers, they even distinguish between “good” cholesterol (HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL); it’s primarily the latter that is definitively linked to heart disease, cancer, and stroke. To make matters more complicated, the link between dietary cholesterol and LDL (and its associated risks) is often hazy. Today, doctors say that some cholesterol in moderation (say, an egg twice weekly) is acceptable in a healthy diet. As a vegan, I would discourage this choice, but I won’t say that omnivores need avoid cholesterol like the plague.
Of course, the reason many of you are worried about these fats is aesthetic, not nutritional. You want to know eating fat will make you fat, and the answer, once again, is not if you’re eating healthy fat in moderation. If you’re binging on anything you’re not going to feel great, and you may retain weight. But once again, dietary fat in and of itself is not a weight gain culprit. What causes weight gain tends is either a caloric excess (which eating fats may encourage, but certainly it doesn’t have to) and eating low-quality, processed, and overly fatty foods (like fast food and packaged snacks). The question when you sit down to a meal shouldn’t be “how much fat is in this?” but rather “what kind of fat is this?” and “is this a reasonable portion size?”
Holding an avocado up to those standards, you’ll see that it’s full of beneficial properties and easy to portion sensibly. So try not vilify it. As part of a healthy, balanced, and plant-heavy diet, fats are not only safe for us to eat, but downright vital for our health and well being. Whip up a batch of guacamole today!