Do you like avocados? New research suggests that eating an avocado a day, as part of a generally heart-healthy diet, can help reduce blood levels of LDL cholesterol, the “bad” type of cholesterol associated with heart attacks and strokes. That’s because avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fats, the healthy fats that can help protect heart health when eaten in moderate quantities. They also contain other valuable nutrients like fiber, which can help keep you feeling full longer, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytosterols, plant compounds that stop the body from absorbing cholesterol.
While the new study results underline the benefits of avocados for heart health, it’s important to remember that avocados should be eaten as part of a generally healthy diet. And while diet alone may be enough to control blood cholesterol for many patients, others will need to use medication, too.
A Daily Avocado Lowers Health
For the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers at Pennsylvania State University assigned one of three different cholesterol-reducing diets to a group of 45 overweight and obese people aged 21 to 70. The study participants suffered from no other health problems.
The three diets consisted of:
- A low-fat diet that did not include avocado
- A moderate-fat diet that did not include avocado
- A moderate-fat diet that included one avocado per day
For the purposes of the study, the researchers used Hass avocados.
Study participants began by eating a normal American diet for two weeks, and the researchers measured their LDL cholesterol levels before proceeding to put them on one of the three cholesterol-lowering diets studied. The study participants were found to have an average LDL cholesterol level of 128 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) after two weeks of eating the American diet. The Mayo Clinic recommends maintaining an LDL cholesterol blood level of below 100 mg/dL.
After the study participants ate their assigned diets for five weeks, the researchers measured their LDL cholesterol levels again. Those who ate the low-fat diet had LDL cholesterol levels an average of 7.4 mg/dL lower. Those on the moderate-fat, no-avocado diet had LDL cholesterol levels an average of 8.3 mg/dL lower.
But those who ate the moderate-fat, daily-avocado diet had the lowest LDL cholesterol levels of all — an average of 13.5 mg/dL lower after five weeks. After taking these initial measurements, the researchers re-assigned the test diets so that each study participant ate each diet for a total of five weeks. The results remained the same throughout, suggesting that it was the avocados, and not other, more individualized factors, that caused the drop in LDL cholesterol. The study participants maintained their pre-study activity levels throughout the study, and none of them lost any weight.
Can Avocados Alone Lower Your Cholesterol?
For some patients, eating a daily avocado alone may be able to lower LDL cholesterol levels sufficiently to keep them off medication. However, avocados are expensive, especially when they’re out of season, so eating one every day can be cost-prohibitive. Plus, avocados are high in monounsaturated fats, so other sources of fats — ideally, sources of saturated fats — must be removed from the diet in order to compensate for the added fats from the avocado. It’s also important to note that other cholesterol-lowering diets are still effective for protecting heart health, even if they don’t lower cholesterol as drastically as the avocado diet.
Lead study author Penny Kris-Etherton points out that even though the avocado diet can lower LDL cholesterol somewhat, it’s nowhere near as effective as using cholesterol-lowering drugs like Lipitor, which may be the best choice for many patients.
Incorporating Avocados into Your Diet
Though eating avocados alone may not be a practical way to lower your LDL cholesterol, that doesn’t mean that they can’t form a part of a heart-healthy diet. Kris-Etherton warns against eating avocados primarily in the form of guacamole, since guacamole is often eaten with salty, high-fat tortilla chips.
Instead, eat avocados as part of a salad, on a sandwich or slice of toast, or with lean meats like chicken or fish. Use avocados to make a healthy salsa. Avocados can be used to make soup, and can even be added to a milk shake, or incorporated into a cheesecake. If your avocado is too unripe to eat, ripen it by placing it in a paper bag with a banana or apple and leave it on the countertop overnight.
If you’re looking for a new way to help lower your LDL cholesterol levels, you might want to try eating more avocados. That’s because the results of a new study suggest that eating an avocado every day, as part of a heart-healthy diet, can lower your LDL cholesterol by as much as 13.5 mg/dL. Even if you can’t eat an avocado every day, eating these nutritious fruits more often can protect you from heart disease and may have other health benefits, too.