Slices of fresh avocado with salsa or in a salad add a creamy decadence and rich flavor. They also add fat, a fact that has frightened away many weight-conscious eaters. Now researchers say that avocado’s fat is advantageous, increasing the body’s absorption of antioxidant carotenoids.
Many fruits and vegetables, including carrots, spinach and tomatoes, are packed with carotenoids, such as beta carotene, lycopene and lutein. These nutrients have been linked to risk reduction of various diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. But recent studies have shown that unless vegetables are consumed along with fat—with salad dressing, for example—the body can barely absorb the carotenoids and get them into the bloodstream where they work their magic.
Food scientist Steven Schwartz at Ohio State University and his team wanted to see if avocado, a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, could match the antioxidant-boosting properties of salad dressing. They gave 11 volunteers salsa or salad with or without avocado, and then tested their blood periodically for 9 1⁄2 hours. They found that when volunteers ate avocado, concentrations of lycopene, beta carotene and alpha carotene in their blood ranged from 2 to 15 times higher than when the dishes were eaten without avocado. They also found that the fat in the fruit was indeed behind the increased absorption.
“The responses were really dramatic. We found that half of an avocado fruit (about 2 1⁄2 ounces) with a typical salad is sufficient” to increase carotenoid absorption, says Schwartz. There are also added benefits to consuming avocados—dietary fiber and other nutrients like folate and vitamin K.
Bottom Line: All fat enhances absorption of carotenoids, but monounsaturated-fat-and-nutrient-filled avocados provide an extra health kick.