Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Life's the Pits: Avocado Addiction

“Once encountered in its ripened state, the avocado easily turns into an obsession. Feel free to embellish practically any soup or main course with it if you are among the addicted.”

-Huntley Dent, “The Feast of Santa Fe”

My latest article for OKRA Magazine considers the role of the avocado in a healthy diet. For those who love guacamole or enjoy it for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, this information will be particularly relevant!

Life's the Pits: Avocado Addiction  (an older version due to the defunct status of OKRA's website)

If you have fallen under the spell of the avocado's rich and creamy bite, you are hardly alone. The origins of this avocado voodoo began with the Aztecs over 700 years ago. Believing avocados had aphrodisiac qualities, the Aztecs invented guacamole dip using a mortar and pestle, by mashing avocados with tomatoes and onions and eating the dip with flattened corn bread. When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, they were similarly helpless against the allure of this fruit and brought it back with them to the New World, where it has become a staple of Central and South American cuisine ever since.
Add Healthy Fats with Avocanana Bread (M. Blacke)

One medium-sized avocado provides 250 calories, 22 g total fat (3 g saturated fat), 10 g fiber, 3 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, minimal sodium, and no cholesterol. One serving is considered 1/5 of the avocado, providing 50 calories, 4.5 g of fat, and roughly 20 nutrients, including potassium, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, fiber, folic acid, and beta-carotene. That translates to one nutrient-dense and flavorful food source that will benefit your health (in moderation).

Recommendations from this Registered Dietitian (RD):

1) Tame that craving and still get your fix. Humans crave fats and oils in order to optimally function physiologically and psychologically. But keep in mind that a little goes a long way in terms of calories, and heart-healthy does not necessarily mean low-calorie (all fats contain 9 calories per gram). Choose between high-calorie, “good fat” options, such as a serving of avocado or nuts, for example: select one, not both.

2) Yes, they’re lying to you. Just because it says avocado on the label doesn’t mean it actually contains avocado. Be wary of some prepared dips that make false claims and contain no avocado: check the ingredients. Also, many restaurants are hopping on the avocado trend and list it on the menu, but do not actually use it (or do so in miniscule amounts) as an ingredient. (Avocado ice cream and martinis, I’m looking at you.)

3) Be creative. Substitute an avocado spread for mayonnaise, butter, or cheese in your sandwich, or add some avocado slices to a salad. Try Terra brand Taro chips instead of the corn tortilla version.

4) Don’t be a dipstick. All fats provide 9 calories per gram, even the “healthy” ones, so it is important to moderate your intake of guacamole and similar dips, particularly when paired with tempting companions such as tortilla chips. As with red wine or dark chocolate, eating more of something “healthy” does not translate to greater health overall; calories are still important in weight maintenance and moderation is key. (In other words, rein in the dip).

5) Trick your kids. It isn’t easy to convince finicky children to try unfamiliar foods, especially if the food in question is green and/or healthy. Mashing an avocado into guacamole is an encouraged form of deception when attempting to work healthy fats into children’s diets. Or steal this recipe for glazed Chocolate-Avocado Cupcakes and take them to your next social function. I experimented with these years ago on fellow dietetic classmates (they know food!), using avocado as the oil substitute, and they were reviewed as very moist, physically filling, and satisfying to chocolate cravings.

So I suggest working some avocado voodoo for yourself. The secret identity of the “alligator pear” makes for an interesting trivia question, particularly for the South, and there are worse forms of addiction!

If you take nothing else from this article, try this recipe for Avocado Banana (Avocanana) Bread. Different and decadent!

Avocanana Bread in Cooking Demo (M. Blacke)

Update (November 2014): I continue to make the Avocanana Bread regularly, as do family members and friends. It's always a hit. I've also recently included it in nutrition classes, and my adult students enjoyed it as well. 

The full article on the avocado may be found here.
For my full archive of articles for OKRA Magazine, click here.