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Before we even get to the health benefits of avocado, I need to tell you about the time I found a small piece of heaven.
My brother-in-law lived in San Francisco for a while, and one of the coolest parts of his awesome old apartment was that there was a huge avocado tree in the courtyard right outside his living room window.
Even cooler was the fact that he had a fire escape on the other side of the window, and a fruit picker to pluck the ripe fruit. I can't imagine much better in the world than a backyard filled with fruit trees, and so this avocado tree was like heaven to me.
I've had avocado plants pop up in my compost pile a few times, which made me incredibly happy.
Unfortunately, they always die when winter hits, but if your temperature doesn't get below 45 degrees F, you can grow one easily and keep it outside.
While I've always loved the flavor and texture of avocado, I remember my teenage years when I was scared off of eating avocados for fear of all the fat in them.
Nutritionists shunned the benefits of avocados (the same fate befell the coconut) for years, mostly because one avocado has about 30 grams of fat.
Now (the same) nutritionists are backtracking because they realized that avocado fat is "good fat" and because there are enormous health benefits of avocados.
One of the best things about the fat in avocados is that it actually helps your body to better absorb the nutrients in the other food you're eating at the same time. Many of the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are fat soluble, so when you eat them with a good, healthy fat, you get anywhere from 200-400% more of the healthy anti-oxidants in your body than if you just ate the fruits and vegetables alone.
That may seem like a paradox, especially if you're well trained to think that fat is bad for you. But remember; avocado fat is good fat. One of the benefits of avocados is that their fat is monounsaturated, so it doesn't clog your arteries.
So, top off your salad with avocado and you'll be getting more lettuce, cucumbers, jicama, tomatoes, cabbage in your body. Slather your vegan tacos with vegetables, beans, salsa, and avocado, and more of the healthful components absorb into your body. Avocado oil works just as well as fresh avocados.
Don't fear the fat! Studies show that diets high in monounsaturated fats actually help to speed our metabolisms, which is excellent for anyone trying to lose weight. Also, when you eat foods with more fat, you feel more full, so that enables you to stop eating rather than continuing to binge. It seems like a sick joke that in order to lose weight, you have to eat more fat, but when we're talking about healthy fats, it's true.
In addition to helping our body to better absorb carotenoids, vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium, avocados are also personally packed with beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, and other carotenoids, as well as dietary fiber, vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B5, potassium, and vitamin B6.
One of the coolest benefits of avocados is that they help stave off the effects of arthritis. Many studies have shown that both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can be prevented with the regular intake of avocados. If you already suffer from arthritis, eating avocados daily might help you reduce your joint pain.
If you are dealing with high cholesterol, avocados can help to lower your cholesterol levels. They have oleic acid a monounsaturated fat that is also found in olives and olive oil, and it's been found to lower bad cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol levels.
Oleic acid has also been studied for its helpfulness in preventing breast cancer and oral cancer.
Avocados are good for your heart because they contain folate and potassium, which both regulate blood pressure levels. The high folate levels in avocados also help to prevent strokes.
The very best way to get the most health benefits of avocado is by eating it raw. In fact, I don't remember ever seeing a recipe for cooked avocados, and I think I'd avoid one if I did find one.
When you pick an avocado at the market, look for one that is still firm, but has a slight amount of give to it. There is an art to picking avocados that are just right because if you get them too soft, the interior flesh will be brown and mushy, and if you cut them when they're too hard, they have none of the luscious smooth texture that makes the perfect avocado.
The best way I can describe the perfect texture of a ripe, ready to eat, but not too ripe avocado is like this: Roll your fingers into a fist, and then use the other hand to press your knuckles and the top of your hand. There is a slight cushiony feel, but nowhere near the softness of your fingers. That's how a perfect avocado feels.
The good news is that you can always pick up a hard avocado and bring it home to allow it to ripen to the knuckle stage. You'll want to make sure there are no bruises or sunken spots on the exterior of the avocado. You can speed up the ripening process by putting the avocado in a brown paper bag, or by putting it with other ripening fruit, both of which will allow the ethylene gas to escape and penetrate the skin of the avocado.
Once the avocado is ripe, keep it in the fridge to stop it from ripening or going bad.
There are several different ways to cut into avocados, but just make sure that you get all of the good flesh inside the skin. I always scrape along the inside of the skin to get all the darkest part of the avocado because that's where the most carotenoids hang out.
Avocado is a super star of raw vegan diets, mostly because its smooth, creamy texture allows it to be used as a smooth, nutritious thickener in puddings, mousses, pies, smoothies, ice creams, sauces, and soups.
These are some of my favorite ways to use avocado in raw vegan recipes:
Now, go sneak away and enough all those health benefits of avocado with that delicious vegan chocolate avocado pudding.