A new study including over 100,000 documented avocado consumption and analyzed its impact on heart disease. The study found that on average, participants who ate an avocado a week or more had a 16% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and 21% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease compared to those who ate no avocados.
But as it's always the case with nutrition studies, it's all about context and balance.
Avocados, nutritious foods which also contain unhealthy saturated fats, have made their way onto our plates and into our hearts -- both figuratively and literally. But do they do good things to our hearts or bad things?
The new study tracked 68,780 women from the Nurses’ Health Study (aged 30-55) and 41,700 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (aged 40-75). At the start of the study, participants were free of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The participants reported their consumption of avocado and then the researchers used statistical tools to measure how this consumption is linked to various heart problems.
When consumed instead of the same amount of eggs, yogurt, cheese, margarine, butter, or processed meats (such as bacon), avocados lower the risk of heart attacks by 16% to 22%. However, when consumed instead of other healthier foods (like nuts, olive oil, and other plant oils), avocados did not produce any significant improvement.
While the study only established a correlation (and not causation), researchers who were not involved with the study say the findings are significant and suggest that avocados could be an important part of a healthy diet. The key is what food you replace with avocados.
"Although no one food is the solution to routinely eating a healthy diet, this study is evidence that avocados have possible health benefits," said Cheryl Anderson, chair of the American Heart Association (AHA) Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, in a statement. Anderson was not involved in the study." We desperately need strategies to improve the intake of AHA-recommended healthy diets — such as the Mediterranean diet — that are rich in vegetables and fruits," said Anderson, who is also a professor and dean of the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at University of California San Diego.
Avocados are nutritionally rich, containing healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fibers. But it's not all good: they're high-calorie foods (with one avocado containing 2-300 calories, or more than a bottle of beer), and they also contain unhealthy fats. To make matters even more complex, avocados are generally expensive and have a big environmental impact, fueling deforestation and using large amounts of water.
Ultimately, the key is balance: you don't need to have avocado every breakfast, but it's definitely a food you can include in your diet, especially if you're replacing things like meat or dairy.