An Avocado A Day Keeps Bad Cholesterol Away

01/08/2015 08:19 am ET | Updated Jan 08, 2015
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Your love for avocados is oh-so right, according to a new study that finds that eating an avocado a day can improve bad cholesterol levels -- at least in overweight and obese people.

Avocados have gotten a bad rap in the past because they're high in calories and fat. But it's their richness in monounsaturated fat that researchers say gives avocado its ability to lower bad cholesterol.

Researchers asked 45 overweight or obese participants to eat an average American diet (51 percent of calories from carbs, 34 percent from fat and 16 percent from protein) for two weeks to establish a common baseline for testing their cholesterol and other measurements. Then they assigned the participants to complete a series of three diets in a randomized order: a low fat diet (24 percent of calories from fat) without avocado, a moderate fat diet (34 percent of calories from fat) without avocado and a moderate fat diet with a daily serving of a whole avocado. Each diet lasted for five weeks, with two-week breaks in between to control for any carryover effects. The participants were also provided with food for each phase of the study, making the meals uniform.

The researchers found that all regimens helped participants lower their levels of two types of cholesterol associated with cardiovascular disease risk: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and non-high density lipoprotein (non-HDL).

It's important to note that these diets often work simply because researchers have a high level of control over participants' food choices. Nutritionist and lead author Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D. of Penn State University noted that readers shouldn't simply start adding an avocado to their diets, especially if it's a typical American one that takes a significant number of empty calories from grain-based desserts like cookies and cakes. That's a recipe for weight gain, according to Kris-Etherton, because an avocado has about 200 calories. If you want to incorporate avocados into your diet, try them as a substitute for junk food.

Because of how expensive and rare avocados can be in different parts of the country during certain times of the year, Kris-Etherton also emphasized that there are many other sources of unsaturated fat in addition to avocados, like nuts, seeds and other oils. Still, her research showed that the avocado diet proved to be a better diet for cholesterol than even the moderate fat diet, which also supplied dieters with monounsaturated fat in the form of sunflower and canola oil. Kris-Etherton is intrigued about what sets avocados apart from other sources of good fat.

"We don't know what it is. It could be the fiber, but it could be some other bioactive components in the avocado that are also in other plant foods or fruits and vegetables," she said. "Or they could be unique to avocado."

In addition to good fat, avocados are also packed with potassium (it has almost twice as much potassium as a banana) and have among the highest levels of proteins for a fruit. The superfood even has the ability to lessen the inflammatory properties of other foods that are eaten alongside it; a 2012 UCLA pilot study found that eating a hamburger with half of an avocado significantly cut down on the production of an inflammatory compound normally associated with the consumption of red meat.

For tips on how to incorporate more avocado into your life, check out HuffPost Taste's Avocado Recipes That Go Way Beyond Guacamole.

The study was funded with a grant from the Hass Avocado Board (HAB), an industry group that promotes research about the health benefits of eating avocados. Kris-Etherton is also a member of the Avocado Nutrition Science Advisors (ANSA), a group of nutrition researchers focused on cardiovascular health, weight management and type 2 diabetes. ANSA scientists are nutrition advisors and spokespeople for HAB.

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