By: Amy Pongrass
The avocado has been cultivated for many centuries, first discovered by the Aztecs, who called it "ahuacatl". The fruit is often referred to as an alligator pear due to its shape and leathery skin. Native to Central and South America, cultivation of the avocado slowly spread through Jamaica and Asia, not appearing on American soil till the early 20th century. Avocados are now grown in most tropical and sub-tropical countries, including Australia. Avocados are the fruit from the Persea Americana, a tall evergreen tree that produces dozens of varieties, the most common known as the Hass avocado.
Avocados contain oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat that may help lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and raise levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Avocados are rich in Vitamin E, an important nutrient that affects the quality of the skin. The oils in avocado help maintain the integrity of the membrane that surrounds skin cells, and may help reduce inflammation associated with skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis and eczema. Fat provides the skin cells with the nourishment they need to prevent wrinkles and dry skin, so many people advise eating avocados to keep the skin looking youthful and help with dry and scaly skin and hair.
Avocados are a good source of potassium, actually containing more potassium than the average banana. This mineral helps to regulate blood pressure, maintaining a healthy heart by reducing the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. One avocado contains 23 per cent of the daily intake of folate, another vitamin that supports a healthy heart.
Recent research shows that avocados may also help the body absorb carotenoids from vegetables. Carotenoids are lipophilic, meaning "fat-loving", so consuming avocado with other vegetables rich in carotenoids may make these nutrients more bioavailable to the body, further increasing nutrition. The Journal of Nutrition in 2005 found that adding avocado to a salad increased absorption of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lutein by 7.2, 15.3 and 5.1 times higher, respectively than the amount of carotenoids absorbed when the avocado-free salad was eaten. (Source: whfoods.com)
Avocados also contain high levels of glutathione, a potent antioxidant. They have a higher fibre content than apples, and by keeping things moving through the body, they promote hormone balance and eliminate toxic material.
Consider too the shape of the avocado - it resembles the female body and shape of the womb and has been shown to target the health and function of a woman's reproductive organs. Research has showed that when a woman eats just one avocado per week hormones are balanced, unwanted birth weight is shed and cervical cancer risk is reduced. Don Tolman, international nutrition expert notes a further feature of the avocado: it takes exactly nine months to grow from blossom to ripened fruit, the same length of gestation for a pregnant woman.
Selecting and storing:
Buy ripe to eat on the day, or unripe to eat up to 2 weeks ahead. Check for ripeness by holding the fruit in your hand and applying gentle pressure. It should be slightly pliant. Ripen in a fruit bowl and not in the fridge. Ripe avocados should be stored in the fridge and eaten quickly. To ripen an avocado quickly, place in a paper bag with a ripe apple or banana. Once cut, the avocado can be sprinkled with lemon juice to avoid discolouration.
Avocados are best eaten raw or in an oil form, as they become bitter when cooked due to its high tannin content.
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