It’s the season of avocados…and boy do Ghanaians love them! We usually enjoy them as spread for bread, with ampesi and kontomire/garden eggs stew or sliced alongside some hot kenkey with pepper and fish (mouth watering). But most people have had to give up this creamy fruit (yes it’s a fruit) because of the fear that it is fatty and therefore high in cholesterol. But is this really the case?
Let’s find out what cholesterol is first of all. Cholesterol is a fat-like waxy substance that is found in all cells of the body. It is manufactured by the body and used in the production of hormones, vitamin D and also aids in digestion. So cholesterol in itself is not a bad substance when in normal levels. It however poses a threat when excess levels accumulate in the blood over time as a result of eating foods that are rich in cholesterol.
Since oil and water cannot be mixed together (remember primary school science) cholesterol is carried through the blood by substances called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins namely low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high density lipoproteins (HDL). HDLs carry cholesterol to the liver which is later removed from the body hence known as “good” cholesterol, whiles LDLs carry cholesterol to the arteries leading to a build up and therefore called “bad” cholesterol.
Accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Healthier fats such as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) help maintain a good cholesterol balance in blood by reducing the bad (LDL) cholesterol and increasing the good (HDL) cholesterol.
So now to avocados. Avocado pear is an unusual kind of fruit in that it is rather rich in fats compared to carbohydrates. Because it is a plant it does not contain cholesterol. If you take 100 grams of avocado, 15% of that constitutes fat, most of which are monounsaturated fatty acids. Oleic acid which is the chief component in olive oil, is the most dominant monounsaturated fatty acid in avocados. Avocados are therefore heart-healthy and can help in reducing bad cholesterol whiles increasing good cholesterol. It’s also high in fibre and rich in several minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Avocados have also been shown to improve blood sugar control.
Avocados however have to be eaten in moderation. An average size of avocado has about 250 calories and because it’s high in calories, you can easily eat too much without noticing it. If an average person eats a whole pear in a meal, he will need to jog for about 30 minutes to burn off the calories (not counting the other food items that comes along with it). According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an avocado serving is 1/3 of a medium avocado (i.e. 50 grams) which provides about 80 calories.
With this knowledge you can go ahead and enjoy your avocados whiles they last, knowing that they do not contain cholesterol but rather aid in having a good cholesterol balance. Just remember to eat them in their right proportions and as part of a healthy diet.