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Foods

Avocados

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Avocados seem almost too luscious to be healthy, but the fat they contain (and there's quite a bit) is highly monounsaturated, the kind that's associated with a healthy heart. Avocados are also rich in vitamin E, another heart helper. Although the banana is thought of as an exemplary potassium source, the avocado actually supplies 60% more potassium, ounce for ounce. These velvety "vegetable fruits" are high in fiber, and provide substantial amounts of folate (folic acid), vitamin B6, and pantothenic acid, as well as some iron, copper, and magnesium.

On the phytochemical front, avocados contain glutathione, an antioxidant with anti-carcinogenic potential. They also contain a significant amount of a cholesterol-lowering phytosterol called beta-sitosterol.

Varieties

Two dozen avocado varieties are grown in California and Florida, ranging in size from a few ounces to several pounds, with skins bright green to black, some smooth, some pebbly in texture. The California varieties, which are more widely available nationwide, are considerably higher in fat (and thus "creamier" and more flavorful). The most popular California avocado is the Haas, which weighs about half a pound and has a pebbly black skin when ripe. The Fuerte, also from California, can weigh up to pound, and has a more pronounced pear shape and a smooth, dark-green skin.

Florida avocados are larger than most California varieties; they have shiny, medium-green skins, and are more watery than California types. Therefore, ounce for ounce, they contain less fat (but less flavor).

Availability

Avocados are available in markets most of the year, due to staggered growing seasons of the different varieties in Florida and California. Generally, California fruit peaks in spring and summer while Florida's season extends from June through March, with its peak in October.

Shopping

Select heavy, unblemished avocados. Many markets sell avocados that are hard and unripe, because they're less likely to bruise and spoil. If the avocado is rock hard, it will need a few days to ripen (see "Storage," below). If an avocado yields slightly to gentle pressure, it is ripe enough to slice. If pressing the fruit leaves a small dent, it is too ripe to slice, but is suitable for mashing. If pressing leaves a large dent, the fruit is overripe, and the flesh will have darkened and spoiled.

Storage

Hard avocados ripen at room temperature in three to six days. To speed up the process, place them in a paper bag, preferably with a tomato. Never put hard avocados in the refrigerator because they will never ripen. Keep ripe avocados in the refrigerator and use within two to three days. Generally, Florida fruits are somewhat more perishable than those from California.

Preparation

To pit an avocado, cut it lengthwise all the way around (working around the pit) and gently twist the two halves apart. Tap the blade of a heavy knife into the pit, and twist gently to release the pit from the flesh. To skin and slice the fruit, place the halves face down and peel off the skin. (If the flesh is very soft, scoop it out of the skin with a spoon instead.) If the skin is too tough to peel easily, use a paring knife to score it into peelable strips. Cut the flesh into thin slices, or chop into chunks.

The flesh of cut avocado turns dark within a few minutes when exposed to air. This doesn't affect nutrition or flavor, but makes the avocado look less appetizing. To delay darkening, rub slices with lemon or lime juice, and add the juice to mashed avocado when making guacamole or similar dips. Pressing plastic wrap firmly over the cut surface of a halved avocado, or onto the surface of a bowl of mashed avocado, will deter darkening.

Nutrition Chart

California Avocado/Half avocado

153
Total fat (g)
15
Saturated fat (g)
2.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
10
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
1.8
Dietary fiber (g)
4.2
2
Carbohydrate (g)
6
Sodium (mg)
10
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.2
Folate (mcg)
57
Copper (mg)
0.3
Potassium (mg)
548

Florida Avocado/Half avocado

170
Total fat (g)
14
Saturated fat (g)
2.7
Monounsaturated fat (g)
7.4
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
2.3
Dietary fiber (g)
8.1
2
Carbohydrate (g)
14
Sodium (mg)
8
Niacin (mg)
3
Folate (mcg)
81
Pantothenic acid (mg)
1.5
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.4
Copper (mg)
0.4
Potassium (mg)
494


Date Published: 04/19/2005
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