Ingredient of the Month 11: Avocado
|Beautiful ripe Hass avaocados!|
Avocados are a delicious and versatile superfood- need I say much more? There's nothing quite like diving into a rich, smooth avocado half, with a sprinkling of seasalt or black salt and a dash of lemon juice. My daughter was fed lots of avocado as an infant and toddler as they are the perfect baby food- even coming in their own biodegradeable packaging (ie: the skin)! I'm featuring avocado here this month because it has so many health benefits and is so quick and easy to prepare for meals and snacks. Take a look here, here , here and here for some avocado recipes from this blog.
Avocados, otherwise known as alligator pears because of their pear-like shape and green skin, are native to central Mexico. The avocado tree belongs to the same family as bay, camphor and cinnamon trees. They are now cultivated in tropical and Mediterranean climates all over the world, including California, Indonesia, Brazil and Israel. There are many different cultivars of avocado grown today, including Choquette, the buttery and knobbly-skinned Hass, Fuerte, and Monroe. I think Hass must be my favourite for its smooth ans nutty flesh and ease of peeling; the Fuertes you get in the UK are often under-ripe and tasteless, and never seem to ripen to a good flavour.
I always store avocados at room temperature and watch carefully for the perfect time to use them, ie: when they are soft but not squishy. The flesh will gradually turn bitter and brown if you leave them for too long, and will be hard and indigestible if you use them too early. If you do buy your avocados slightly under-ripe, a couple of days on a sunny windowsill or on top of a fridge should do the trick. Br careful how you handle ripe avocados, as they will bruise easily.
Avocado contains the toxin persin, and the leaves, bark and seeds are deadly to many species of animal. However, raw avocado is completely harmless to humans (unless you happen to have an allergy). When heated, avocado can become rather bitter, so if you cook it don't overheat- in fact, some say that this bitterness means that toxins are present in cooked avocado- although I couldn't find anything definitive about this in the short internet search I did to write this post. Anyhow, I always eat avocado raw- it seems like the right way to have it. I'm sure the health benefits are maximised this way, too. Here are the main nutrients in avocado:
- Protein: Avocado contains all 18 aminoacids which enable the body to form "complete" protein. It is easier to digest than, say, meat, because of the plant fibre.
- Good Oils: Avocado oil contains HDL chloresterol which can prevent diabetes and also reduce "bad" (LDL) chloresterol as effectively as statins. It also contains oleic acid and Omega-3 fatty acid.
- Carotenoids: It's not just orange and red produce that contain these, and avocado is an excellent source. Carotenoids give you Vitamin A, which helps eye health, the immune system and the reproductive system. They are fat soluble, so easily absorbed from avocados.
- The combination of Vitamins C, E and carotenoids, selenuim, zinc, phytosterols and Omega-3 fatty acids found in avocados means that eating them regularly may prevent/ alleviate both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis.
- The oil in avocados is good for your heart; it contains oleic acid, which has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, and Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart disease.