- The avocado.
It's hard to believe, really, that something so rich
and buttery-tasting is a fruit. To me, an avocado is one of nature's perfect
foods, straight from the tree to you. It's simple, packs a lot of energy, and
satisfies your hunger.
Ounce for ounce, an avocado has as many total
grams of fat as a Big Mac®, something
that led to its being vilified during the "fat free" diet crazes of the past.
Seventy-five percent of the calories in an avocado come from fat, whereas most
fruits derive their calories from sugars. But ever since nutritionists sorted
out the difference between bad and good monounsaturated fats, the avocado has
been voted back onto the island.
Half a California avocado has an
excellent overall nutrient profile: 114 calories, 2 grams of protein, 4.5 grams
of fiber, and 11 grams of fat, most of which (8 grams) is monounsaturated fat.
The monounsaturated fat found in avocados is mostly oleic acid, which,
according to a 1996 study by researchers at the Instituto Mexicano del
Seguro Social in Mexico, may help lower cholesterol. This study found that
after seven days of a diet rich in avocados, subjects saw significant decreases
in both total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol, as well as an 11 percent increase in
HDL ("good") cholesterol. In other words, it showed that avocados raised good
cholesterol levels while lowering the bad, a one-two punch against heart
But good fats are not the only attractive side of this
leathery-skinned green fruit. Avocados also have 60 percent more potassium than
bananas, making them a great post-workout recovery food. They're also rich in
vitamin E and other antioxidants.
You'll also find a large amount of
omega-3s and omega-6s in avocados, excellent news for vegetarians and vegans
who want to incorporate these beneficial fatty acids into their diet without
consuming fish oil, poultry, or eggs.
Really, the only way you can go
wrong eating avocados is if you eat so many of them that the excess calories
make you overweight. But as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, bring on the
- Cuckoo for coconut.
You can argue that a coconut isn't a fruit. People
will also argue that a tomato is a vegetable and that a peanut, which is really
a legume, is a nut. Whatever. We eat them all. While the avocado is unabashedly
awesome for your health, the health benefits of the coconut's flesh, and
particularly its milk, are less clear-cut.
This is because unlike the
avocado, with its wonderfully healthy monounsaturated fats, which provide it
with its silky flavor, the coconut is rich in saturated fats. However,
different kinds of saturated fats have different chemical compositions,
depending on the number of carbon atoms they contain. The saturated fat in
coconut oil consists mainly of lauric acid and myristic acid, whereas red meat
like beef contains mostly palmitic acid. Lauric acid has been shown to increase
good cholesterol levels, and, along with myristic acide, may have
antimicrobial/anti-acne properties. Consumption of palmitic acid, on the other
hand, has been shown to increase risk of heart disease in humans.
According to researchers, consuming coconut flesh and/or coconut oil can raise
your cholesterol levels, but since they raise your good cholesterol more than
your bad cholesterol, things would seem to balance out. But here's where the
research gets complicated: When studying the nutritional properties of one
food, it's important to take into account the other foods it's consumed with,
especially in terms of regional dietary habits.
The Asia Pacific
Health and Nutrition Centre at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia,
studies the eating habits of people in Indonesia and other Pacific island
regions who consume diets rich in coconut. Coconut has long been a staple in
this region, where there has traditionally been a very low incidence of heart
disease. But because the percentage of coconut in the regional diet has been
declining for decades as imported foods like red meat have become more
available, the incidence of coronary heart disease among these people has
The reason appears to be that Pacific islanders have
traditionally consumed coconut along with large quantities of fresh fruit,
vegetables, and fish. (As a side note, the night before I finished this
article, I had a traditional Thai dish that combined coconut, fish, and
vegetables: squid curry.) So if coconut, coconut milk, and/or coconut oil
encourage you to choose to cook a delicious meal of fresh vegetables and
seafood, it'll probably do you good. If you just like the taste of fresh
coconut meat, it's probably not doing you any harm. But frying your donuts in
coconut oil isn't going to turn them into anything resembling a healthy
The only fruit that can top the avocado for
beneficial fats is the humble olive. Health researchers have been lauding the
benefits of the olive and its oil for decades, and the olive rightfully holds a
place of honor in the healthful Mediterranean diet.
The main type of
fat found in all kinds of olives and olive oils is monounsaturated fatty acid,
which helps to lower your total cholesterol and bad cholesterol levels.
According to Mayo Clinic researchers, monounsaturated fatty acids may also help
normalize blood clotting, as well as benefitting insulin levels and helping to
control blood sugar.
In my own experience, cured olives are also
highly portable, keep well without refrigeration, and satisfy the same type of
hunger that might otherwise have me reaching for a piece of cheese or salami,
neither of which is going to lower my cholesterol. My primary salad dressing of
choice is simply extra virgin olive oil with a dash of balsamic vinegar. Both
good things. Trading in your overly processed bottled dressing for some
self-mixed olive oil and vinegar is a great way to cut your intake of sugar and
unhealthy fats with no loss of taste or enjoyment.
- The weirdest fruit of all? The
durian. To be honest, I'm really only writing
about the durian for its novelty factor. Unless you grew up in Southeast Asia,
it might be hard to feel any love for this giant prickly fruit that, when it's
ready to eat, smells like an overripe armpit. (Yes, you read that right: It
smells like B.O.)
But the durian doesn't taste like it smells, and
it's a great source of beneficial fats. One 100-gram serving (a little more
than a third of a cup of cubed pieces) contains 147 calories and 5 grams (or 8
percent of your daily requirement) of beneficial monounsaturated fat. And
unlike olives, the durian is also a source of the amino acid tryptophan, which
is known to increase seratonin levels in your brain, which can lift your mood.
(Interestingly enough, avocados have fairly high tryptophan levels too.)
Finally, like many other tropical fruits, the durian is a good overall
source of fiber and vitamins. So next time you're in a Thai or Indonesian fruit
market and get a whiff of something that smells like it needs to take a bath,
consider giving the durian a chance.
As soon as I learn a recipe for a
delicious durian-avocado-coconut-olive shake, you'll be the first to hear.
Until then, I'll be putting my money where my mouth is and eating a lot of
guacamole and olives to help my cholesterol. And I'll leave the durians for