Also called the alligator pear, avocados come in dozens of varieties. There are three main categories and they are the West Indian, Guatemalan, and Mexican types. West Indian types do well in tropical climates, while Guatemalan come from cool, high altitude tropical places, and the Mexican types come from dry, Mediterranean-type climates. Haas avocados, which are of the Guatemalan variety, are the most popular kind in the United States and are thick-skinned and oval shaped.
Avocados are native to Central and South America and have been used there for centuries. In approximately the mid-seventeenth century, avocados were introduced to Jamaica and from there they spread through the tropical regions of Asia before eventually entering the United States in approximately the early twentieth century. Avocados are now common in the tropical and subtropical countries, with most of the big commercial producers in Florida and California as well as Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia.
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats and are second only to olives in their unsaturated oil content. Avocados are twenty percent fat, which is about twenty times more than other fruit. This is why, ounce for ounce, avocados have more calories than any other fruit. One would think that a food so high in fat would be bad for our health, but in the case of avocados, the high fat content is a beneficial thing! Avocados have oleic acid and linoleic acid, two oils that help to lower cholesterol levels. In fact, studies show that those who eat a diet high in avocados have significant decreases in their total cholesterol and LDL levels, with an increase in HDL levels (high-density lipoproteins, the 'healthy' form of cholesterol).
Cholesterol levels are also lowered by the fiber avocados contain. Between the high fiber and monounsaturated fats, avocados make a great food for heart health as well as for diabetics. It’s been found that when people with diabetes eat a lot of carbohydrates, they usually develop high amounts of triglycerides, a type of blood fat that leads to heart disease. But it has also been found that if they replace some of the carbs with fat, particularly healthy fats like those found in avocados, the unhealthy fats in the bloodstream tend to decrease. The fats in avocados are also great for our skin and hair, keeping them healthy and vibrant.
The potassium in avocados helps decrease high blood pressure as well as the risk of other cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. Most people today get an over-abundance of sodium but are deficient in potassium. Eating avocados is a great way to bring the ratio of sodium to potassium into balance.
Avocados are also high in folate, a really important nutrient for pregnant women. When folate is deficient it can lead to birth defects in the brain and spine that can be life-threatening. Folate is essential for keeping nerves functioning as they should and it helps fight against heart disease. Avocados also provide a number of antioxidants from the carotenoid lutein.
When picking out avocados at the store, pick ones that are soft enough to yield to some gentle pressure, but aren't too soft and squishy. Avocados that are overripe have brown meat, and these will be mushy to the touch. Underripe, hard avocados will ripen within a few days at room temperature; avocados should not be put in the fridge until they are ripe.