Love them or loathe them, there’s no denying avocados are a nutritious food. And yes, they contain a lot of fat (though to be fair it is healthy fat). But researchers from Penn State University believe they could help lower levels of LDL cholesterol (often called ‘bad’ cholesterol) in people who are overweight or living with obesity too. Specifically, their study shows eating avocados could help lower oxidised LDL. But more on that in a moment.
Forty-five overweight or obese adults were enrolled for the study, each of whom followed three five-week diets in a random order: a low-fat diet, a moderate-fat diet and a moderate-fat diet that included one avocado a day. When they finished the five-week avocado diet, the volunteers’ levels of oxidised LDL cholesterol and small, dense LDL particles were significantly lower than when they started and lower than they were when they finished the two other diets.
What’s the deal with oxidised LDL cholesterol, you may ask?
“A lot of research points to oxidation being the basis for conditions like cancer and heart disease,” says Penn State professor of nutrition Penny Kris-Etherton. “We know that when LDL particles become oxidised, that starts a chain reaction that can promote atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque in the artery wall. Oxidation is not good, so if you can help protect the body through the foods that you eat, that could be very beneficial.”
Small, dense LDL particles are also thought to be particularly harmful for causing plaque build-up in arteries, the researchers add. The study – published in the Journal of Nutrition – also showed that after the five-week avocado diet, the volunteers’ blood levels of lutein – a plant compound with antioxidant properties – were also higher than when they started the study.
“When you think about bad cholesterol, it comes packaged in LDL particles, which vary in size,” explains Kris-Etherton. “All LDL is bad, but small, dense LDL is particularly bad. A key finding was that people on the avocado diet had fewer oxidised LDL particles. They also had more lutein, which may be the bioactive that’s protecting the LDL from being oxidised.”
We’re just beginning to learn how avocados can improve health, the researchers say. But hang on. The research was partly supported by the Hass Avocado Board. Still, the study results are a good excuse to eat more avocados if you can’t get enough of the green creamy stuff. But what if you can’t stand the taste of them? Try disguising it. For example, avocados make a great chocolate mousse (here are two recipes by Chocolate Covered Katie). If avocados are your thing, on the other hand, you can’t beat good old-fashioned smashed avocado on toast. It’s a classic.