Avocados: A Dieter’s Delight


By Lincoln Kaye

Avocados have an image problem. Everybody knows they’re good, but this isn’t enough.

Say avocado, and most weight-conscious people say “no thanks.” Let’s face it—they have a lot of calories. But it’s not as bad as you thought; you get a lot of nutrition for those calories.

A 1-pound avocado supplies 70 percent of an average adult’s daily needs for Vitamin C, a fifth of needed Vitamins A, B1 and B2, a third of the daily Vitamin B3 requirements, and generous portions of such vital minerals as iron, phosphorus and magnesium.

All this comes at a relatively high calorie cost-about 480 calories in the 1-pound Florida avocado. This reflects the avocado’s makeup, which is about 12 percent oil and 8 percent carbohydrate—more like a nut than fruit.

But, as fattening foods go, an avocado’s calories are relatively “clean.” The fats occur in simple, easily assimilated molecules that are cholesterol-free and low in sodium.

Avocados are among the most ideal between-meal snacks for dieters, according to experts at the Institute of Bariatrics (fat studies) at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, Miami Beach. Since most people eat them fresh, “the essential fatty acids in the avocado remain unrefined. They retain the nitrogen compounds that act as chemical ‘tags,’ to let the liver know how to break down and use them.

“The fats in the avocado will not be turned into bulge. They’ll become energy reserves, lining membranes for the nerves… The same goes for the carbohydrates in the avocado. They’re complex carbohydrates of the type that everybody needs. The body knows what to do with them.” But many remain skeptical. As one Weight Watchers International director explains it, “I’m no more of a nutritionist than anyone else in our group. We’re all just former fat people.”

“But I DO know that avocados are definitely off our list, at least in the beginning stages of our weight-loss program. They’re simply too fatty.”

The avocado is still largely unknown outside the Western Hemisphere. Europe’s culinary Bible, Larousse Gastronomique, dismisses it as a nut-like fruit “much prized by the Americans.”

But Latin Americans have traditionally taken a different view from Europeans, esteeming the avocado even in pre-Columbian times.

Legend has it that the 16th century Aztec emperor Montezuma entertained Hernando Cortes with a feast featuring avocados upon the conquistador’s arrival in Mexico.

The Spaniards, entranced with the new fruit, were supposed to have murmured “bocados”, meaning “what a mouthful!” Which accounts, we are told, for the avocado’s name.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language offers a different—and more plausible-story of the word’s origin. “Avocado” is reportedly a corrupt pronunciation of the Nahuatl Indian word for testicle.

If so, the allusion might be to the fruit’s appearance or its supposed aphrodisiac properties.

Unripe supermarket avocados can be hurried along if buried in a bin of flour or rice or put in a paper bag.

They’re ripe when they yield a little to the touch. Don’t wait until they start developing dark or soft spots; that means they’re starting to spoil.

Never cut an avocado before it is ripe; the flesh will be hard and bitter and will never mature. Fully ripe avocados will keep for a few days chilled. They don’t freeze well unless pureed.

If you’re only using half an avocado at a time, leave the seed in the remaining half to keep it from spoiling in the refrigerator. After it has been cut, the fruit will discolor a little; scrub it with a slice of lemon or lime to somewhat restore its bright chartreuse color.

The avocado’s leathery shell makes a natural—even elegant—dish from which to spoon the tender flesh. A halved avocado, garnished with just a little lemon juice if desired, can make a satisfying light lunch or snack unto itself.

Part of what makes it so elusive is the chameleon quality of an avocado’s flavor. The cup-shaped depression left when the pit is removed is an ideal spot for adding whatever you wish. The fruit also takes on some of the flavor of whatever you add.

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