Avocado lovers: Eating two servings a week may help lower heart disease risk

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  • Eating two servings of avocado a week is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Cardiovascular disease can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
  • The study findings are promising, although the research had some limitations.

Avocados are one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods on the market. Apart from being delicious and filling, they are also full of fibre and healthy fats and can reduce your risk of heart disease.   

Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, USA, say that eating two or more servings of this versatile fruit per week may lead to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Their findings are based on a 30-year study involving more than 110 000 health professionals. Those who consumed at least two servings of avocado a week had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who rarely ate avocados. 

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Dr Cheryl Anderson, chair of the American Heart Association's Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, commented on the study findings, calling them “promising”. She said:

Although no one food is the solution to routinely eating a healthy diet, this study is evidence that avocados have possible health benefits. This is promising because it is a food item that is popular, accessible, desirable and easy to include in meals eaten by many Americans at home and in restaurants.

The study

The study included 68 786 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 41 701 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. All participants were free of cancer, coronary heart disease, and stroke at the start of the study period. The women were aged 30 to 55 years and the men 40 to 75. 

There were nearly 9 200 coronary heart disease events and 5 290 strokes recorded during more than 30 years of follow-up. 

Participants' diet was assessed using food frequency questionnaires (at the beginning of the study and then every four years). Their avocado intake was then calculated using a questionnaire. One serving equalled half an avocado.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Participants who ate at least two servings of avocado each week had a 16% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who never or rarely ate avocados.
  • They also had a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease compared to the group that never or rarely ate the fruit.
  • Replacing half a serving daily of margarine, butter, egg, yoghurt, cheese or bacon with the same amount of avocado was associated with a 16% to 22% lower risk of cardiovascular disease events. This was based on statistical modelling.

There was no significant association between stroke risk and how much avocado was eaten.

Study first of its kind

While previous studies have also associated the fruit with a positive impact on cardiovascular risk factors, including high cholesterol, this is the first large, prospective study to look at the link between higher avocado consumption and lower cardiovascular events, such as stroke, they said.

"Our study provides further evidence that the intake of plant-sourced unsaturated fats can improve diet quality and is an important component in cardiovascular disease prevention," said lead author of the study, Dr Lorena Pacheco, a postdoctoral research fellow in the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She added:

These are particularly notable findings since the consumption of avocados has risen steeply in the US in the last 20 years, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture.

Avocados are one of the highest imported fruit globally. AFP noted that South Africa was the world's sixth-biggest exporter of the “green gold” fruit in 2019.

"[Replacing] certain spreads and saturated fat-containing foods, such as cheese and processed meats, with avocado is something physicians and other health care practitioners such as registered dietitians can do when they meet with patients, especially since avocado is a well-accepted food," Pacheco recommended.

One of the limitations of the research is that participants were mostly white, so the results may not be generalisable to other groups. The study is also observational, so a direct cause and effect cannot be proved.

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READ | 5 reasons to love avocados

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