Avocado toast has become the favored breakfast of the healthy and fit, and now new research suggests their choice may protect their hearts.
People who ate half an avocado twice a week had a 16% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21% lower risk of heart disease, compared with people who never or rarely ate the fruit, researchers found.
"This 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 in the general population," said lead researcher Lorena Pacheco, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
"Our results are timely, since the nationwide consumption of avocado has risen steeply in the U.S. in the last 20 years," she noted.
This type of observational study cannot prove definitively that eating avocados lowered the risk for cardiovascular disease, only that there might be a connection, Pacheco cautioned. Funding for the study came from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Avocados are rich in dietary fiber, unsaturated fats like monounsaturated fat (healthy fats) and other components that have been linked with good cardiovascular health.
Avocados can be a part of a heart-healthy diet, Pacheco said, but "it is certainly not a magical bullet in itself."
The findings may be also skewed because participants themselves reported the amount of avocado they ate, so some may have misremembered.
For the study, Pacheco and her colleagues collected data on more than 110,000 men and women who took part in the Nurses' Health Study (nearly 69,000 women) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (nearly 42,000 men).
Over more than 30 years of follow-up, more than 9,100 participants developed heart disease and more than 5,200 suffered a stroke.
The study also found that replacing half a serving daily of margarine, butter, egg, yogurt, cheese or processed meats with the same amount of avocado lowered the risk for cardiovascular disease by 16% to 22%, Pacheco said.
Substituting half a serving a day of avocado for olive oil, nuts or other plant oils showed no additional benefit, the researchers noted. They also found the risk for stroke was not changed, regardless of how much avocado one ate.
"These findings further substantiate the evidence on the replacement of certain spreads and saturated fat-containing foods, such as cheese and processed meats, with a plant-sourced fat such as avocado, which for the most part, is a well-accepted and popular food," Pacheco said.
"Additionally, the results from this study are akin to those of other monounsaturated fatty acid-rich foods, such as olive oil and nuts," she said.
Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, said avocados are a good source of many important nutrients, including healthy fats, fiber, vitamins C and E, and minerals such as potassium. They are also naturally cholesterol-free.
"Avocados have a creamy, satisfying texture and taste and are a good addition to one's healthy, more plant-based, balanced eating style," said Heller, who wasn't part of the study.
There are lots of ways to enjoy avocados in your diet, she said.
"Serve guacamole with whole-grain tortilla chips; mix mashed avocado with hummus for a dip served with crudites; add avocados to smoothies; top salads and sandwiches with avocado slices; make avocado toast topped with fresh sliced tomatoes, or try an avocado-based sauce for pasta. You can even make sweets like fudge with avocados," Heller said.
The report was published online March 30 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
For more on a heart-healthy diet, see the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: Lorena Pacheco, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston; Samantha Heller, MS, RD, CDN, senior clinical nutritionist, NYU Langone Health, New York City; Journal of the American Heart Association, online, March 30, 2022