I was having a discussion (as it often happens) with a couple of omnivorous friends yesterday about the relative merits of vegetarian vs. omnivore diets. This happens a lot - when people find out I'm vegan, they typically want to talk me out of it, as if I've just had my head up my arse for all these years, waiting for someone to come along and enlighten me.
Quite a bit of the discussion was pretty rote, at least for me, but one comment stuck out in my mind:
My friend, a diehard meat eater, said, "meat isn't any worse for you than vegetables. Just look how fattening avocados are!"
I thought the statement a little odd, but really, that's the conventional wisdom in the omnivorous world. Avocados contain a high amount of fat; therefore, they are fattening.
So, discounting the niggle about an avocado being a vegetable (it's not - it's actually a large berry), I thought I'd do a little digging, and see if that statement really had any merit.
Well, it turns out that a medium avocado has about 30 grams of fat - as much as one of those fast food quarter pound hamburgers. That's quite a bit, especially since keeping fat intake down is a central tenet for most weight loss and health programs.
But eating an avocado and eating a hamburger are not the same thing.
Animal fats are saturated fats - meaning that they contribute to low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, which cause the body to store these fats, rather than use them to reduild cells and detoxify the body. It also increases the risk for heart disease.
Avocado fats are monounsaturated - the "good" fats that supply high density lipoprotein (HDL), which lowers cholesterol and reduces the chance of heart disease. Monounsaturated fats are easily assimilated by the body and turned into raw energy. In other words, the body knows what to do with these fats... so it doesn't shove them off to pad your butt.
Also, avocados contain the enzyme lipase, which actually breaks down fat that is stored in the body. So not only do avocados not contribue to weight gain, they actually facilitate fat loss.
(Now, don't get the idea that you're going to drop a couple of dress sizes in a week by shoveling down avocados day and night. The fat burning effects of lipase are rather mild - this is something that you can see happen over months, not days.)
Finally, organic avocados contain enzymes such as protease which detoxify the body. Because toxins are stored with excess fat, these toxins are released into your body when the excess fat is burned. This can cause bloating and water retention (both are a really great time). Protease works to eliminate these toxins, helping you achieve steady weight loss.
So am I saying that the avocado is a "superfood" for weight loss? No, not really. To achieve rapid weight loss, you'd pretty much have to eat the things exclusively for weeks on end. I'd wager that you'd forever swear off anything green before you'd see results worthy of a spot on the cover of People Magazine.
Plus, I'm always a little leery of "superfood" claims anyway - most of these claims are artfully spun by some guy trying to, say, figure out what the hell to do with a crate of dried goji berrys. Antioxidants? Ah-ha! Goji berries are now the key to eternal life! But I digress...
Superfood or not, I think it's safe to say that avocados are not the hip-bulging beasts that most of us think. And you certainly can't compare them to a slab of meat, in my opinion.
I eat them pretty much every day. And I just recently got back the results of a screening I had to do at a health fair for work (well, it was either that or take a 20% hike on my health insurance). My cholesterol is in the low-normal range, and my HDL levels are in the high-normal range. I was scored as a low risk for heart disease.
And if you've seen my videos, you know I'm not at any risk of being called "chunky" anytime soon....