Viva Avocado!

May 5, 2004
Viva Avocado!

One way to celebrate Mexican culture and history on Cinco de Mayo is to eat an avocado. The avocado originated in Mexico, way back in B.C. times, and was a favorite of the Aztecs, who called them ahuacatl and considered them to be an aphrodisiac -- forbidden fruit. When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they found that they loved the fruit (yes, avocados are a FRUIT), but couldn't pronounce ahuacatl. They changed the name to agaucate and this later became avocado in English. Avocados were introduced into the U.S. in the 1870s, and California became the nation's largest producer. Today, the most popular variety of avocado is the Haas, easily recognized by its bumpy skin, which turns nearly black when the avocado is ripe.


I confess that I LOVE avocados (especially the Haas type) and eat them every chance I get --sliced on salads, sliced onto hummus or tuna, and especially crushed into guacamole. This didn't use to be the case, however. For a couple of decades or so, when I was running marathons and was caught up in then-popular diet idea that all fats are bad for you, avocados were the enemy. The forbidden fruit. How could something so silky smooth and rich in flavor and dense with oils be good for you? Well, it turns out that avocados ARE good for you. Not only are they a nutrition powerhouse, loaded with vitamins and minerals, but also they're one of the best and most delicious sources of heart-healthy fats.

Avocados are cholesterol free and virtually sodium free and low in saturated fat. Most of the fat in an avocado is monounsaturated, and this is the type of fat considered by many scientists and nutritionists to be heart healthy in that it helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol.

Scientific studies have shown that, ounce for ounce, avocados are one of the highest-ranking fruits in terms of these disease-fighting phytochemicals and nutrients: lutein, vitamin E, glutathione, beta-sitosterol, folate, monounsaturated fats, potassium, and magnesium. Those last two minerals -- potassium and magnesium -- are especially important for athletes in that they are vital for the smooth, cramp-free operation of your muscles. Usually, we think of bananas as being a top source of magnesium and potassium. But get a load of this...while a medium banana contains approximately 33 milligrams of magnesium and 451 milligrams of potassium, an avocado contains about 79 mg of magnesium and 1204 mg of potassium. In each case, that's more than twice as much. Sure, there are more calories in an avocado (324 versus 105 in that medium banana), but avocados contain a whole lot of taste and a whole lot of other terrific nutrients. Even if you eat just half the avocado, you're coming out ahead on the nutrients.

So, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, go out and treat yourself to an avocado AND a banana. To help you get started, here's my favorite guacamole recipe. It's really simple and tasty, and it DISAPPEARS each year when I take a huge bowl of it to our swim-team banquet.

Coach B's Guacamole

One ripe Haas avocado
One or two cloves garlic, depending on your taste
One medium-size ripe tomato
Juice of one fresh lime

1. Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into a bowl.
2. Crush and chop the garlic and add to the bowl.
3. With a fork, mash the avocado till it's a bit lumpy, not pureed.
4. Cut the tomato in quarters and remove most of the seeds, then dice.
5. Gently mix the diced tomato in with the avocado.
6. Gently stir in lime juice to taste.

Que gusto!

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