Oddly enough, avocados are more synonymous with millennials and toast than anything involving dietary health. However, a new study just released by the University of Illinois may finally change all that.
Researchers have found that making this tasty fruit a daily part of your diet can do wonders for stomach health and overall gastrointestinal functioning.
Over the past decade or so avocados have become a bit of a polarizing dietary topic. They’re a common sight nowadays in cafes and restaurants the world over, but it’s become something of a generational joke that young people spend too much money eating avocados.
Regardless of how you feel about the price of avocados, there’s no denying their deliciousness and health benefits.
It’s been known for some time that avocados boast lots of helpful dietary fiber and monounsaturated fat (heart-healthy fat). Now, fostering robust gut health can be added to the list of avocado’s benefits.
“We know eating avocados helps you feel full and reduces blood cholesterol concentration, but we did not know how it influences the gut microbes, and the metabolites the microbes produce,” notes lead study author Sharon Thompson, a graduate student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at U of I, in a release.
How exactly do avocados help out the stomach? Researchers discovered that people who eat avocados every day show greater numbers of gut microbes. These microbes are extremely important as they break down fiber and create metabolites that ensure strong stomach functioning. In a nutshell, the more microbes the better.
Regular avocado eaters also had greater “microbial diversity” within their guts. It’s a bit of a strange concept to wrap one’s mind around at first, but it’s healthier for one’s “gut microbiome” (stomach) to house lots of different bacterial species. For example, a more varied and diverse collection of stomach bacteria means a stronger immune system.
“Microbial metabolites are compounds the microbes produce that influence health,” Thompson explains. “Avocado consumption reduced bile acids and increased short chain fatty acids. These changes correlate with beneficial health outcomes.”
“Our goal was to test the hypothesis that the fats and the fiber in avocados positively affect the gut microbiota. We also wanted to explore the relationships between gut microbes and health outcomes,” says senior study author Hannah Holscher, assistant professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I.
A total of 163 adults, all between the ages of 25 and 45 and considered either overweight or obese, took part in this study. Half of the participants were given one meal each day that included avocado, while the other half were given a similar daily meal without any avocado. Besides that one meal every day, subjects were told to continue with their usual diets. This went on for 12 weeks, with subjects also providing blood, fecal, and urine samples.
As mentioned earlier avocados are rich in fat. So, it didn’t surprise researchers to see subjects in the avocado group taking in more calories daily. However, avocado-eating participants also rid themselves of more fat in their stool.
“Greater fat excretion means the research participants were absorbing less energy from the foods that they were eating. This was likely because of reductions in bile acids, which are molecules our digestion system secretes that allow us to absorb fat. We found that the amount of bile acids in stool was lower and the amount of fat in the stool was higher in the avocado group,” Holscher says.
So, this suggests that avocados aren’t going to ruin anyone’s weight-loss diet and the avocado fat that we do absorb is of the heart-healthy variety.
Regarding fiber, avocados represent a one-two benefit punch when it comes to gut health. Not only do avocados provide lots of essential dietary fiber, but the gut microbes they support help us digest that fiber.
“Less than 5% of Americans eat enough fiber. Most people consume around 12 to 16 grams of fiber per day. Thus, incorporating avocados in your diet can help get you closer to meeting the fiber recommendation,” Holscher explains. “We can’t break down dietary fibers, but certain gut microbes can. When we consume dietary fiber, it’s a win-win for gut microbes and for us.”
“It’s just a really nicely packaged fruit that contains nutrients that are important for health,” she concludes.
Who needs apples anyway? An avocado a day will keep the (stomach) doctor away.
The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Nutrition.