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That much maligned fat-rich avocado might be better for you than you think. Certain good fats help the absorption of key nutrients that are important for your good health. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers at Ohio State University reported that avocados, which are rich in the monounsaturated type of omega 3 fatty acids help the body absorb up to 15 times more of a class of nutrients called carotenoids, which protect the body against heart disease, inflammation, cancers and blindness.

In recent decades people have been encouraged to eat more vegetables, particularly green ones. Many vegetables, especially the red, orange, yellow and green ones carry high levels of carotenoids but they are extremely low in fat. In previous studies, researchers found that a little fat added to salads in the form of salad dressing, helped the body absorb more carotenoids, as opposed to no-fat salad dressing which somewhat hindered absorption. In this recent study, researchers found that the type of fat, particularly monounsaturated fat, boosted carotenoid absorption considerably, even providing a more efficient conversion to Vitamin A in the body.

The study focused on four specific carotenoids – lutein, lycopene, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. In three different aspects of the study, 11 healthy adults were served a salsa with or without 2/3 of a cup of avocado, containing approximately 24 grams of fat, mixed in.

In another aspect of the study, healthy adults were divided into 4 groups, where they were served a salad containing romaine lettuce, carrots and spinach, all containing carotenoids, in addition to a whole avocado, half an avocado, no avocado or 24 grams of pure cold pressed avocado oil. The subjects were required to stay at the University campus research center for the duration of the study so their food intake could be controlled and their blood taken at specific times during the duration of the study. Over the course of 10 hours blood carotene levels were measured after subjects ate the test meal.

Researchers found the most profound effects with the group that ate the whole avocado with their salsa. This group absorbed nearly 4.5 times more lycopene which protects against prostate cancer and 2.5 times more beta-carotene which helps protect heart health and reduced cancer risk.

The subjects that ate a whole avocado with their salad absorbed 5 times more lutein, which is a major protector against macular degeneration and cataracts. They also absorbed 7 times more alpha carotene and 15 times more beta-carotene than those who had no avocado at all. The group that ate half an avocado with their salad had almost identical results as those that ate the whole avocado. Subjects that had the avocado oil had similar results to those that ate the whole avocado. The study shows that adding monounsaturated fat to a meal containing carotenoid-rich vegetables really helps their absorption but researchers don’t know quite how much fat is needed until further studies are undertaken.

If one is counting calories, eating avocado comes with about 250 calories for a whole one, while 24 grams of avocado oil has 212 calories. Its quite a lot of calories in one go, but if one weighs the benefits of eating them, then adjustments can be made in the overall diet plan to avoid weight gain. Guacomole anyone?