The Most Nutritious of All Fruits Short Summary

Introduction

The avocado, botanical name Persea americana,is, as its Latin nomenclature suggests, a native of the Americas, in particular of Mexico, Central and South America. It has many other names including ‘palta’ from the Quecha word, ‘aguacate’, ‘abacate’ the ‘butter pear’ and the ‘alligator pear’. This last name refers to the rough dark green skin of some types. The popular  name avocado comes from the Nahuatl word ‘ āhuacatl’meaning testicle.Robert Burgh in his botanical article ‘The Avocado and Human Nutrition, Some Human Health Aspects of the Avocado’ quotes Purseglove who in 1968 said of the avocado that it was ‘The most nutritious of all fruits.’[1]

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History

This plant has a long history of cultivation especially in Central and South America. This can be proved by such findings as a water jar in what is clearly avocado shape  being found in the pre-Incan city of Chan Chan. This dates  from around 900 C.E. , but in Mexico there is evidence of the plants growth in cultivation from some 10,000 years ago.

Martín Fernández de Enciso (c. 1470–c. 1528) gives us the first description of the plant from a European perspective in 1518 or 1519 in his book, of 1518 or 1519 Suma de Geografía que Trata de Todas las Partidas y Provincias del Mundo.

It was written in English as ‘Avocado’ in 1696 by Hans Sloane  in an index of the

plants of Jamaica.

By 1750 it was being planted in Indonesia, though, despite being an American native,  it is not recorded in Brazil before 1809. It reached the eastern mediterranean countries in the early years of the 20th century, not long after its introduction to both South Africa and Australia. Certain hardy types will grow in more temperate climates such as the southern U.S.A. In California 8 varieties are grown, Bacon, Fuerte, Gwen, Hass, Lamb Hass, Pinkerton, Reed and Zutano.[2]

Primarily because of its shape, which could be said to resemble a testicle, the plant has been credited with being an aphrodisiac and so would not be bought or eaten by those wishing to preserve an image of chastity. Historically avocados had a long-standing stigma as a sexual stimulant and were not purchased or consumed by any person wishing to preserve a chaste image for avocados were known ‘fertility fruit’ by the Aztecs.

Botany

It is  a flowering tree of the tropics from the plant family Lauraceae. The name avocado is used for both the plant in general and for its fruit, technically called by botanists a berry, which contains a hard , egg shaped pit or seed in casing. The tree can grow as high as 65 feet or about 20 metres and has alternately arranged leaves, these being 12–25 centimetres long each. The inconspicuous flowers are greenish-yellow in coloran dtuiny, being only 5–10 millimetres wide.The  flowers born in dense racemes and have no petals and do have six perianth lobes, nine stamens arranged on three series and a one-celled ovary.These tiny flowers  contrast with the largish fruit which are between 7 and 20 centimetres long, and which can weigh anything from 100grams to a kilogram. Each pear has a large central seed, with two coytyledons and which can be from round to conical in shape. [3]These seeds are 5–6.4 centimeters long. The fruit vary in colour from yellowy green to dark green. The mesocarp or pulp is buttery in consistancy and is also greenish yellow.

The Guatamalean type has an oil content of 8-10% while those grown in the West Indies may only have oil levels of between 3 and 10 %. The Mexican varity has thin skin and its leaves have an anise odour.There are however almost 500 varieties, many of them crosses.

Cultivation

Although there are types which grow in somewhat cooler climates, most are grown in the tropics or subtropics. These varieties need a climate without frost and with little wind. This is because high winds affect the plant’s ability to be pollinated. Types grown in the West Indies in particular, need both humidity and a tropical climate if they are to flower.

The Hass cultivar however can survive a very mild frost at -1degree Centigrade while

the Guatamalan type is the least resistant to cold.[4]

 The soil must be well aereated and relatively deep to allow a good root run. If irrigation water is saline, as may occur in places such as the Punjab which has salt deposits under ground, then yields will be affected. These perfect conditions are only available in a limited number of sites around the world  few areas of the world – southern Spain, the Eastern Mediterranean,  South Africa, Peru, parts of Chile and he southern states of the United States of America, in Asian countries such as  Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Malaysia and in Mexico, central  America and the Caribbean.

Like the Banana it is a climacteric fruit. This means that it matures on the tree, but continues to ripen once off it. Usually in commerce the fruit is picked while still hard and stored at 3.3 to 5.6°Centigrade until it reaches its ultimate destination. Once picked, providing they are mature, they will ripen in 2-3 days at normal room tempratures. Oil can be extracted for use in many products, but , according to the writers of ‘Minor Oil Crops[5]’ the compostion of such oil can be quite varied quoting the levels in the table below.

Palmitic acid
7.2-26.1%
Oleic acid
64.8-80.9%
Linoleic acid
6.3-11.3%

Nutrition

Robert Burgh quotes various food writers in his article[6]. They describe its fat content a being  more nutritious than butter, having the flavor of nuts, the vitamins and minerals of green vegetables. He adds comments from people such as John Kellogg that it is nutritionally superior to other foods as well as being easy to digest because its proteins are less complex than those in animal proteins. The United States Department of Agriculture states that each avocado contains on average:-

324 calories;3.98g protein;14.8g carbohydrate;30.8g total fat;10g fiber;1,204mg potassium; 15.8mg Vitamin C;124mcg folate and 1,230IU Vitamin A.[7]

Benefits

In general these fall into the following groups, food source, medical uses, cosmetic uses and sundry others such as ornamentation. Some of these may be combined as for instance where the eating of avocados can lower blood pressure.Because of this the list below is in no particular order.

 1) It is a natural sun screen[8]

2) It is useful as part of the diet when aiming to control weight.[9]

3) It is a source of dietery fibre, necessary for the normal action of  the digestive tract.[10]

4) It can be used as a baby food without risk of allergic reactions, having the same ratio of fat as human breast milk[11]

5) It is high in calories, but this means that huge amounts do not have to be eaten in order

    to obtain any benefit.[12]

6) It has a softening effect on the skin and a high skin penetration level because of the high hydrocarbon content of the pulp and oil, and which is beneficial to those with dry skin .[13]

7) The flesh can be frozen combined with lemon juice and spices as guacamole.[14]

8) The flesh can be fermented into something resembling cheese.[15]

9) The American Federal Drug Administration reports that there are 240 cosmetic products containing avocado oil at levels of 0.1 to 5%.[16]

10) The pulped flesh can be used in icecream.[17]

11) Source of vitamins B.E.and K[18]

12) Young plants make a decorative house plant.[19]

13) Can be used as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes.[20]

14) Avocados are high in potassium which is needed for muscle contraction.[21]They contain 60% more potassium than bananas.

15) May reduce symptoms of osteo arthritis, especially when combined with soya oil.[22],[23]

16) The seeds have been used by native Americans to treat dysentry and diarrhea.[24]

17) A pomade made from the fruit has been used to stimulate hair growth.[25]

18) A pomade  of the flesh has been used to promote the healing of wounds.[26]

19) Oleic acid, a beneficial monounsaturated fatty acid is obtained from avocados in concetrations of from 61% to 95% [27]

20) Source of vitamin D in levels higher than those found in butter or eggs.[28]

21) The flesh contains sugars and carbohydrates for food.[29]

22) The leaves and skin can be used to make compost.[30]

23) Mexican avocado leaves contain approximately 3% of an essential oil made up mainly of estragole and anethole.[31]

24) A study involving rats showed that avocado protects the mucosal lining of the  stomuch.[32]

25) Research shows that the liver is protected from injury by avocado.[33]

26) Source of beta carotene.[34]

27) Source of vitamins  C and  folate, niacin and thiamin.[35]

28) Pulp easily so can be used to make a smoothie.[36]

29) Can be used as a salad dressing. [37]

30) Avocados contain plant proteins which can be used to stretch expensive animal proteins in food.[38]

31) Because of its essential oil content it can be used as a stroke preventative.[39]
32) Avocados enable the body to better absorb  fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha- and beta-carotene as well as lutein, in other foods that are eaten with the fruit.[40]

33) When recovering from an illness people mayhave low appetite levels , but an avocado a day will help to restore strength.[41]

34) The chance of heart attacks can be lowered.[42]

35) The oil can be used as a dip.[43]

36) Can be used to make a souffle.[44]

37) Can be used in a vinigrette.[45]

38) Can be used as an ingredient in aoli.[46]

39) Used on the hair the oil adds shine.[47]

40)  The oil increases the elasticity of the skin.[48]

41) The oil eliminates the need for preservatives  as it needs none, while other oils  can become rancid over time.[49]

42) The oil can be used as a carrier for various ingredients.[50]

43) The flesh can be used as a hair conditioner.[51]

44) An average avocado contains 81 micrograms of Lutein, which is important for good eyesight.[52]

45) They make a healthy substitute for other foods which are high in saturated fats.[53]

46) Avocados contain Beta-sitosterol  ( 76 milligrams in a 3 oz  ( 100 gram) serving which is a natural plant sterol which it is believed  may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.  In  the December 1999 issue of the ‘American Journal of Medicine’, researchers recorded that beta-sitosterol  had been tested  in 16 studies involving humans and all showed that it reduced cholesterol. [54] This reduction is in what are called ‘bad fats. Eating an avocado a day will on average reduce cholesterol by 17% according to a 1996 study.[55]

47) Because the fats in avocado are more digestible than other fats they are especially useful for those with digestive problems.[56]

48) Mashed avocado can be used as a spread on bread.[57]

49) Mashed avocado can be used to replace high fat mayonnaise.[58]

50) When switching from an omnivorous diet to a vegan one avocado replaces some of the fat in meat and so helps the transition.[59]

51) The consumption of avocado will help to remove any craving for high fat creamy dairy foods.[60]

52) Avocado trees, each of which produces between 100 and 400 fruits per season and so produce more food per acre than any other tree crop and this equals  up to 1/200th of the land required to produce an equal quantity of beef protein.[61]

53) Although avocados contain only 2% protein this is easily available to our bodies. Meat protein, because it is cooked, is deranged and so is not all available to the liver.[62]

54) The sun’s ripening action of the sun works on complex proteins predigesting them into simple and more easily digested amino acids.[63] By weight, avocados contain an average of 30% of these easily digestible oily fatty acids.

55) Avocado oil is heavy and waxy. It penetrates deep into ht eskin and is useful for therapuetic massages.[64]

56) Dr Alison Butt has reported in June 2007 that persin has a positive effect on breast cancer. It needs further trials at present , but may be of use in conjunction with tamoxifen.[65]

57) The Conquistador’s in Central America used as ink the milky fluid from the seed, which turns red on exposure to the air.[66]

58) In Latin America the rind is used as a traditional medicne to free the body from intestinal worms.[67]

59) In Queensland, Australia scientists have discovered that a diet which included avocados eaten on a regular basis led to a 10-20% decrease in the recurrence of heart disease together with a 4-8% decrease in the number of patients with coronary heart disease if people persisted with the diet for 5 years[68].

60) Avocado oil can be used to produce soap.[69]

61) Avocado can be used as a face mask and is particularly good on dry skin.[70]

62) Avocados are used in milk shakes in Brazil and Vietnam[71]

63) Avocados can be used to fight the cancer cells in oral cancer. Researchers at Ohio  State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center state phytonutrients found  in avocados can search out, find and eliminate oral cancer cells.[72]

64) The American Heart Association recommends the eating of avocados rather than the taking of anti-hypertensive drugs for those with uncomplicated  and mild hypertension.[73]

65) Avocados can be used to combat childhood obesity and future health problems.[74]

66) Avocados contain folate – important in the prevention of birth defects such as spina bifida.[75]

Global Usage

Obviously avocados are eaten wherever they are available. Various recipes are easy to find, but other uses vary from place to place. For instance in Japan they are used in sushi and in other places such as the Philippines they are eaten with milk and sugar.The most traditional uses are found in Latin America, their place of origin. Now that avocados are more freely available in countries far from their places of growth, the people of the world are ever seeking more ways to use  the fruit. Where it is grown there is also research into the use of the leaves and bark and the overripe and so inedible fruits, their seeds and skins.

Global Production

Gradually the avocado has spread from its original habitats. For instance in 1911 Carl Schmidt a worker at the  West Indian Nursery in Altadena, California, was seeking a variety of Mexican avocado that would thrive further north in California. At Puebla, Mexico cuttings were taken from several trees, but by 1913 only one was still surviving. The survivor was designated as Fuerte, which means strong and vigorous and was to become the basis of the current California avocado industry. [76]

Mexico, Chile and the United States of America are the world’s biggest producers of avocados.[77] However, despite exporting 1,431 tons to Canada, Korea and Japan, the United States also imported 252,045 tons. In 2005 exports were valued at $3 million. Production in 2005 /6 in the United States has been estimated as 247,000 tons, a huge increase of 34 % on the previous year. Chile sends more than 60% of its crop to the U.S.A., but has only 1/5th or the production that Mexico has. Most imported avocados are of the Hass variety. Demand has exceeded production domestically in theUnited States. One possible reason is the rise in the percentage of Hispanics in the American population according to the file ‘World Horticultural Trade  and U.S. Export Opportunities.[78]The Dominican Republic also exports avocados to the United States.

There was at one point a trade war with America banning the import of Mexican avocados, stating that they would bring with them fruit fies. Mexico said they would only export to northern states where the flies could not survive. Then, when this failed to change American government attitudes, they began to impose barriers on the import of American maize.USDA officials went to Mexico and examined millions of avocados and found nothing harmful! It still took until 2007 before avocados were allowed to be imported in all American states.[79]

Conclusion

Although it is obviously important economically and there are already many uses for the avocado, nutritionally, as a medication and in other ways. It may well be that these are only the tip of the iceberg and that the more science looks at this remarkable plant the more benefits they will discover. They are not perfect  – they will only grow in certian conditions, taste bitter when heated and , according to the American Drug Administration can carry the dangerous organism Listeria monocytogenes on rare occasions.[80] (Though they also said there were no known cases of disease)Also they are contra indicated when taking certain medication in particular the antidepressant Parnate. [81]However their many uses outweigh these possible problems.

References and Works Cited

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[9] http://www.regenerativenutrition.com/content.asp?id=443
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[32] Dunjic BS, Axelson J, Hashmonai M, Bengmark S. Gastric mucosal protective capacity of avocado: phospholipids as an active principe? (A-3). Dig Dis Sci . 1996;41:431. Abstract. Cited by drugs.com
[33] Kawagishi H, Fukumoto Y, Hatakeyama M, et al. Liver injury suppressing compounds from avocado (Persea americana). J Agric Food Chem . 2001;49:2215-2221
[34] Rubin ,R. Avocados, http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=26381
[35] Rubin ,R. Avocados, http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=26381
[36] Rubin ,R. Avocados, http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=26381
[37] Rubin ,R. Avocados, http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=26381
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[43] Dukkah, http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/recipe_dukkah.htm
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[45] Avocado Vinaigrette with Mango and Habanero Chiles, Gourmet Sleuth, http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/recipe_mangohabinero.htm
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[53] Nutrition, Healthy Living, http://www.avocado.org/about/varieties
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