The Health Benefits of Avocado and Other Nutrient-Rich Produce
Your one-stop resource on the health benefits of avocado, green peas, corn, sweet potatoes, and garlic.
A healthy diet isn’t one solely focused on calories, fat, carbohydrates or any other single ingredient. It is a way of eating that looks at the complete picture of a food and its total nutritional content before dismissing it or eating it voraciously. The following five calorie-rich vegetables are also nutrient-rich and loaded with potential health benefits that make them worthy for your table.
With nearly 22 grams of fat in a single cup of fresh avocado, you might dismiss this creamy green fruit as being too fattening. But the fat in avocados is the monounsaturated variety, packed with potential benefits. Unlike other kinds of fat, monounsaturated fats are able to raise HDL, or “good,” cholesterol, while lowering LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels.
In addition to these benefits, a recent analysis of eight different studies revealed that Hass avocados (the most common kind in the world) could aid in weight management and healthy aging, as well as providing cardiovascular benefits. If that isn’t enough, research from The Ohio State University found that adding avocado or avocado oil to a salad can actually increase the absorption of carotenoids in the other vegetables by up to 400%. Carotenoids, like beta-carotene and lycopene found in salad vegetables, are antioxidants credited with benefits that range from eye health to decreased cancer risk.
Sweet corn often gets a bad rap because of its high carbohydrate content, with over 27 grams per cup. But the benefits of this ancient Mesoamerican crop are many. Corn is rich in phytonutrients, which are beneficial antioxidants with wide-ranging benefits – and processed corn actually has increased antioxidant activity. Research suggests that even through the processing of corn into bread, porridge and other products, the bioaccessibility of carotenoids is maintained.
Whole grains like corn are an important part of a well-rounded diet, aiding in proper digestion and even reducing your risk of obesity. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition even found that corn fiber was able to promote healthy gut bacteria.
Peas are one of the first crops of spring, and though they contain nearly 21 grams of carbohydrates per cup, they also boast numerous health benefits. One of the many healthful phytonutrients in peas is called coumestrol. Emerging research suggests coumestrol is able to lower the risk of stomach cancer by counteracting the cancer-causing effects of nitrates.
A study published in Diabetologia says the slow-digesting fiber of peas also helps control blood sugar in diabetics and non-diabetics alike. Peas are a good source of vitamin C and can act as part of a high-fiber diet, known to reduce the risks of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene, a compound that gets converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is a nutrient critical for cell growth, vision health, immune function and the regulation and maintenance of the kidneys, lungs, heart and other organs. Sweet potatoes have so much bioavailable beta-carotene that they are used as a food-based approach to vitamin A deficiency in “resource poor areas” of Africa and have been recommended as an inexpensive approach to such malnutrition globally. Also, sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper and pantothenic acid.
Though garlic contains almost 45 grams of carbohydrates per cup, we usually only use it for flavoring dishes. It has been called a “super food,” and with good reason: The widely researched health benefits of garlic indicate that we may want to use it more often.
Sulfur compounds within garlic have anti-inflammatory effects, which research has shown can aid in the treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Garlic and onions, both of the allium family of vegetables, have also been tied to a decreased risk of heart attack. Several studies have linked garlic consumption to weight control, making it a potentially useful addition to a weight loss diet. Perhaps the most studied benefits of garlic, however, are its anti-cancer effects. The National Cancer Institute indicates that garlic can play a role in reducing the risk of stomach, esophageal, pancreatic, colon and breast cancers.
While “calories in, calories out” may be the simplified formula of many weight loss plans, it’s hardly a healthy slogan. Not all calories are created equal, and these relatively high-calorie vegetables are evidence of that. With far-reaching benefits that can help you control your weight while encouraging overall health, they may deserve a place at your table.
Cooking with avocado image via Shutterstock.