Avocados are a nutritious food, rich in dietary fibre and monounsaturated fat. Nevertheless, the precise impact of avocados on the microbes in the gastrointestinal system or “gut” was previously uncertain.
University of Illinois researchers found that people who ate avocado daily as part of a meal had a greater abundance of gut microbes that break down fibre and produce metabolites that support gut health. Study participants consumed their normal diets with the exception of replacing one meal per day with a provided meal that included an avocado. The findings were published in the Journal of Nutrition.
In the same study, the researchers also found the females who consumed an avocado a day as part of their meal had a reduction in visceral abdominal fat – the hard-to-target fat associated with poorer health. Their reduced ratio of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat indicates a redistribution of fat away from the organs. Fat distribution in males did not change, and neither males nor females had improvements in glucose tolerance.
Avocado is an energy and nutrient-dense food, which contains monounsaturated, heart-healthy fats. It also has a high content of soluble fibre and important micronutrients such as potassium.
“Just like we think about heart-healthy meals, we should also think about gut-healthy meals and how to feed the microbiota. Less than 5% of Americans eat enough fibre. Incorporating avocados into your diet can help you get closer to meeting the fibre recommendation. Avocado is just a really nicely packaged fruit that contains important nutrients for health. Our work shows we can add benefits to gut health to that list,” said Dr Hannah Holscher, an associate professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois.
According to Holscher, the soluble fibre content in avocados is significant. A medium-sized avocado contains approximately 12 grams of fibre, which can contribute significantly towards the daily recommended intake of 28–34 grams.
Holscher points out that the majority of Americans consume only 12–16 grams of fibre per day, and less than 5% of the population meets the recommended fibre intake. Therefore, adding avocados to one’s diet can be beneficial in achieving the fibre recommendation.
Furthermore, Holscher emphasizes that consuming fibre is not only beneficial for human health but also for the microbiome. Although humans cannot break down dietary fibres, certain gut microbes can. Therefore, incorporating dietary fibre into one’s diet is advantageous for both gut microbes and human health.
Holscher’s research lab has expertise in modifying diets to influence the microbiome and its relationship with health. According to Holscher, it is crucial to consider not only heart-healthy meals but also meals that promote gut health and nourish the microbiota.
Avocado is a food that provides energy while also being rich in essential micronutrients such as potassium and fibre, which are often deficient in the American diet. Holscher notes that avocados are a well-rounded fruit that can improve gut health in addition to providing other health benefits.
Holscher also has affiliate appointments with the Institute of Genomic Biology, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Family Resiliency Center, and the Personalized Nutrition Initiative. She is the director of the Nutrition & Human Microbiome Laboratory, and her research team aims to enhance human health through dietary modulation of the gastrointestinal microbiome.