The pear-shaped bright green fruit with a huge pit, the tropical fruit avocado is one of the most craved healthy food for its unique texture, exquisite taste and aroma and nutritional profile.
The superfood has always been linked with its benefits in reducing blood cholesterol but recent studies have proved that it has a high influence on the gut microbes and the metabolites which the microbes produce.
Recent research at the University of Illinois College of Agriculture, consumer and environmental sciences has shown that adding avocado to the daily diet can help improve gut health.
What is gut health?
A healthy gut is an essential component for maintaining human health. It relies on the balance of trillions of microorganisms such as bacteria, archaea and fungi that live within the digestive tract known as the gut microbiome.
These microbes are essential for breaking down the nutrients and producing compounds that serve as communication signals to the rest of the body.
Studies have shown a lack of a healthy gut may lead to many medical conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer and it might also affect the immune function.
The research conducted at the University of Illinois found that people who consumed avocado every day as part of a meal had a greater abundance of gut microbes that break down fiber and produce metabolites to support gut health. They also had greater microbial diversity compared to people who did not receive the avocado meals.
Sharon Thompson, lead author of the research says that “Avocado consumption reduced bile acids and increased short-chain fatty acids. These changes correlate with beneficial health outcomes.”
The research was conducted in 163 adults between 25 and 45 years of age with overweight or obesity defined as a BMI (Body mass index) of at least 25 kg/m2. The participants were given one meal per day to consume as a replacement for either breakfast, lunch or dinner.
One group consumed an avocado with each meal, while the control group consumed a similar meal but without the avocado. The blood, urine, and fecal samples of the participants were collected throughout the 12-week study.
While other research on avocado consumption targeted weight loss, participants in this study were not asked to change what they ate. Instead, they consumed their normal diets by just replacing one meal per day with the food the researchers provided.
Assistant professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I and senior author of the study, Hannah Holscher said, “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.”
The researchers found that while the avocado group consumed slightly more calories than the control group, a bit more fat was excreted 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 number of bile acids in stool was lower and the amount of fat in the stool was higher in the avocado group,” Holscher explains.
Different types of fats have differential effects on the microbiome. The fats in avocados are monounsaturated, which are heart-healthy fats. A medium avocado offers around 12 grams of fiber, which goes a long way toward meeting the recommended amount of 28 to 34 grams of fiber per day. The soluble and insoluble fiber contained in avocados can be part of a balanced diet that supports a healthy gut.
Eating fiber isn’t just good for us but it’s important for the microbiome, as well. “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,” Holscher says.
Avocados are a healthy food that is rich in dietary fiber and monounsaturated fat which impacts the microbes in the gastrointestinal system or ‘gut’. The fruit is a good source of energy, nutrient and it contains important micronutrients.
“Just like we think about heart-healthy meals, we need to also be thinking about gut healthy meals and how to feed the microbiota,” Holscher explained.