Do Avocados Contain Protein?
And if so, how much?
Today’s question came from Mona, who is a client. She is a vegetarian and wants to know if avocados are a good source of protein. I thought it would be great to answer this question publicly and to cover the myriad of health benefits of eating avocados.
Protein in avocados
Actually, yes they do! And they contain all 8 (9 for babies) essential amino acids. However, they contain very little protein - not nearly enough to be used as a primary source of protein in a meal. They contain roughly 1.25g of protein per 100 calorie serving, or 4g per fruit. Based on the recommended daily intake (RDI) for sedentary adults (which I believe to be too low), adults need 46-56g of protein per day. This recommendation of 0.36 g protein/lb bodyweight assumes that:
a) we do not want to build muscle
b) everyone has the same need for protein
c) we don’t have any health conditions that impair our ability to digest and utilize proteins.
I think all of these assumptions are false if we’re looking at most adults and speaking about optimal health. Our ability to properly digest and utilize protein often decreases with age. A simple test to determine if you are in fact properly digesting proteins is whether you have smelly gas. If you do, that’s undigested protein, which indicates you are NOT absorbing protein optimally and your digestive system needs help!
If you meet all the above criteria the RDI is a good baseline, but not optimal, in my opinion. Standard diets often don’t even provide this much protein.
When dieting, the body breaks down tissues to use for fuel, often resulting in a decrease of lean body mass (muscle, bone, organ fibre, tendon, collagen). There are numerous studies that demonstrate that a higher protein intake while dieting preserves lean body mass integrity (sources). When we diet, we typically want to see a reduction in body fat, not in lean tissue mass. Losing lean tissue correlates to many health woes. 0.7-1g protein per lb of bodyweight has been shown to be more beneficial when dieting (source). This is particularly true if you have suffered an injury or are elderly or frail. All of these increase protein requirements.
The caveat here is that consuming bone and gelatin broth with animal protein reduces the amount of protein we need, called protein sparing (source).
The amount of protein we need likely fluctuates greatly depending on our health and activity levels, and also on the level of inflammation and dysregulation in the body.
Nutrients in avocados
While not a great source of protein, avocados are a great source of healthy fats. Most of the health giving fat in avocado is monounsaturated oleic acid. It’s known to help reduce cardiovascular inflammation. They also contain a plant version of cholesterol that actually helps improve cholesterol levels.
They also contain:
30% of daily folate
40% of vitamin B5
15% of riboflavin
23% of vitamin B6
17% of vitamin E
28% of vitamin K
26% of copper
9% of magnesium
15% of potassium
Potassium and vitamin K are very important nutrients that are often chronically low in our Western diets. Both are essential for cardiovascular health. Potassium can lower blood pressure (source) and vitamin K helps ensure calcium is deposited in bone and not in the arteries, reducing cardiovascular disease by 34% in one 23 year study (source).
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and helps protect tissues from ageing and harmful toxins, helping to reduce overall inflammation. Folate has been shown to help ward off depression and is essential in increased doses in pregnancy. Vitamin B6 is essential for helping reduce nervousness and anxiety. The fibre content of avocados helps digestion and promotes gut health, while the fat content makes us feel full longer.
Additionally, magnesium is a chronic and serious deficiency in the West. Every bit we get helps. Adequate magnesium is essential for a healthy brain, blood sugar level, heart, and mood. Isn’t it interesting that this deficiency coincides with the big killers today? But be careful - all magnesium supplements are not created equal.
How to store and use avocados:
Avocados are best purchased firm, then allowed to ripen as you need them. When unripe, they have bright green flesh. Once they are starting to ripen, they are darker green with flecks of yellow-green. When over-ripe they turn black. When ripe, you can push the flesh and feel a little indentation. If mushy you will open them to find them brown, which is unpleasant to eat. A perfectly ripe avocado is just starting to soften and has tender-firm light green flesh. It’s quite easily mashed. If you open one on the too firm side it won’t have as much flavour but you can puree it in a food processor after removing the pit to salvage it.
To store avocados indefinitely, suspend them in water in a container in the fridge. They will not ripen until you remove them. To ripen them, place them on the counter for a few days or place it in a bowl or bag beside a banana, kiwi, or apple. The ethane gas these fruits emit as they ripen helps the others ripen more quickly. Storing in the cold slows the ripening process.
The best way to enjoy avocados may be guacamole. Bad guac. is tasteless, but done right it’s amazing! My favourite twist on the classic guacamole is dill pickle guacamole. You have to try it! Here is my recipe:
2 medium avocados
1-2 tbsp pickle juice
1/3 cup dill pickles, chopped fine
1 clove pressed garlic (or use 2 from the pickle jar)
¼ red onion, diced fine
¼ tsp red pepper flakes, pulsed in a spice mill (optional)
2 tsp dried dill weed
pinch of sea salt
Mash avocados to your desired consistency and mix in the other ingredients. Serve with organic corn chips, rice crackers, on toast, as a kabob dip, or with fresh pita or crudites.
Thank you, Mona, for the great question! As always, if you have your own health issue or question, just send me an email at email@example.com. And if you’re looking for more specific health information check out my website at hopenotdope.ca.
Copyright Nonie De Long 2023