A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign suggests that people looking to balance their gastrointestinal health may be able to have their avocado toast and eat it, too.
The Hass Avocado Board funded the research, but the study authors believe that there is enough evidence to justify making the mildly flavored fruit a regular diet stable.
The findings, which appear in the August 2020 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, imply that eating avocados daily can drastically improve a person’s overall gut health.
According to lead study author Sharon Thompson, the group wanted to deviate from the more obvious arguments in favor of the popular fruit. Multiple studies have attempted to link regular avocado consumption with weight loss or management. Instead, the University of Illinois researchers focused on how avocados affect the digestive system.
Says Thompson, “We know eating avocados helps you feel full and reduces blood cholesterol concentration, but we did not know how it influences the gut microbes and the metabolites the microbes produce.”
In their paper, the study authors note that avocado is also high in fiber and that research has shown high-fiber foods to be good for digestive health.
How the study came together
The research involved 163 participants between the ages of 25 and 45 years. The University of Illinois team hoped to gauge the effect of daily avocado consumption on individuals with overweight and obesity who were otherwise in good health.
The researchers divided the study participants into two groups. Over a 12-week period, one group ate a meal that included avocado. Each participant could have the replacement meal at breakfast, lunch, or dinner; the important factor was that they ate avocado as part of a single meal each day. The control group ate similar meals but without an avocado.
Members of both groups provided blood, urine, and fecal samples throughout the 3-month study period. All of the participants reported how much of the provided meal they ate, and, each month, they turned in a complete list of everything they consumed.
A positive outcome, but is there a catch?
Ultimately, the study showed that eating avocado with at least one meal per day leads to a greater presence of healthful microbes in the stomach and intestines. Additionally, the avocado group excreted slightly more fat in their stools than the control group.
“Greater fat excretion means the research participants were absorbing less energy from the foods that they were eating,” explains senior author Hannah Holscher. Holscher is an assistant professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois.
“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 amount of bile acids in stool was lower, and the amount of fat in the stool was higher in the avocado group.”
Holscher, Thompson, and the other researchers had a very straightforward goal heading into the study.
“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.”
Even so, the study received funding from the Hass Avocado Board, which has paid for a series of studies in recent years. Medical News Today previously covered a 2019 study that the board paid for, which suggested that avocado consumption could positively influence weight loss. Featuring in Nutrients, this research found that avocados reduced appetite, allowing people to eat less and lose weight.
However, the sample size for that study was just 31 people. The University of Illinois study drew research from more than five times as many participants. Additionally, other research has shown that avocados do have various health benefits.
Final verdict? Trust your gut
Avocados are mild enough for people to incorporate them into either sweet or savory dishes. With so many ways to enjoy avocados, anyone looking for added health benefits could come up with a host of creative ways to get the most out of them.
That said, substitutes are available for those who are not fans of avocado and want other ways to get probiotic nutrients. For example, yogurt is a long-time favorite of those seeking to add good bacteria to their digestive system.
Eating high fiber vegetables, including broccoli and artichokes, or legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils, is especially beneficial for gut health.
A diet rich in a range of nutrients is likely to keep a person and their gut healthy and happy.
Written by Toni Matthews-El on December 30, 2020 — Fact checked by Anna Guildford, Ph.D.