February 2014 Issue

Avocados — A Versatile, Buttery Rich Fruit
By Bryan Roof, RD, LDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 16 No. 2 P. 66

I was elbow-deep in my plate of tacos when I spotted the mound of pale-green mud on my friend’s plate. I was 18 and remarkably uninitiated in the ways of guacamole, and I wonder now if I had ever even seen an avocado at that point in my life.

When I inquired about the “mud,” my friend described the flavor as being similar to grapes and offered me a taste. While describing any unknown flavor as grapelike is about as unthreatening as it gets, I still declined the sample that day. Fast-forward to today: I’m a lot older but somehow less mature, and I couldn’t imagine a life without avocados. Yes, that sounds extreme, so let’s just say I like them a lot.

Avocados offer a buttery richness and refreshing quality that pairs well with many foods. Contrary to the way they’re eaten in the United States, avocados actually are fruits, and other parts of the world treat them as such, often incorporating them into fruit salads, milkshakes, and smoothies (sugar and chocolate are natural complements). But I would venture a guess that even overseas, guacamole wins out in popularity.

I load avocados on salads and sometimes pile salads into their pitted halves, purée them to make dressings and sauces, and occasionally serve them as tempura with a vinegary soy sauce. And, yes, I make guacamole, too.

But before they can be enjoyed, avocados must reach a state of perfect ripeness. When shopping, it’s best to buy avocados unripe, very firm, and with the stem intact. Avocados ripen off the tree; their firmness prevents bruising in transport, and the stem helps restrict oxygen from getting into the avocado, which discolors and softens the flesh. Allow avocados to ripen on the counter until they give lightly when pressed. If you’re not ready to use them once ripened, you can refrigerate them to pause the ripening process.

And while I don’t typically eat foods strictly for their health benefits, avocados warrant a bit of a shout-out. Although they’re calorie dense—comprised of a high percentage of beneficial monounsaturated fat—avocados are rich in vitamins and minerals. Their consumption is thought to improve cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, and promote satiety. Their oils and minerals also are great for the hair and skin, which is wonderful news for me because I have skin where my hair used to be, a side effect of fast-forwarding through the years.

— Bryan Roof, RD, LDN, is a chef, dietitian, and food writer living in Boston. Follow him on Twitter @bryanroof.


Avocado and Grapefruit Salad

This salad is great garnished with fried garlic and shallots, if you’re up for the extra work.

Serves 4

2 T fresh lime juice
2 T fish sauce
1 T sugar
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
2 avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and sliced
3 pink grapefruits, peeled and segmented
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves, torn in half
1/4 cup finely chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

1. Whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper flakes in a bowl; set aside.

2. Lay the avocado slices in a single layer on a large platter; layer the grapefruit segments on top.

3. Sprinkle the cilantro and mint leaves over the grapefruit followed by the peanuts over top.

4. Spoon the dressing over the salad and serve.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 210; Total fat: 13 g; Sat fat: 2 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 240 mg; Total carbohydrate: 23 g; Dietary fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 3 g; Protein: 4 g