Eating avocado may help reduce your risk of heart attacks, especially if you consume it instead of fatty foods like butter, cheese, or bacon, a new study suggests.
The study followed 68,786 women and 41,710 men who completed dietary questionnaires every four years over the course of three decades. None of them had a history heart disease or stroke when they joined the study; by the end of the follow-up period roughly 11 percent of the women and 16 percent of the men experienced or died from a heart attack or stroke.
People who ate at least two servings of avocado a week — roughly one whole avocado — were 21 percent less likely to have a heart attack than people who never or only rarely consumed this food, researchers reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Avocados, however, didn’t appear to influence the risk of stroke.
“Although no one food is the solution to routinely eating a healthy diet, this study is evidence that avocados have possible health benefits,” Cheryl Anderson, PhD, MPH, a professor and dean of the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at University of California San Diego, said in a statement.
“This is promising because it is a food item that is popular, accessible, desirable, and easy to include in meals eaten by many Americans at home and in restaurants,” said Dr. Anderson, who is also chair of the American Heart Association (AHA) Council on Epidemiology and Prevention.
Avocados may have the most benefit as part of a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, added Anderson, who wasn’t involved in the study. A typical Mediterranean diet also has lots of whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds; uses olive oil for a healthy source of fat; includes moderate amounts of protein from sources like dairy, eggs, fish, and poultry in moderation; and limits red and processed meat.
Replacing half a serving a day of margarine, butter, egg, yogurt, cheese, or processed meats like bacon with avocado could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease events like heart attacks by 16 to 22 percent, the study estimated. There wasn’t a clear benefit to substituting avocado for a half serving of nuts, olive oil, or other plant-based oils.
Average weekly avocado consumption doubled during the 30-year study period — from 0.1 to 0.2 weekly servings for women and from 0.2 to 0.4 servings for men.
One limitation of the study is that participants all worked in healthcare, often as nurses, and most were white. This means the results might be different for people from other racial or ethnic backgrounds or with different career paths.
While the study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how avocados might directly improve heart health, previous research, published in April 2018 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, linked avocado consumption to higher levels of “good” cholesterol, which helps keep arteries free of fats and debris that can accumulate and lead to heart attacks.
What the new study offers is fresh evidence that a diet rich in plant-based unsaturated fats like those found in avocados can help prevent heart attacks, lead study author Lorena Pacheco, PhD, MPH, a registered dietician-nutritionist and nutrition researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, said in a statement.
The takeaway for patients — and for anyone trying to eat better and adopt a heart-healthy diet — should be to “replace certain spreads and saturated fat-containing foods, such as cheese and processed meats, with avocado,” Dr. Pacheco said.