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Avocado: not so much a superfood as a research lab

A pharmaceutical/therapeutic research lab to be more precise. Interesting analysis by Giovanni Ballarini on Georgofili.info

In an article published in the news section of Georgofili.info, website of the Accademia dei Georgofili, Giovanni Ballarini takes an original approach to the avocado, comparing it – in terms of its components – to a pharmaceutical/therapeutic research lab.

For centuries we have known that plants get their healing powers not from magic but from molecules that perform pharmaceutical and therapeutic actions – Ballarini begins – Once upon a time, willow bark, which contains salicin, was used to treat flu symptoms, while nowadays one of its derivatives, acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin), is used far and wide. While salicin is present in many plants where it performs actions suitable for these living organisms, acetylsalicylic acid, product of pharmacological research, is more suited to animals, such as man.

In this roughly sketched out context, many plants, also edible, can be regarded as “pharmacological research labs” that contain molecules whose activities should be studied and above all developed in order to adapt them to the biological characteristics of animals, humans in particular, to produce drugs. Also included among the edible plants that we should regard as pharmaceutical and therapeutic research labs is the avocado, which is starting to be grown in the warm southern regions of Spain and Italy (Sicily and Puglia in particular).

The avocado (Persea americana Mill.) member of the Lauraceae family, is native to Mexico and has three botanical varieties known as the Mexican (P. americana var. drymifolia), West Indian (P. americana var. americana) and Guatemalan (P. americana var. guatemalensis). The Persea americana, the best-known variant, has recently enjoyed a boom in popularity and is often described as a superfood, a marketing term used to indicate foods thought to have health benefits due to their nutritional content or overall concentration of chemicals.

How true is this claim?

Avocados are rich in fats, vitamins and minerals and have the following chemical composition per 100 grams: water 64 grams, fat 23 grams, protein 4.4 grams, carbohydrates 1.8 grams, sugar 1.8 grams, total fibre 3.3 grams, sodium 2 milligrams, cholesterol 0 grams. The Mexican variety is distinctive for the aniseed aroma of its leaves and its flavoursome and excellent quality little fruits with thin peel. Appreciated for its nutritional value, the avocado is an oily fruit containing fatty acids commonly thought to lower cardiovascular risk, much like olive oil. In the kitchen it is consumed raw in both savoury dishes, like salads, and smoothies and desserts, and it can also be used cooked as a substitute for oil and butter when baking. Very similar to olive oil, as mentioned, avocado oil is appreciated for its nutritional value and contains fatty acids with beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk factors.

Around 250 scientific publications

As well as the nutritional qualities of its fruit, the avocado has been the subject of almost 250 scientific publications, some of which have identified a long series of molecules with bioactive properties. The avocado contains a large quantity of carotenoids and molecules with characteristics that have shown interesting and promising medicative activities.

Even if the bioactive molecules of the avocado have not been studied in detail, this fruit could potentially be important for the discovery of new drugs for the prevention and treatment of cancer, disease caused by microbiological infection and inflammation, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, but further research is required in this regard. The avocado – concludes Ballarini – is therefore an excellent food and an interesting laboratory for pharmacological research, but we are a long way from being able to class it as an extraordinary or exceptional superfood.

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