Avocados are fruits that are native to Central America. They are botanically a large berry with a single seed. Also known as alligator pears or butter fruit, they have a multitude of benefits, ranging from digestive health, to cancer prevention, to management of depression. Avocados contain a variety of nutrients, including 20 different vitamins and minerals. In addition to being a source of healthy fat, fiber and omega-3's, their nutrient content may support management of chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, stroke and obesity.
The benefits of these fruits extends to many cells types in the body. Cells need fat and cholesterol for function like absorption of fat soluble minerals, vitamins and fat soluble nutrients. Our skin, cardiometabolic and immune systems benefit from these healthy fats, as do our bones, muscles and nerves.
As a physical therapist who treats orthopedic dysfunction, digestive issues and the mind/body connection, understanding the role that food plays in the body optimizes treatment outcomes. This impacts all patients regardless of a diagnosis. For example, patients who seek treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction, often require dietary guidance, fiber intake assessment and recommendations to optimize digestive function so that pelvic floor muscle tightness is not triggered by constipation or indigestion. Understanding how food can play a role in the body's function dramatically impacts the outcome for that client rather than simply treating their tight muscles.
There are so many good foods that are beneficial to our health. Now and then it's meaningful to point out the nutritional benefits of specific foods as part of PT treatment. That is the purpose of this post. Foods like avocados help manage digestive health, promote gut bacterial diversity and can potentially reduce inflammation in the GI tract. Avocados also have anti-microbial properties that help the immune system to protect the body from certain infections. This improves homeostasis in the gut and in the body. Because avocados are also a source of fiber, they can mechanically help manage constipation, thus making the gut more efficient. This is important to consider for physical therapy patients with gut and/or pelvic floor dysfunction but also for patients who have diagnoses of IBS.
As the gut is considered to be closely tied to the central nervous system, it's not surprising that fatty acids in these fruits potentially help protect glial cells in the brain. While the fatty acids are protective, folate in foods like avocados has been associated not only with improving dietary health, but also in the management of depression. Folate prevents the accumulation of homocysteine which can impair the delivery of nutrients to the brain.
When nerve cells are functioning at an optimum, muscles are able to work more efficiently. Muscle function is based on the nerve input to the muscle. So while the nutrients in avocados improve nerve function, avocados also contain nutrients tied directly to bone, heart and muscle health. Half an avocado contains 18 % of the daily recommendation for Vit K. Vit K is essential for bone health because it facilitates absorption of calcium rather than excretion by the urinary system. Foods like bananas are known for their potassium content, but an avocado contains twice as much potassium for muscle recovery. The folate in avocados which helps the nervous system also helps the body to absorb protein for muscle growth and aids muscle recovery.
After reading this, consider the potential food has to impact the body and recovery. The avocado is only one example. In physical therapy treatment, it's important to not only manage a client's symptoms, but also to consider how swaps or changes to diet may improve the efficiency of all body systems on healing. This is food for thought!
To recap, this is an overview of vitamin and mineral content in avocados:
Vit K - 26% of the daily value (DV)
Folate - 20% DV
Vit C - 17% DV
potassium- 14% DV
B5 (panthotenic acid) - 14% DV
B6 - 13% DV
Vit E - 10% DV
omega-3 fatty acids
As with any food or any piece of information, moderation is the key. Just because there is association, doesn't mean there is causation. A diet rich in variety is best, rather than focusing on the benefits of an individual food. There are risks factors to be considered for certain groups of people. For instance, the Vit K in avocados plays an important role in blood clotting. If an individual is taking blood thinners like Coumadin or Warfarin, avocados can increase Vit K levels which is a health risk for these individuals. It's better to keep these levels at a constant. Those individuals should consult their health care practitioner to understand how to keep levels stable.
Depending on your portion, avocado is also not considered a low FODMAP food so those on a low FODMAP diet for GI purposes would want to monitor the amount they consume. Again, this would be an important conversation between a client and their health care provider.
As mentioned above, the theme for this post is potential. Consider the potential that food has to impact overall health and healing. Food is medicine. The body has the power to impact overall health in so many ways and managing health through diet is certainly a powerful one.
Van Biljon, A. (2019, June) The Power of an Avocado.
Griffin, M. (2021, June) The Facts on Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The information provided by Blend PT about personal health is provided exclusively for your information. It is not a substitute for consultation or examination by a health care provider. This information does not and may not be used for diagnostic or treatment purposes. Contact your medical provider to discuss your specific needs.