You will be hard pressed to come up with another fruit that America is more infatuated with. Its rich and buttery taste is something that young and old alike just can’t get enough of.
Here in Los Angeles, the millennials don’t balk at paying $12 for their avocado toast. There’s even the avolatte – a latte made inside of it – which supposedly was a PR stunt, but we wouldn’t put it past people doing it for real here.
Taste aside, why are we so obsessed with the avo? Health perks have a lot to do with it.
Your average Californian grown Hass – after removing the skin and pit – will be 227 calories. Out of those, 189 are coming from fat. Yes that is why it tastes so good… it’s 83% fat! (1)
That also explains why avocado oil – which is 100% fat – shares many of the same nutritional advantages as eating one.
Unlike most oils which are pressed from seeds, avocado is similar to olive oil in that it’s made by the pressing of the fruit. The result is a fatty acid profile that’s nearly identical; around 70% monounsaturated, 12% saturated, and 13% polyunsaturated. As a result, it shares many of the same advantages of olive oil for cooking, plus it’s popular for skin and hair uses. (2) (3)
What does avocado oil taste like? Pure fat has literally no taste. It’s the texture of the triglycerides on your tongue that are so enjoyable. Since the oil will be above 99% fat, very little flavor compounds from the fruit will remain. It won’t taste like a fresh avocado. The flavor will be somewhat nutty and buttery, but it’s so mild that many people describe it as being a “clean” tasting oil.
On the left is avo and on the right is olive oil.
Depending on how refined it is, an avocado oil’s nutrition facts will list anywhere from 124 to 130 calories per tablespoon. That’s almost identical to EVOO and any other refined oil, as they all will have around 120 calories since they’re pure fat.
The dark side? It’s not the calories, fat, and all those other commonly known facts.
No, there is actually something very frightening about this fruit which was demonstrated in lab research (in vitro) and if further studies confirm that it also occurs in the human body, then this alleged superfood may be worse for you than junk food.
But before we show you the microscopic photos of exactly what 0.03% avocado extract did to human blood cells in a petri dish, let’s review the positive things this purified fat has going for it.
7 health benefits of avocado oil
1. Highest smoke point for cooking
The heat of cooking not only destroys the nutrients found in oils, but it can also create dangerous compounds in the process; advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Some AGEs are confirmed cancer-causing compounds and there’s also strong evidence to suggest they contribute to inflammation and even aging of your skin. (4) (5)
The very refined avocado oils have a smoke point as high as 520°F, which means that minimal amounts of AGEs will be created during low to mid temperature frying and baking. That’s a higher smoke point than any other type, beating out the 2nd place which is refined sunflower (486°) and all the other popular types like almond (428°), canola (428°), extra virgin olive (405°), and refined coconut oil (400°). (6)
The reason that refined avocado holds up so well in heat is because of its low amount of polyunsaturated fat, which is highly unstable and oxidizes easily.
Can you deep fry with avocado oil? For the highly refined, you could, however using the unrefined oil is not good for cooking. It will have a much lower smoke point ranging from 300-375 degrees. Even if your gas burner is on low, keep mind you will inevitably have hot spots on the pan which exceed the average temperature.
2. Lower blood pressure
Also known as omega 9, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) have been found to have a beneficial impact on blood pressure when compared to using long chain saturated fats in a diet.
A meta-analysis looked at 12 different human studies relating to this. They found that on average, there was a 2.26 point decrease in systolic blood pressure and a 1.15 decrease in diastolic, for the diets higher in MUFA. (7)
While neither change is dramatic, when you have high blood pressure some improvement is better than none.
3. Possible weight loss advantages
The same meta-analysis pooled together the results for all applicable studies to find out what the participants’ weight, waist circumference, and fat mass were before and after.
When comparing diets high and low in MUFA, there wasn’t a statistically significant difference in body weight. However when they compared the high MUFA diets to low fat diets in general, they did find a significant improvement.
An average of 1.71 kg (3.8 lbs) more weight was lost on the diets high in MUFA when compared to low fat (LF).
To be clear, this analysis did not take into account the source of foods the MUFA was coming from, but at 70%, avocado oil is one of the richest natural sources. Olive oil is slightly higher at 73%, but most others are dramatically lower; peanut oil is 48%, sesame is 40%, corn is 25%, soybean and vegetable (which is mostly soy) come in at 24%, while sunflower and grapeseed are 16%.
Coconut oil is lowest at just 6% MUFA, but it’s really not fair to lump that one in with the others. Coconut is mostly MCT oil (medium chain) which is a good form of saturated fat. It’s digested in a totally different way than all those long chain forms.
4. May lower LDL cholesterol
The bad type of cholesterol – LDL – is not found in any plant-based food. Only animal-derived sources such as meat and dairy contain it. So regardless of whether you use olive versus avocado oil or another type, you don’t have to worry about adding cholesterol to your food by using them.
There is preliminary evidence to suggest when you eat monounsaturated fats instead of saturated, it may further benefit the amount of LDL in your blood serum. A 10% decrease in total cholesterol and 14% in LDL cholesterol were observed in a study that pitted a high MUFA diet against one that was lower in MUFA and higher in saturated fat. (8)
5. May increase HDL cholesterol
This is the good type of cholesterol, so you want it to be higher.
A meta-analysis of 60 different controlled trials concluded that when unsaturated fats (including monounsaturated) were used to reduce carbohydrate consumption, there was an increase in HDL cholesterol. (9)
Separate from those is an interesting study that used 45 overweight and obese adults. They didn’t use the pure oil made from it, but one group ate an avocado per day while another group was given high oleic oils, to mimic the fatty acid profile.
The ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol was better in the group which ate the fruit. That would suggest there might be something else in the plant which is helping with cholesterol, since the other group was also given a comparable fatty acid profile but didn’t experience the same level of improvement. (10)
6. Good for skin
On a 0 to 5 scale – with 0 being the best and 5 being the worst – the avocado oil comedogenic rating is reportedly 2. That means the risk of it clogging pores is considered to be moderately low.
That’s no better versus jojoba and almond oil for skin, which also get a 2. The best will be shea butter, argan oil, and a few others which can rank as low as 0, but everyone’s skin is different, so a 1 or 2 is not necessarily bad. For many people – even those with acne prone skin – uses of face masks, creams, and hair products containing avocado don’t seem to be a problem.
The other touted skin benefit is vitamin E content, but this is largely a myth. Even if you ate one whole fruit, you’re only getting a total of 4.16 mg of vitamin E. In the processed oils made from them, the amount of vitamin E you would be getting per serving rounds down to zero. (11)
What vitamins does avocado oil have? Not much of any. Despite the marketing hype may read elsewhere, the nutrition facts speak for themselves. The detailed analysis on the USDA website dives into the nitty gritty and you will notice there’s no vitamin C, A, K, or B vitamins. All amounts round down to zero. The same holds true for essential minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Not surprising though, as that’s how the profiles of all pure oils will look, including olive and coconut. (2)
Regardless, since it doesn’t clog pores for most people and it offers moisturizing properties, oil made from avocado is still believed to be a good ingredient for use in skin care.
7. Fights arthritis and inflammation
Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU) is an extract made of 1/3 avocado and 2/3 soybean oil. In France, this formulation is used as a prescription treatment for osteoarthritis, sold under the brand name Piascledine. Multiple studies have found it offers significant improvement versus placebo and for patients with arthritis of the knee and hip, it reduced their need for pain relief from NSAIDs such as aspirin. (12) (13) (14)
Even without the addition of soybean, there’s research to suggest that the antioxidants in avocado help to offset some inflammatory responses in the body.
Meat creates lipid peroxides (AGEs) when it is cooked. In a study at UCLA, researchers measured the inflammatory markers in people who ate hamburgers with and without the avo slices on top.
There was “significant vasoconstriction 2 hours following hamburger ingestion” but that didn’t happen when the fruit was included. It’s believed this was due to the reduced activation of the NF-kappa B (NFKB) inflammatory pathway, thanks to the avocado’s antioxidant content. (15)
The raw avocado has an ORAC value of 1,922 per 100g, which suggests it has even more antioxidants than kale of the same weight, which has a 1,770 ORAC. The bad news is that the oil of avocado will have very little antioxidants relative to the fresh fruit.
Now for the bad news…
Before you ditch your bottle of EVOO and get that gallon of avocado oil at Costco, you need to hear about the genotoxic and mutagenic side effects which have been observed in the lab.
If you look at the favorable studies done for this fruit, if you scroll to the last section about disclosures, you will see that many received funding from the Hass Avocado Board. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, as that is a trade group’s job – to spread good publicity.
As you would expect, they don’t seem to be funding research which emphasizes potentially negative side effects.
If you go to India, you will find such research. Even though it was published several years ago, no other studies have been done to refute their findings.
A genotoxin is anything which has the potential to damage your chromosomes and therefore, the genetic information in your DNA.
Afterward, the damage cell may die off or be intentionally destroyed by your body if unrepairable (either are the preferred outcome) or they may mutate and live on (a terrible outcome). A mutation is permanent and gets passed on to the future generations of cells which come from it.
When a genotoxin is known to cause these permanent mutations, then it’s also classified as a mutagen.
Mutating your DNA is never good, obviously. It happens every day to every one of us and with the vast majority of these mutations, the effects are not able to be measured. However one outcome which definitely can be measured is cancer – all cancers were initially caused by a cell mutation.
Might avocados damage your DNA or worse yet, mutate it?
Using living human white blood cells (cultured peripheral lymphocytes) the scientists in India wanted to find out. (16)
They heavily diluted avocado in a solution. The concentrations were very low; 100, 200, and 300 mg/kg. That’s only 0.01% to 0.03% avocado.
So what happened when this highly diluted solution came in contact with the cultured human white blood cells?
DNA mutations! And some really nasty types at that!
The findings get even more disturbing, because the number of DNA mutations directly correlated with the dosage. That throws cold water on the idea that it was just a fluke.
The top 3 bars represent a 0.03%, 0.02%, and 0.01% concentration of avocado, respectively. The 4th bar down is the control (nothing added) for comparison.
After those, you see how this trend was also seen with the plant’s leaf extract, which was tested in the same concentrations as the fruit.
Is avocado oil healthy?
In light of these findings, can one still claim this oil is good for you? To answer the question, consider these 3 questions:
- This is happening with human cells in a Petri dish, but does the same occur when the fruit or extracts of it are in the body and come in contact with our cells? That has not yet been vetted.
- If there is a compound in the fruit which can cause mutagenic activity, is it also found in the purified oil? That’s unknown, too.
- Is this trend common with other oils for cooking and culinary purposes?
The answer to that last question is perhaps the greatest argument as to why you should not use avocado oil, until further research is done to get to the bottom of this. Here’s why…
Edible virgin olive oil did not show any mutagenic activity, even after being thermally treated, in a study where Drosophilia larvae were fed it. Another study concluded that “extra-virgin olive oil was clearly nongenotoxic.” (17) (18)
In a study using bone marrow cells, when coconut oil was given alongside known genotoxins, the results suggested that the coconut actually had an anti-genotoxic benefit (19):
“The antigenotoxic activity of oil was far superior to that of soybean oil. Dietary coconut oil (20 percent) also showed antigenotoxic activity against the six genotoxins, which surpassed that exhibited by soybean oil.”
And yes, even boring ol’ soybean was antigenotoxic.
What this might mean
There just isn’t enough research one way or another to claim the fruit or the oil made from it is dangerous. If you make the assumption that based on that study it’s mutagenic, then the next question would be what’s causing that side effect.
Since the fatty acid profile of avocado oil vs olive oil isn’t very different, it suggests these types fats are not the problem. If they were, we would expect to see similar mutagenic findings for olive oil.
Since refined oils are just that – highly purified fat – it would suggest that if there is a problematic compound in this fruit, only trace amounts would be present in the refined oil made from it.
In short, that study is a stronger case against eating whole avocados versus cooking with the oil.
But remember, all of this is theoretical. The only thing that we know for sure is that a study done at a cancer hospital in India found that the fruit and leaf – in concentrations as little as 0.01% – caused startling numbers of DNA mutations in the cultured human white bloods cells. That is concerning, but evaluating the same in the human body is a different thing, which has not been done.
Does the same happen after this food is digested? That deserves some serious research.
Until more data is available, you may want to stick with using a good organic extra virgin olive oil.
For lower temperature cooking, not oil but coconut butter is actually the healthiest choice.