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An Avocado Story: The Tale of a Non-sweet Fruit

EDITOR’S SUMMARY: Who would have known the luscious avocado, also referred to as “alligator pear,” or “butter fruit,” was marked early on in history as a sensual food? You might say this is “icing on the cake,” lending additional value to this nutrient-packed, anti-inflammatory, “superfood.” Rich in fiber, and abundant in monounsaturated fats, eating these delicious “berries” will put you on the right track for improved cardiovascular, gut, and metabolic health.

Buttery, creamy, nutty, silky smooth, and decadent. Is it chocolate? No. Is it butterscotch pudding? Guess again. It’s the avocado—an ancient Aztec aphrodisiac. Long before the avocado ever became the American darling it is today, the earliest Aztecs (Northern Mexico) were using the fruit of the ahuacuatl tree (testicle tree in Nahuatl; the language of the Aztec/Mexica people) as a sexual enhancer. Legend has it the avocado was used to enhance a man’s virility, and increase a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant.  

This storybook reputation came about (in part, at least) because the avocado tree was producing large oblong fruit that grew in pairs, which the native people felt resembled testicles. The avocados were also believed to resemble a uterus with a growing fetus (the pit) inside, which took nine months to develop (from flower to fruit), just like a baby in the womb. The oldest archeological site that shows the consumption of avocados dates back to 10,000 years ago in Puebla, Mexico. 

There is even evidence of the domestication of the avocado as far back as 5,000 years ago, reinforcing the notion that the ahuacuatl (avocado) fruit was prized so much in their society, people began farming them instead of simply gathering them from the wild. The avocado craze of long ago was so real for the Aztec population, that during avocado harvesting season, villagers would not let their virgin daughters outside. Notion was that the avocado farmers might be so “inflamed” by their harvests, that their desires might be unrelenting.

The Aztec people were not the only ones to revere this sexy fruit. Civilizations like the Caral (Peru), Mokaya (S.E. México and Guatemala) and Maya (Central America) were also documented as being connoisseurs. Depictions of the avocado fruit appear in Mayan tombs, on the 14th month of the Mayan calendar as a glyph, and in Aztec paintings. JSTOR daily (a website featuring stories compiled using research from their scholarly database) remarked on the significance of the avocado through the use of linguistics: 

“The presence of a plant or animal in nature alone is not enough for it to be named. It is necessary for the society or human group to acknowledge the importance of the species before naming it.”

This highly-cherished fruit (it’s actually a berry) must have been extremely important to early civilizations, as it had a name wherever it went. Science classifies the avocado as a fruit because it develops a fleshy, edible “fruiting body” from its flower, and has a seed. Vegetables are any other part of a plant: leaves, stems, roots, and flowers like broccoli. The avocado is further defined as a berry due to the coating around the seed (known as the endocarp) being soft. If the endocarp was hard (like in the case of an olive), instead of being called a berry, it would be classified as a drupe

The people of South America called it Palta, and in Venezuela it was known as Cura. You may also notice it is referred to as Persea (its scientific name). As the years went on, the reputation of the avocado made its way to the new world by way of the conquistadores (conquerors) and explorers who called it the aguacate (Spanish). The first known written record of the avocado is from Martin Fernandez de Enciso in 1519. He reported

“Before reaching Santa Marta is Yaharo, which lies at the foot of the snow mountains. Yaharo is a good port, with good lands and here are groves of many different sorts of edible fruits, among others is one which looks like an orange, and when it is ready for eating it turns yellowish; that which it contains is like butter and is of marvelous flavor, so good and pleasing to the palate that it is a marvelous thing.” 

Around 1660, English poet Abraham Cowley gushed about the newly discovered fruit of passion in his poem, “OF PLANTS. BOOK V.”:

 “The Aguacat no less is Venus Friend
(To th’Indies Venus Conquest does extend)
A fragrant Leaf the Aguacata bears,
Her Fruit in fashion of an Egg appears;
With such a white and spermy Juice it swells,
As represents moist Life’s first Principles.”

Historically the avocado has had a very sexy reputation, but does modern medicine corroborate these anecdotal tales? Is there truth to it being a sexual panacea? While there may be limited studies on humans and aphrodisiacs in general, the nutrients contained in an avocado are undoubtedly linked to nourishment in many areas of the body that are responsible for you having “that loving feeling.”

avocados healthy fats

Nutrition and Health Aspects, Including Vitamins, Minerals, Hormonal Balance, and Metabolic Stability

Avocados are rich in nutrients essential for maintaining optimal health, including vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B9 (folate), and potassium. These nutrients play crucial roles in promoting blood flow, nerve conductivity, and hormone production, all of which are integral to sexual function. Vitamin E, dubbed the “sex vitamin,” plays a major part in testosterone production, and has the ability to improve the function of sperm. A study out of Japan documented male mammals that had inadequate levels of vitamin E also “had lower levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH),” which influence libido and the production of sperm. 

From the international medical website, Instacare, “What Are the Avocado Benefits Sexually”:

“Avocado is a great source of vitamins and minerals, which are essential for sexual health. It is full of beta carotene, magnesium and vitamin E (the “sex vitamin”) which are all associated with sex drive, sexual performance, and a fulfilling sex life. Avocado is also a good source of zinc, which is important for erectile dysfunction. It also contains potassium, which can benefit sexual health and performance, as well as protein which is essential for a successful late-night tango.”

Findings from the “National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001 to 2004,” found that a diet rich in potassium, as found in avocados, is associated with a lower risk of erectile dysfunction, which consequently is linked to poor blood circulation and a decline in cardiovascular health. This amazing berry serves up 360 milligrams of potassium per half cup compared to 330 milligrams in a whole banana. Potassium, the third most abundant mineral in your body, acts as an electrolyte, controls and regulates nerve function and blood pressure, and balances fluids in your cells. In addition, potassium’s ability to promote healthy digestion is less frequently discussed. It activates the secretion of hydrochloric acid, allowing food to be broken down properly, while positively influencing the absorption of nutrients. If you aren’t getting enough potassium, research shows an association with stroke, arthritis, cancer, and infertility. 

Avocados are rich in fiber (roughage). In fact, 79% of the “alligator pears’” carbohydrate content (11–13 grams per avo) is fiber. Because avocados contain both soluble fiber—dissolves in water and gastrointestinal fluids—and insoluble fiber—does not dissolve in water or gastrointestinal fluids—consuming them can aid with constipation issues, and support a healthy gut microbiome.

A study published in Nutrients,”Avocado Fruit on Postprandial Markers of Cardio-Metabolic Risk: A Randomized Controlled Dose Response Trial in Overweight and Obese Men and Women,” suggested that avocados may have vasodilatory effects, meaning they can widen blood vessels, improving blood flow throughout your body. Avocados contain L-arginine, anamino acid necessary for making proteins, and contributing to circulation. This is a precursor to nitric oxide, a molecule involved in enhancing the health of your blood vessels, and lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Within your body there exists a delicate dance of hormones, each serving a unique purpose. Every dietary choice you make either nurtures this balance or disrupts it. Research suggests that the healthy fats (lipids, including the plant sterols, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats) in avocados may also support hormonal balance by providing the necessary building blocks for hormone synthesis. Hormones do not just include testosterone and estrogen (steroids), but also neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, as well as peptide hormones, such as insulin and leptin.

Now when it comes to having “chemistry” with someone, your hormones play a part in the attraction. And just as meaningful is the fact that properly balanced hormones contribute to sexual/reproductive health. This is in addition to their role in maintaining mental and physical health through regulation of neurotransmitters, and signaling for hunger and sleep. Avocados contain various nutrients and compounds that help regulate hormone levels in your body, including oleic acid (a monounsaturated omega-9 or MUFA) and plant sterols (substances similar to cholesterol but in plants) which block estrogen absorption and promote progesterone production. The main sterol in avocados is sitosterol, which “harmonizes the sex hormone balance” in patients.  

Certainly significant when discussing the nutritional aspects of avocados is their content of healthy fats, particularly monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to improved cardiovascular health and blood circulation. The fatty, buttery flesh of the avocado is not to be avoided in favor of a low-fat alternative. This is true whether you struggle with your body weight or not. These delicious fatty fruits will fill you up quickly, and promote your body’s production of leptin, a hormone that signals satiety. This means that eating these non-sweet fruits will keep you full and satisfied for a generous period of time, and help trigger your brain to give you the cue—it’s time to stop eating. Additionally, when you replace higher carbohydrate foods (particularly processed products) with high-fat avocados, it allows your body to burn more fat due to the regulation of insulin.   

Avocados contain a significant amount of vitamin B9 (folate)—vital for cell growth and red blood cell formation. This is especially important to reduce the risk of birth defects during early pregnancy. Folate (natural form), a.k.a. folic acid (synthetic supplement), is pivotal in the production of the essential neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which are essential hormones responsible for creating the feelings and drive behind your sexual experiences. In Dame’s “A Guide to Your Body’s Pleasure Chemicals,” they break down the way these neurotransmitters affect you in the bedroom:

Serotonin: In the initial phase of the sexual response cycle, you start to get excited. This is when your body is beginning to get warmed up for sex. When this happens, the brain releases the neurotransmitter serotonin. This is the chemical that makes you feel happy. Serotonin’s responsibilities include ‘“regulating mood, behavior, appetite, sleep, sexual desire and response,”’ explains Dr. Lanae St.John, a board certified sexologist and author of Read Me: A Parental Primer for “The Talk” …

Dopamine: The body’s reward chemical. When you’re doing something your body likes, like getting busy, it drops this hormone into the mix to say, ‘“OH YEAH! This is good! Keep it up!”’…

Norepinephrine: … It’s important to this whole sex thing. ‘“Released during stimulation, this hormone mobilizes the body for action. In sex, it activates physiological changes like increased heart rate, sweaty palms, or pupil dilation,”’ St. John says.”’ While feeding your body well to attain optimal sexual performance may be your goal, some people suffer from conditions that may inhibit their performance or sexual desires. Not surprisingly, the amazing avocado can help there too. 

From ScienceDirect, “Like a finely-oiled machine: Self-help and the elusive goal of hormone balance,” Erika Schwartz, author of “The 30-Day Natural Hormone Plan,” commented on how your body responds when in proper hormonal alignment: 

“When our hormones are in balance, meaning all our hormones are working together well, the results are amazing. Our skin looks radiant and fresh, our minds work smoothly, we remember things, we focus well, our weight and moods are stable, our sex drive soars. We are young and healthy.”

Influencing Medical Conditions

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers among men, and dietary factors play a significant role in its prevention and progression. Avocados contain bioactive compounds that have been studied for their potential anti-cancer properties. A study published in the Journal of Experimental and Basic Medical Sciences demonstrated that avocatin B (AvoB), a compound found in avocado pulp (the part you eat, also called the mesocarp) and seed (many people eat the ground seed, and studies are finding it highly nutritious, despite potential concerns) selectively targets and inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells (as well as breast, colon, and ovary). This suggests a potential role in prostate cancer prevention and treatment. Furthermore, the high content of antioxidants in avocados, including vitamin E and carotenoids, may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, which are implicated in prostate cancer development.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder characterized by hormonal imbalances, weight gain, insulin resistance, and ovarian dysfunction. Although everyone is unique, and affected differently, Nava Health explains, “Polycystic ovary syndrome can potentially affect female sexual function and libido because the condition is directly linked to your sex hormone.” Diet plays a crucial role in managing PCOS symptoms, and avocados offer several nutritional benefits that may be advantageous for this condition. A series of studies published on PubMed suggest that monounsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in avocados, may improve insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles in women with PCOS. Of further significance is that this potentially reduces the risk of cardiovascular complications associated with this syndrome. From Nutrition con Sabor, “5 Important Reasons to Eat Avocado for PCOS”:

“Women with PCOS tend to have higher rates of chronic inflammation. This may be part of how PCOS develops, and it also may contribute to the higher risk of other chronic conditions that women with PCOS face. This is why incorporating anti-inflammatory foods is an important component of PCOS nutrition. Avocados make a great choice to help fight inflammation in PCOS. Both the unsaturated fat in avocados and the vitamin E may help fight inflammation.”

Improving insulin sensitivity: Additionally, avocados are low in carbohydrates and have a low glycemic index (GI: 15–40 depending on type and ripeness) (Re: the time it takes for the carbohydrates to convert to sugar in your blood), and an extremely low glycemic load (GL: 1) (Re: the quantity of sugar) making them suitable to eat if you experience insulin resistance (precursor to type 2 diabetes), or have been diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, which are common comorbidities of PCOS. From Medical News Today, “A compound in avocados may reduce type 2 diabetes”:

“The researchers conclude that AvoB worked against incomplete mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation in the skeletal muscle and pancreas, ensuring the complete oxidation of fats, and thus leading to improved glucose tolerance and utilization, enhancing the rodents’ insulin sensitivity.”

Insulin sensitivity (the opposite of insulin resistance: when insulin is not working properly to assist moving the sugar out of your bloodstream and into your cells) is the goal to support improved metabolic health. Physical activity is effective (sugar moves into your cells without the aid of insulin), and what you put in your mouth is significant. Nikki Ford, Ph.D, Senior Director, Avocado Nutrition Center, commented in “Improve Insulin Sensitivity with Lifestyle Changes and Avocado”: 

“Key takeaway: The rise in insulin 30 minutes following the start of the meal was weakened when the avocado replacing lunch was eaten compared to eating the meal with no avocado.”

“Key takeaway: The findings in this study support a growing body of evidence supporting avocados as beneficial for a type 2 diabetes diet.”

avocado ice cream

Final Thoughts on Devouring This Delicious Savory Fruit

Apeel,” fruit and vegetable coating has been added to organic and conventional avocados to “extend shelf life” at many retail grocers across the U.S.; make sure it’s not on yours! It comes with a host of health concerns, and may not even be labeled. It’s always best to ask your grocery store’s produce manager if they sell “Apeel-manipulated” avocados (or any other Apeel foods for that matter).

Regarding the storage of avocados, as noted by A Voice for Choice Advocacy (AVFCA), in “Apeel” Fruit and Vegetable Protective Coating Is Not So Appealing When You Break It Down”:

“Luckily there are safer, natural ways to preserve your food. Take avocados for example: They’re delicious, but you usually only have a few days of perfect ripeness. Once you bring them home and they get to their “sweet spot,” you can store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can also freeze them whole, sliced, in chunks, or mashed. They will keep for three to six months.”

While non-organic strawberries top the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2024 “Dirty Dozen” list for the most highly-contaminated, pesticide-laden produce, non-organic avocados top their “Clean Fifteen,” showing the lowest amounts of pesticide residues. “Less than 2 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.” When organic is accessible, and in your budget, choose it—for peace of mind, non-GMO, and to support the organics industry.

However … If your avocados are not organic, “fair trade,” or those grown in California are highly suggested. In the United States, approximately 80% of avocados consumed are from Mexico. The problem is that of rapid growing deforestation, primarily on the farms in Michoacán, Mexico. “Mexico’s oyamel forests are its most endangered; only 2 percent of the original forest remains.” Caught in the crossfire are endangered monarch butterflies, and indigenous and rural people. From Organic Consumers Association, “Why You Should Only Buy Organic & Fair Trade Avocados”:

“Fair trade distributor Equal Exchange is doing what U.S. and Mexican regulators and every avocado business should be doing. They’re refusing to sell avocados from recently deforested land. They have an anti-deforestation policy that excludes farms that have been in operation for less than five years.  

What else can we do?

Tell the rest of the avocado industry to follow Equal Exchange’s lead and stop buying avocados grown on deforested land.”

As far as avocados being an actual aphrodisiac like the Aztecs believed in ancient times, there is no conclusive evidence. However, they certainly have emerged as a nutritional powerhouse with multifaceted benefits for sexual health, fertility, weight management, metabolic stability, cardiovascular support, and hormonal balance. With the thought-provoking data on the advantages of incorporating avocados into your diet, having an avocado a day can serve as a nutritious and convenient strategy for optimizing your vitality. Delicious options include homemade guacamole, avocado toast, avocado ice cream, and simple cubes tossed in your salad.

Consider making a smoothie that is low in sugar by choosing a handful of organic fresh or frozen berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and/or strawberries) and adding one half avocado instead of banana. Avocados will create a similar creamy consistency without the high sugar load, and rest assured, your smoothie will not taste like avocado. Use an organic milk of your choice (animal or plant: avoid oat milk which is high in carbohydrates, and soy milk which is inflammatory and an endocrine disruptor), and think about including additional healthy fat ingredients, such as raw almond butter (be mindful of oxalate overload), chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and carob or 100% cacao powder/nibs. 

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Published on June 27, 2024.

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