Avocados May Not Be as Healthy as You Thought

One of Israel's leading nutritional therapists breaks down the benefits and dangers of the green fruit - and explains why bananas are good during heat waves.

Avocados hang from a tree at the Finca Los Abuelos plantation in El Penol, Colombia, on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. Colombian Hass avocado exports to the European Union in the first quarter of this year exceeded $4.6 million, more than in all of 2014, and now the country is setting its sights on the lucrative U.S. market, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Mariana Greif Etchebehere/Bloomberg

Avocados are enjoying an unprecedented surge in popularity around the world: Social media feeds are filled with photos of delicious, emerald-green dishes; vegans consider them to be nature’s own versions of butter and whipped cream; and a trendy new restaurant in Amsterdam serves avocado fries, avocado tacos - and even avocado ice cream.

I’m not here to rain on the avocado parade, so I met with Dr. Mira Niazov, among Israel’s leading nutritional therapists. Niazov’s therapy is based on macrobiotics and her approach to avocado, like all other food, is based on one main principle: There’s no diet that’s healthier or more correct – just the right one for the right place, the right time and the right person.

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“From a Western point of view, the avocado is considered full of vitamins, minerals and fats. From a Chinese point of view, they see mainly a lot of moisture. Over the past six months avocados have become good for almost everyone, because it’s been a dry six months and avocados contain a lot of moisture,” Niazov says. However, she adds, they’re not suitable at all for cancer patients, because the avocado’s moisture comes from a very fatty and heavy source.

Generally, how much avocado should people eat?

Dr. Mira Niazov.
Ilan Assayag

“Here, there’s a general rule. Fat should not count for more than 1 percent of a meal. Avocado is not food, it’s fat, and so even someone who’s very dry shouldn’t eat more than a quarter of a large avocado in a meal.”

One percent? Isn’t that a little cruel?

“Well, it’s by the book, strictly speaking. But I often go by folk wisdom that says that fat can’t spoil the porridge.”

Who else besides cancer patients should avoid avocado?

“Avocado is off limits for people with acne, sinusitis or any other suppurating symptoms.”

How do you explain the popularity of this fruit?

“It’s obvious: People love to eat fat. Avocado is unique in that the source of the fat is a plant and it’s unsaturated. And there’s one aspect unique to avocados and nuts. In contrast to tahini, for example, it doesn’t need to be processed – what you see is what you eat. But when we pick the right fat for ourselves, we have to take a few things into consideration. Tahini, for example, warms and dries and therefore it’s not like avocado at all. Nuts warm and moisturize. Avocado cools and moisturizes.

Avocado Sandwich made by Chef Yossi Shitrit.
David Bachar

And what do you say about the sweeping recommendation to give avocados to babies?

"Really. To feed avocado to a baby with a cold, or who’s on antibiotics, is the height of ignorance about nutrition and its impact on health. What happens is that usually pediatricians or nurses in well-baby clinics who do understand nutrition – they’re a tiny minority, by the way – have Western knowledge: vitamins, minerals, etc. They are complete strangers to thousands of years of Chinese medicine based on the energy of food and including deeper aspects of heat, cold, dryness and moisture.”

One thing leads to another, the conversation turns to bananas and here, Niazov does rain on our parade. When I ask her whether she recommends bananas as baby food, she answers me in a kind of understatement that she developed during her many years outside the establishment: Bananas are excellent mainly as a remedy for a dry, sandy heat wave. “They cool and moisturize,” she says.

So what do you think about a diet that includes lots of bananas?

“It could be that this whole idea is based on some anthropological story, apparently true, of a group of children in Africa nourished mainly on bananas. It suited them because it’s very hot there and they were at an age where, at least in their culture, they were constantly moving. That doesn’t suit our culture.”

But banana season here naturally comes in the winter. You’re saying it’s not suitable for the season?

Brazilian artist Tonico Lemos Auad's untitled drawings on bananas are seen on show at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts for the Beck's Futures 2004 art prize, March 23, 2004.  Auad is one of 10 short-listed artists vying for a large stake in the annual Beck's Futures prize worth 65,000 pounds sterling ($120,217) which will be divided among the winners.
REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid

“In Africa, where they originated, it’s hot and they’re suitable.”

So are you saying the recommendation of the well-baby clinic for babies to eat bananas is damaging?

“I have nothing to say about places where they give out samples of industrial baby formula as a recommendation for little babies.”

Talking to Niazov about anything leaves me hungry for a big meal. We’ll get back to avocados in a minute. At 11 A.M. on an especially cold day, I ask her, what the hell should I be eating?

“I’ll tell you what I ate today and that’s a version of what my family’s been eating for generations, updated by age, time period and health situation. I separately cook half a cup of mung beans, which have to be peeled. Besides that you cook half a cup of cowpeas, two tablespoons of quinoa, 2 tablespoons of millet, two tablespoons of amaranth and four tablespoons of whole rice, well rinsed. How long? A little more than an hour. After mixing with the mung beans, add a large quantity of chopped parsley and coriander, cumin and ground seaweed according to taste. You can add a little Atlantic sea salt.”

Isn’t that a bit too much effort for breakfast?

"No, actually not compared to spring, when I soak and sprout all the ingredients. In the winter I don’t. And something else – the best is to cook it fresh every day, like my mother used to do. But I give that up for myself because I don’t have time. Once a week is good enough. And it’s very good.”

Where’s the avocado here?

“That course you serve with oil. A quarter of a large avocado can be suitable.“