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For avocado aficionados, a worthwhile pit stop

By: Ellie Krieger The Washington Post
February 21, 2018 Updated: February 21, 2018 at 12:46 pm
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The Hass avocado, left, is the variety you're used to seeing in grocery stores. The slightly larger "SlimCado," right, isn't necessarily more slimming, but it's still worth trying. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.

While sifting through the pyramid of nubby-skinned avocados at the store, you might have noticed large, bright green and smooth-skinned similar items stacked nearby. That's the "SlimCado," prompting you to wonder whether this is a less-fattening avocado or some new Franken-fruit.

It's neither. Although this variety is lower in fat and calories, it is not necessarily healthier or more slimming than a "regular" avocado. And it's far from new; the variety has been cultivated for centuries.

Ninety-five percent of the avocados we buy are Hass avocados from California and Mexico, which in the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Nutrient Database are called "California" avocados. SlimCado is a brand name for the other variety, "Florida" avocados. You can think of California and Florida avocados the same way you would red and green apples. They are different varieties of the same fruit, with different flavors, textures and culinary applications. They are two broad categories that cover a much more diverse group than meets the eye; there are actually more than 1,000 varieties of avocado.

Avocado mania is going strong: Sales of the fruit increased nearly sevenfold between 1989 and 2014, and they continue to grow exponentially. A search of #avocado yields more than 7 million posts on Instagram, and avocado toast has become a staple food seemingly overnight. You can buy avocado yogurt, avocado ice cream, and avocado salad dressing and baby food.

Hass avocados have dominated for several reasons: a plentiful, year-round supply thanks to imports from Mexico; a fruit easy to ship and sell because it ripens slowly and its thick skin prevents bruising; and avocado toast and guacamole are rooted in Californian and Mexican cuisine, so they are best suited to the variety from those regions.

But the Florida fruit that has been all but ignored also has a lot to offer.

Florida avocados, from a West Indian variety that grows best in humid climates, are larger than the Hass and have a smoother, brighter green skin. Their flesh is lighter in flavor and texture, more water-rich and less buttery. Nutritionally, as per the USDA data, Florida avocados have about 25 percent fewer calories and 30 percent less fat per cup than their California cousins. For both, the fat is primarily healthy monounsaturated fat.

Although similarly packed with essential nutrients such as potassium and folate, Florida avocados have more vitamin C and E than California avocados, but they have less fiber and are slightly less nutrient-dense overall.

The fact that Florida avocados have less fat and calories may sound compelling to those watching their weight - something the SlimCado branding clearly hopes to harness. But that rationale doesn't hold up scientifically. Many studies of eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, show that enjoying plenty of good fats benefits health and helps with weight management, especially if those fats replace refined carbohydrates and/or saturated fats in the diet. Yet in one Mediterranean country, Spain, a variety dubbed "Aguacate (Avocado) Light" was launched last year under the brand Isla Bonita. The fat content of the Hass avocado is one of its considerable health assets, as the nutritious fruit can replace less beneficial, more calorie-concentrated fats such as butter, mayonnaise and cream.

But misguided marketing aside, the often-neglected Florida avocado deserves some love. After reading several negative comments by bloggers on its taste, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I found the Florida avocado to be lovely and light and more refreshing than the Hass, which I have long adored. It would be perfect for salads, smoothies and for dishes from the tropical regions where it grows, such as in a cooling salsa to accompany a spicy jerk chicken.

Where those bloggers went wrong was in using it for avocado toast or guacamole; it's too watery and not creamy enough. The bottom line? California and Florida avocados have different assets and applications; neither is better than the other at helping with weight loss, but both are bountifully nutritious. I see no reason not to put both kinds in your shopping cart.

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