Not too long ago, fat was a vilified enemy in our diets. But now we know it’s an essential macronutrient for health and performance, and we are seemingly adding olive oil to everything we cook. But you have a lot of options when it comes to which oil to use when making salad dressings, sizzling up a steak, or baking a batch of pocket muffins.
One trending choice is avocado oil. A favourite among the keto and paleo crowd, proponents say avocado oil is the do-it-all fat that should replace the vegetable oils in your life and maybe even unseat the olive variety as your go-to.
Wondering if it’s time to make an oil change? Read on to find out what the benefits of avocado oil are and if drizzling more into your diet can elevate your health and running performance.
What Is Avocado Oil?
Mild-tasting avocado oil is pressed from the pulp of the avocado stone fruit, which contains approximately 60 percent oil. You can purchase either refined or unrefined avocado oil. Like extra virgin olive oil, unrefined cold-pressed avocado oil is less refined and retains some of the flavour and the greenish colour of the fruit. Sometimes these are labelled as “pure” or “expeller-pressed.” On the other hand, refined avocado oil is extracted using heat and, in some cases, chemical solvents, resulting in a less flavorful product.
What Are the Nutrition Benefits of Avocado Oil?
A drizzle or two of this alternative oil can give your diet a nutritional boost. A 1-tablespoon serving of avocado oil contains the following:
- 124 calories
- 14 g fat
- 0 g protein
- 0 g carbs
- 0 g fiber
- 0 g sugar
While the avocado fruit as a whole has been widely studied, there isn’t as much knowledge about avocado oil in particular and the potential health effects of consuming it. But we can break down its nutrition content to offer some possible benefits for overall health and performance.
Both olive oil and avocado oil have a very similar fatty acid profile. That means the latter is also an excellent source of monounsaturated fat (a healthy fat)—roughly 73 percent of the fat calories in avocado oil hail from this form of unsaturated fat.
“Diets with higher amounts of monounsaturated fats, such as those found in avocado oil, have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDLs [the bad fats], increasing HDLs [the good fats], and lowering blood pressure,” says Sarah Koszyk, M.A., R.D.N., a San Francisco-based registered dietitian and sports nutritionist.
This could be a big reason why diets high in monounsaturated fats, such as the Mediterranean diet, are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. A recent review in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism found that replacing some of the saturated fat in your diet with the monounsaturated variety (and polyunsaturated, too) can help improve cholesterol numbers as well as general blood sugar control.
“In addition, sources of monounsaturated fats in a meal will help you feel full and satisfied,” Koszky adds.
Adding a drizzle of avocado oil to your salad can help make the veggies work harder for you. That’s because research shows the high levels of unsaturated fats in avocado oil will allow your body to better absorb important fat-soluble antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and lycopene present in foods like carrots and tomatoes.
As with olive oil, avocado oil is a source of vitamin E, containing only slightly lower levels. “Vitamin E helps protect our skin from the damaging effects of UV exposure, which is very important for [athletes] who may be outside exercising often and, in turn, exposed to the harsh effects of the sun,” Koszky says. Another benefit to athletes: Vitamin E appears to be vital for the repair of muscle membrane cells, a key aspect of exercise recovery.
Using avocado oil can also be a way to boost your intake of lutein, an antioxidant linked to improvements in both eye and brain function. Other dietary sources of lutein include dark leafy greens and egg yolks, but you won’t find this plant chemical in olive oil or other commonly used oils like canola. Other naturally occurring plant compounds are present in avocado oil that can lower inflammation and blood vessel damage in your body, allowing for better recovery from training, according to Koszky.
Some research has found that extracts from avocado oil, called unsaponifiables, may reduce the pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. But it’s not known if you can get enough of this from consuming a little bit of avocado oil daily to make a difference or if unsaponifiables have any impact on your running-induced aching knees.
Like all pure fats, avocado oil is energy-dense, so it’s recommended to consume no more than 2 tablespoons daily. With that said, Koszky points out that these extra calories can help cyclists meet their overall energy needs during periods of high-volume training.
Just keep in mind that the nutritional quality of avocado oil can vary based on how the product was produced, including drying and extraction methods. Unrefined avocado oil likely retains more nutrients and antioxidants than refined. Also, there are certain beneficial nutrients including fiber, potassium, and folate that you will get by eating a whole avocado rather than its oil.
How to Use Avocado Oil
Really, anywhere olive oil goes, avocado oil can go as well. (Disclaimer: While prices vary greatly based on brand, generally avocado oil is about 30 to 50 percent more expensive than your typical olive oil.)
Use it in salad dressings, homemade mayo, and pesto, or drizzle over steamed vegetables or slices of summer tomatoes. You can also employ avocado oil for baking, including muffins or as part of a marinade. Avocado oil is a neutral-tasting oil, so it does not impart much flavor to whatever you are using it, which makes it that much more versatile.
Avocado oil has a higher smoke point, about 250 degrees, than several culinary oils including olive oil, meaning the temperature at which it starts to degrade and potentially release harmful compounds is higher. That makes it a good heat-stable option for your greasing needs when grilling, sautéing, and searing. Refined avocado oil will possess a higher smoke point than the more delicate unrefined variety. For high-temperature cooking, it’s not advisable to use extra-virgin olive oil.
→ The Bottom Line: Overall, avocado oil and olive oil are reliable sources of healthy fats and antioxidants that are useful to all runners. But if you are perfectly content using olive oil for your dressings and canola oil in your skillet, you’re not going miss out big time if you leave this oil on the store shelf.