Avocados: Consuming too much of a good thing?
So lucrative, they’re known as “green gold” in Mexico and Chile, and so healthy, they carry the elusive and honorable title of superfood, avocados are a produce dynasty across the world, particularly in the U.S. Since 1993, global consumption of avocados has doubled, and it has tripled in the U.S., according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In the U.S., over 1.85 billion pounds of Hass avocados were consumed in 2014.
This is in part due to the now well-known health benefits of this beloved fruit, but also its use in a staple of many a diet and Super Bowl party: guacamole. However, National Geographic reports that avocados may be approaching “a quinoa moment,” in which production of avocados can’t keep up with demand. This could mean shortages in the near future, much to the dismay of lovers of this creamy, delectable fruit.
Why avocados are insanely good for you
Avocados offer so many health benefits, it’s hard to name them all. But what they’re best known for is being a contributor to good heart health. Avocados have been shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol, which is a primary factor in cardiovascular disease. They also reduce triglycerides while increasing HDL, or “good,” cholesterol. The exact reason why avocados lower LDL levels is not yet confirmed, though some experts believe that the avocados’ high fiber content could play a role.
Though avocados are higher in calories than many other foods, at 200 calories each, the calories come from monounsaturated fats, which can replace the saturated fats that can lead to risks of a heart attack or stroke. In fact, research shows that moderate-fat diets, such as one with an avocado a day, is more beneficial than a low-fat diet. Avocados also do not contain any cholesterol or sodium, which are two other contributors to poor heart health.
However, as avocados are often consumed as guacamole, they are accompanied by the often calorie- and sodium-laden corn chips used for dipping, which may negate some of the avocados’ health benefits. People need to be informed as to how to consume more avocados—one a day as recommended by experts—in healthier ways, such as with salads, vegetables, sandwiches, and lean proteins. For example, a meal plan might include a chicken salad with half an avocado for lunch and a dinner consisting of turkey tacos with the other half of the avocado. And if someone is having a serious guac attack, it could be eaten with cucumber slices in place of chips, for example.
Now, if only avocados could be plentiful forever.
The scary possibility of an avocado shortage
California supplies about 95% of the avocados produced in the U.S., so when California experiences droughts—like it is currently, the worst it’s faced in 1,200 years—avocados take a serious hit. This is in part because 1 pound of avocados requires slightly more than 74 gallons of water. No rain could also mean much fewer avocados.
Mexico and Chile are two other major producers of avocados, but they face their own troubles as well. In Mexico, the $1 billion avocado industry has been apprehended at all levels of operation by drug cartels, who are demanding a cut of the profits. Chile, where 10% of avocados consumed in the U.S. comes from, is under threat of drought as well, and the method some Chileans are using to grow what they can is not only unsustainable, but it also takes water away from the population. The crop is so lucrative in Chile, second only to Mexico as a high avocado-producing country, Chileans call it oro verde, or “green gold.”
For all these reasons, Americans’ appetites for avocados won’t be satiated forever. And if those appetites for this green fleshy fruit are to be appeased, demand for the smaller supply of avocados is sure to drive up prices across the country and world.
In early 2014, when avocado prices were predicted to increase significantly, Chipotle, a chief corporate avocado user at 97,000 avocados a day, raised the price of its avocado-filled burritos by 5%. It also announced that it may quit selling avocados altogether if climate change continued to raise costs too high.
Between a shortage and high prices, it may seem that Americans consume too many avocados—in other words, too much of a good thing. Hopefully for now the crops keep producing and more people discover the health benefits avocados offer so that everyone can enjoy this miracle wonder-fruit.