A Daily Avocado Improves Body Fat Distribution in Women with Overweight/Obesity

Somi Igbene PhD ANutrSeptember 9, 2021

Eating one medium avocado daily improves body fat distribution in women with overweight or obesity, a new controlled study reports. 

In the study, females who ate an avocado daily had a lower visceral (around organs in the abdomen) to subcutaneous (under the skin) fat ratio than women who did not eat an avocado daily. Despite improved body fat distribution, the women did not achieve weight loss or improved insulin sensitivity. 

“The goal wasn’t weight loss; we were interested in understanding what eating an avocado does to the way individuals store their body fat. The location of fat in the body plays an important role in health,” Naiman Khan, professor of kinesiology and community health and lead author of the study, said in a press release. 

The study, “Avocado Consumption, Abdominal Adiposity, and Oral Glucose Tolerance Among Persons with Overweight and Obesity,” was published in The Journal of Nutrition

“In the abdomen, there are two kinds of fat: fat that accumulates right underneath the skin, called subcutaneous fat, and fat that accumulates deeper in the abdomen, known as visceral fat, that surrounds the internal organs. Individuals with a higher proportion of that deeper visceral fat tend to be at a higher risk of developing diabetes. So, we were interested in determining whether the ratio of subcutaneous to visceral fat changed with avocado consumption”, Khan added. 

One hundred and five adults were recruited to the study. A total of 52 were randomised to the treatment group and 53 to the control group. For 12 weeks, participants in the treatment group received one meal daily with avocado, while those in the control group received a similar meal without avocado. The calorie content of both meals was identical, but the treatment meals were higher in fibre and monounsaturated fatty acids with lower saturated fats. At the study start of the study and after 12 weeks, the researchers measured the participants’ weight, body mass index, glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. 

The mean age of the cohort was 34.5 years, 83% were White, and 61% were female. A total of 41% of the cohort were overweight while 59% had obesity. While females had higher subcutaneous fat than males, visceral fat was similar in males and females. Notably, males had a higher ratio of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat than females. 

After 12 weeks of the intervention, glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity and visceral fat in the treatment and control group were similar.

Interestingly, the control group had a significantly larger reduction in subcutaneous fat than the treatment group. And when the researchers analysed the results based on sex, they found that females in the treatment group had and a modest, but significantly lower visceral to subcutaneous fat ratio than females in the control group – indicating a redistribution of fat away from the organs in the abdomen. Among males, there was no significant difference between the treatment and control groups in visceral fat, subcutaneous fat or visceral to subcutaneous fat ratio. 

“While daily consumption of avocados did not change glucose tolerance, what we learned is that a dietary pattern that includes an avocado every day impacted the way individuals store body fat in a beneficial manner for their health, but the benefits were primarily in females,” Khan said. 

“It’s important to demonstrate that dietary interventions can modulate fat distribution. Learning that the benefits were only evident in females tells us a little bit about the potential for sex playing a role in dietary intervention responses,” he added. 

One limitation of the study, the researchers highlighted, was that only a proportion of the participants completed the glucose tolerance tests, which could have impacted the study results. Therefore, they urge caution when interpreting the data. Additionally, although the study results did not support their theory that eating a daily avocado would improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, the results confirmed that it does not worsen them.

The researchers hope to conduct a more comprehensive follow-up study that provides participants with all their daily meals and then investigate other markers of gut and physical health to understand better how avocado impacts health in both sexes. 

“By taking our research further, we will be able to gain a clearer picture into which types of people would benefit most from incorporating avocados into their diets and deliver valuable data for healthcare advisers to provide patients with guidance on how to reduce fat storage and the potential dangers of diabetes,” Richard Mackenzie, professor of human metabolism at the University of Roehampton in London, said. 

“Our research not only sheds a valuable light on the benefits of daily avocado consumption on the different types of fat distribution across genders, it provides us with a foundation to conduct further work to understand the full impact avocados have on body fat and health,” Mackenzie added. 

A Nutritionist’s Analysis – What does this study mean for you?

This study was conducted in adults with overweight and obesity who were predominantly Caucasian. Whether the same results would be obtained in other races is unclear. Secondly, the average age of the participants was 34; whether the same results would be obtained in younger and older individuals is also unclear. 

When analysing the data closely, it was clear that the reduction in visceral fat and the level of body fat distribution was not clinically significant. Visceral fat must be reduced by at least 26% to have a beneficial impact on health, but there was only a 5% reduction in this study. 

Finally, we don’t know the overall content of the participants, diet and whether that affected the results.

Avocados are a healthy addition to your diet. One avocado contains around 10g of dietary fibre, contributing to 33% of the recommendation for UK adults. Higher fibre intake is linked to lower visceral fat and a lower risk of cardiometabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 

The bottom line

Eating avocados daily without ensuring that your overall diet is healthy and balanced is unlikely to benefit your health or significantly improve your body fat composition. By all means, add avocado to your diet, but make sure you also eat plenty of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains (if you tolerate them) and quality proteins.  

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