When people think of avocados, they often think of guacamole, but there's so much more to learn about this superfood.

The avocado — produced in subtropical climates including southern Spain, Australia, Peru, Ecuador, California, Arizona and Florida — is versatile, full of nutrients and popular throughout the world. California produces most of the avocados grown in the United States.

A serving of avocado — roughly one-third of a medium-sized avocado — contains:

  • 80 calories
  • 8 grams of fat
  • Nearly 20 nutrients including potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and B vitamins — in fact WebMD calls it a nutrient all star.
  • No cholesterol or sugar

While almost three-quarters of the avocado's calories come from fat, most of it is healthy fat. More specifically, the avocado contains monounsaturated fats, which are known to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and are believed to help increase the good kind of cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL's).

It's for this reason researchers at Penn State suggest eating an avocado a day isn't a bad idea. Their study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that avocados do even more, helping reduce LDL particles that had been oxidized in adult participants who were overweight or obese.

"A lot of research points to oxidation being the basis for conditions like cancer and heart disease," said Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Penn State. "We know that when LDL particles become oxidized, that starts a chain reaction that can promote atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque in the artery wall. Oxidation is not good, so if you can help protect the body through the foods that you eat, that could be very beneficial."

The avocado also has 60 percent more potassium than a banana. In addition, the avocado’s nutritional composition includes a large amount of fiber. Almost three-quarters of that fiber is insoluble with the rest being soluble fiber — and all that insoluble fiber helps things go smoothly in the bathroom.

Avocados were brought to the U.S. from Mexico

avocados growing on a tree Avocado trees does best in a semihumid climate. (Photo: Juan Luis Elgueta/Shutterstock)

California produces most of the avocados grown in the United States. A Santa Barbara judge first brought Mexican avocado trees to the state in 1871, and today, the bumpy, rough-skinned fruit with the tender flesh is harvested from spring through late September from Monterey County down through San Diego County, according to the California Avocado Commission. Most trees on average produce around 60 pounds of fruit annually, or 150 pieces.

How do you select a ripe avocado? And what can you do with it, besides whip up the perfect guac recipe? First, squeeze the fruit gently. It should be firm but yield to gentle pressure. Avoid an avocado that has overly dark skin or is too soft when pressed. If you plan to eat your avocado in a few days, pick hard ones and place them in a brown paper bag at room temperature for two to five days to ripen.

Versatile uses for avocados in the kitchen

Avocado and chickpea salad sandwiches Chickpeas and avocado play well together in this tasty sandwich. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)

Many people enjoy a raw, ripe avocado by itself. Simply cut lengthwise, scoop out the pit, squeeze some lemon or lime juice on the flesh and grab a spoon. Avocados also are delicious cut into slices on top of burgers, cut into salads or whipped into milkshakes or smoothies (try a Jalepeño-Lime Mango Protein Smoothie). The fruit is also an ingredient in the California sushi roll.

Recipes for avocado abound, both on general cooking websites as well as the recipe section of the California Avocado Commission, which, in keeping with the avocado's Mexican heritage and popularity, features more than 100 different recipes for guacamole along with many other less traditional uses.

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was published in May 2011.

Why avocados are good for you
When people think of avocados, they think of guacamole, but there's more to these nutritious fruits than meets the chip.