The conversation about healthy food choices is “pervasive among most Americans” who generally recognize that “fruits and vegetables are building blocks for a healthy diet,” said Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board in Irvine, CA. Yet “despite what we all know,” studies show that most Americans are still not yet consuming as many fruits and vegetables as suggested by dietary guidelines and continue over-consuming sodium, sugar and saturated fat.
“Unfortunately, today in the United States, one-third of adults in our society are categorized as obese and another one-third as overweight,” Escobedo told The Produce News.Emiliano Escobedo “That is a serious issue because obesity is related to conditions like stroke and heart disease, type II diabetes and cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.”
Because of the exceptional health benefits of Hass avocados, “we see this as an opportunity,” he said.
There is “clearly a need to educate Americans on the link between diet and disease,” he said. “There is room for growth in the consumption of fruits and vegetables,” including avocados, and “we think that avocados have nutritional properties that can help Americans live a better life, so we want to leverage that.”
Avocado consumption in the United States has been rising dramatically in the last few years, but there is still much room for growth.
HAB studies have shown that consumers buy avocados for two principal reasons: they like the taste and they recognize the health benefits. “Those are the two main drivers,” Escobedo said.
HAB focuses most of its efforts and most of its funding on additional scientific research into the health benefits of avocados and on promotional programs to increase consumer awareness of those benefits.
“We have invested nearly $ 5 million in nutrition research in the areas of heart health, weight management, diabetes and healthy living” and developed a promotional program called Love One Today, backed by a multi-million dollar budget, to promote the research findings and increase consumer awareness of the benefits of including Hass avocados in the diet on a regular basis can bring.
Recently published clinical trials by University of California at Los Angeles and Loma Linda University found that adding avocados to a meal helps reduce inflation markers and that adding avocados to lunch “reduces hunger for a longer period of time,” leading to less snacking and, therefore, reduced total calorie intake, he said.
The most recently published study, by Ohio State University, “found that avocados boost the absorption of nutrients and antioxidants that are found in products that are consumed with avocados.” Eating avocados with tomatoes, for example, boosts the body’s consumption of the antioxidants in tomatoes by a factor of 10. “So avocados are definitely a nutrient booster,” Escobedo said.
Current studies, one at Penn State and one at Tufts University, are looking at such things as the potential of avocados in the diet to reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body and to improve cognitive function among older population, he said.
The research “is generating a lot of media attention,” both consumer media and publications targeted to dieticians and other health professionals. Through the efforts of HAB, “we have obtained hundreds of millions of impressions” in various health and fitness publications in the United States as well as on radio and television, Escobedo said, emphasizing that this is editorial coverage, not paid advertisement. Studies to track the influence of those impressions on consumer attitudes demonstrates that “they are becoming more aware of the benefits of avocados, and as a result, we are seeing demand increase.”
It is not HAB alone that is leveraging the health message for Hass avocados, he said. Other stakeholders are doing so as well, including Avocados from Mexico and other industry organizations representing all other major sources of Hass avocados marketed in the United States.