Foodies and nutritionists alike laud the mighty avocado. The nutrient-dense pulp of this fruit is both delicious and nutritious — a quintessential win-win. But what about the avocado seed or pit?
While you've likely seen people grinding the seed into a smoothie or mixing it into a salad, most experts agree that you should not eat avocado pits because they may pose some health risks.
While avocado seeds contain some nutritious and healthful components, such as fiber, starch, healthful fats, potassium, vitamins A, C and E and an array of biologically-active phytochemicals, you can obtain these goodies from numerous other foods that are known to be safe.
What About Avocado Seeds' Purported Health Benefits?
The notion of eating avocado seeds started gaining traction on social media in 2016, largely due to a viral video demonstrating how to dry and pulverize the seeds. Enthusiasts typically add the pulverized seed to a smoothie, green juice or other foods to mask the slightly bitter taste.
People who promote the potential health benefits of eating avocado seeds often cite a 2013 review published in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Design. The cherry-picked sentence frequently quoted from the article states, "Avocado seeds may improve hypercholesterolemia, and be useful in the treatment of hypertension, inflammatory conditions and diabetes."
Sounds great, right? But if something sounds too good to be true, that's usually the case. Note the use of the word "may" in the statement, a compact way of saying maybe — or maybe not.
A careful read of the entire article reveals that the authors reviewed previous laboratory and animal studies that suggested the aforementioned possible health benefits associated with avocado seed extracts. None of the studies involved eating the seeds themselves and — more importantly — none of them involved humans. The authors concluded that the reviewed research was promising but very preliminary, and further research is needed. They also stated that the safety of avocado seed extracts must be assessed.
There have been no human studies to date showing that eating avocado seeds confers any health benefits, and the safety of eating the seeds has not been evaluated.
Toxic or Not?
The plant toxin persin is present in high concentrations in both avocado seeds and leaves. Persin is known to cause toxic effects and possibly even death in a variety of animals including cattle, horses, sheep, goats, mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs and certain birds, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Given these effects in animals, what could persin potentially do to people?
To date, possible toxic effects of persin have not been studied in humans. However, laboratory studies have shown that persin induces cell death in breast cancer and ovarian cancer cell lines, as reported in the December 2013 issue of the British Journal of Cancer and the June 2016 issue of Investigational New Drugs, respectively.
The cancer cells in these experiments were exposed to much higher persin concentrations than one would expect from consuming relatively small amounts of the avocado seed. Nonetheless, these findings beg the question: What effects, if any, does persin have on healthy human cells? For the time being, we simply do not know. However, a November 2013 study report published in the Scientific World Journal gives credence to exercising caution when it comes to eating avocado seeds. The researchers found that high doses of avocado seed extract were lethal to mice.
What's more, avocado seeds contain several chemicals known as antinutrients, including saponins, tannins, oxalate and phytic acid. As the name implies, these chemicals reduce or block the absorption of nutrients and micronutrients from the digestive system into the bloodstream. According to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, specific interference for the antinutrients found in avocado seeds include:
- Saponins: Overall reduction in nutrient absorption
- Tannins: Reduced iron absorption
- Oxalate: Reduced calcium absorption
- Phytic acid: Reduced iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium absorption
Because of the antinutrients in avocado seeds, adding some to a nutrient-dense smoothie, juice drink or other food might actually result in making it less nutritionally valuable rather than more so — not what you were likely going for.
So, Should You Ever Eat the Avocado Seed?
While occasionally adding a small amount of avocado seed to your food might not cause significant harm, why take a chance with something that has not been deemed safe for human consumption? Even the California Avocado Commission — a public relations and advocacy group that promotes avocados on behalf of California growers — recommends sticking to the fruit pulp and not eating the seed.
Countless delicious and safe foods can provide you with the same healthful nutrients found in avocado seeds starting with the obvious first contender, avocado pulp. It provides substantial amounts of heart-healthy fats (mostly monounsaturated), fiber, potassium and vitamins A, C and E as well as lesser amounts of other healthful nutrients and phytochemicals. Beyond tasty guacamole and avocado toast, avocado pulp can be used in numerous savory and sweet dishes.
Nutrients present in avocado seeds that you can get from safe foods instead:
- Fiber: Beans, whole-grain cereals, seeds, nuts, leeks, dates and berries
- Potassium: Beans, seeds, nuts, beet greens, yams, potatoes, figs, dates, plantains, rhubarb and kiwi
- Vitamin A: Animal liver, giblets, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, dandelion and mustard greens, collards, spinach and apricots
- Vitamin C: Guavas, kiwifruit, oranges, papaya, strawberries, sweet peppers, leeks, kale and broccoli
- Vitamin E: Wheat germ, sunflower and almond oil, nuts and seeds
- Monounsaturated fats: Vegetable and nut oils, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans
The culinary possibilities using these and other healthful foods is limited only by your imagination (and maybe your cooking prowess). Stay safe and have fun with it!
- Current Pharmaceutical Design: "Avocado (Persea americana) Seed as a Source of Bioactive Phytochemicals"
- Scientific World Journal: "Acute Toxicity and Genotoxic Activity of Avocado Seed Extract (Persea americana Mill., c.v. Hass)"
- Merck Veterinary Manual: "Avocado"
- British Journal of Cancer: "Role of Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress Induction by the Plant Toxin, Persin, in Overcoming Resistance to the Apoptotic Effects of Tamoxifen in Human Breast Cancer Cells"
- PubChem: "Persin"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Are Anti-Nutrients Harmful?"
- California Avocado Commission: "Is It Safe to Eat the Avocado Seed?"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Food Search"