Almond Milk Has Become A Starbucks Staple – But There’s A Dark Side To This Dairy-Free Drink

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So, you’re standing in line at Starbucks waiting to order your usual roasted hazelnut macchiato. This Monday morning is different, however, as you’ve noticed the sign displaying the growing list of cow’s milk alternatives that are available to try. Then, after opting for the almond variety, you become instantly hooked. But before you decide to switch forever, be warned: the consequences of this choice are far deadlier than you may think.

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In recent years, cow’s milk alternatives have become all the rage. They’re practically everywhere, in fact, and in varieties ranging all the way from oat to even pea. But despite this plethora of choice, almond milk seems to be particularly sought after. For example, figures from a 2018 Nielsen study show that U.S. sales of the drink had increased by 250 percent over the past half-decade.

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It’s projected that almond milk’s popularity won’t be waning anytime soon, either. Grand View Research predicts that sales of the drink will increase internationally by just over 14 percent a year for the foreseeable future. And as you may have guessed, dairy producers are apparently bearing the brunt of this shift in consumer preferences.

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The Dairy Farmers of America have reported that from 2017 to 2018, the sale of traditional cow’s milk in the U.S. plunged by over $1 billion. And while these two sets of statistics haven’t been officially linked, they’re sometimes discussed in tandem when the topic of plant-based milk is brought up.

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As we’ll see later, though, the alleged connection between vegan milk varieties and the closure of dairy farms isn’t the only potential consequence of this relatively new craze. Indeed, there’s much more to plant-based alternatives than meets the eye – especially when it comes to almond milk. For now, though, let’s take a closer look at how this particular nutty beverage is produced and why people have become so obsessed with it.

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The production of almond milk involves grinding said nuts with water and then extracting the soggy pulp to leave a smooth, white liquid. What emerges as a result of this process, however, is something that looks a lot like normal cow’s milk. And as such, you’d probably be forgiven for wondering just what all the fuss is about.

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Well, for people who can’t have dairy – owing to an allergy, say, or an intolerance – almond milk is seen as a great option. Now, almost everyone can enjoy a bowl of porridge or a frothy cappuccino with relatively little compromise. After all, almond milk not only looks like its cow-derived counterpart, but it also can be just as cold, refreshing and nutritious. The only real discernible difference is the subtle nutty flavor – but for some, this is an added bonus.

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Of course, the rise in veganism has also led to the burgeoning popularity of almond milk. Incredibly, the number of vegans in the U.S. increased by 600 percent in the three years from 2014, according to Global Data. And many of these people have made this choice because they believe they should not eat foods or use products that are derived from animals.

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Furthermore, while cows don’t have to die in order for humans to procure their milk, vegans have argued that this process isn’t all that pleasant for the animals involved. As a result, this is enough to put some people off dairy for good.

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Others, meanwhile, have chosen to plump for almond milk over the dairy variety for health-related reasons. You see, the nutty alternative is lower in calories than regular milk, making it a good option for those looking to shed a few pounds. According to Healthline, a glass of red-top milk comes in at almost 150 calories, whereas the equivalent measure of the almond version is merely 50 calories.

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Almond milk is also rich in some of the nutrients that we need to thrive – specifically vitamins E and D. Vitamin E is known for being able to help support your immune system, and it’s said to be particularly great for keeping your skin and eyes in peak condition.

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And while vitamin E isn’t found in regular milk, the almond variety is seemingly bursting with the antioxidant. Some brands of the beverage are better for you than others; in general, though, Healthline says that a single glass of the nutty drink can provide up to half of your daily recommended vitamin E intake. The benefits don’t stop there, either.

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You see, almond milk is also often enriched with vitamin D – a nutrient that many humans are lacking. That’s right: the nature of our lengthy working days and busy lives mean that up to half of the people in the U.S. aren’t taking in sufficient levels of this all-important vitamin.

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Vitamin D, as you may well be aware, is crucial for healthy bone development; it has also been linked to the prevention of common ailments such as hypertension. So, while traditional dairy milk is generally seen as the best drink for strong bones, it seems as though almond milk may be just as good a choice.

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And the nutty alternative is certainly winning when it comes to sugar content. Healthline has claimed that a glass of regular milk has over ten grams of carbohydrates, with the majority of this coming from lactose – a form of sugar. The same amount of unsweetened almond milk, on the other hand, only includes up to two grams of carbohydrates.

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Nevertheless, you must ensure you make the right choice when buying almond milk, as a lot of brands like to add sweetener to the beverage. And according to the American Heart Association, men should each be consuming no more than around 36 grams of added sugar per day and women only 25 grams each. Ultimately, then, a glass of almond milk could represent around half of your recommended intake.

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Still, as we’ve seen, almond milk offers a host of other benefits. And with all that in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this particular dairy-free alternative has taken off with such unstoppable force. Yet this shift in consumer habits hasn’t just impacted the dairy industry. Most notably, the large-scale farming of almonds is causing unprecedented and deadly consequences elsewhere.

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And, worryingly, there’s one particular species suffering at the hands of society’s fixation with almonds: bees. These somewhat underrated insects are in fact incredibly important when it comes to human survival, as the majority of food we eat is affected in some way by bees’ pollination.

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But the popularity of almonds in particular is proving detrimental to a large number of hives. You see, the majority of the world’s almonds are farmed in the large, flat area of land in the center of California. According to a January 2020 report by The Guardian, more than two billion pounds of the nuts are grown there each year.

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But what is it about the farming process that’s causing bees so much harm? Well, there are actually a couple of factors. While bees hibernate during the cooler months, this is when the almond trees need to be pollinated. And in order for this to happen, the duration of the hive’s inactive period is cut short by up to eight weeks – thus disrupting the bees’ innate rhythms.

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The fact that the farming of almonds in California happens on such a grand scale is also causing problems. Given the huge number of hives needed to keep up with this demand, bees are likely to come into contact with one another – and this isn’t good for their health.

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In the same way that diseases can spread between human communities, the close proximity of bees can lead to the easy transmission of illness. And Dennis Arp, a beekeeper from Arizona, is just one of the many people in the industry who has personally witnessed the deterioration of his hive’s collective health.

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Arp told The Guardian, “Bees are exposed to all kinds of diseases in California. There can be hundreds of thousands of hives from multiple beekeepers in one staging area. It is like letting your bees go into a singles bar, and then they have unprotected sex.”

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For Arp, the worst infestation his bees have experienced has been from tracheal mites. And owing to reasons that we’ve already explained, the keeper’s hives are much more susceptible to catching these mites when they’re working on the almond farms. The Varroa destructor is another parasite that’s particularly deadly, as it survives by latching on to the bee and destroying its immune system.

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All is not lost, though. In the same way that humans use vaccinations to prevent disease, beekeepers such as Arp can put measures in place to protect their hives from any attacks. Thankfully, there are chemicals specifically formulated to help quash the number of mites present in colonies.

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But one element that beekeepers have limited control over is the excessive use of pesticides used in the farming of almonds. Interestingly, the almond trees are smothered with greater quantities of the chemicals than are normally used on other kinds of crops. And as you may have already guessed, this is also proving detrimental to the health of hives.

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Pesticides – which have been linked to cancer in people – can certainly play havoc with a swarm. And while some such toxins may cause bees to become disorientated and experience a loss of flight, other stronger chemicals lead to instant death. According to The Guardian, one of the most common pesticides used is herbicide glyphosate – a chemical that can be both carcinogenic to humans and lethal to bees.

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So with all of the aforementioned issues to contend with, the situation for bees is arguably quite bleak. Rather shockingly, The Guardian has claimed that in the United States, more of the insects are killed each year than every other farmed animal and fish put together.

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Beekeepers therefore face huge losses every year. Arp, for example, has said that, on an annual basis, he consistently finds his hives shrunk in size by almost a third. And Nate Donley, a scientist at Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity, had his own views on the statistics. He told The Guardian, “The high mortality rate creates a sad business model for beekeepers.”

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Donley continued, “It’s like sending the bees to war. Many don’t come back.” But some think there’s actually a bigger issue at play here, and this is all down to the way in which human need has transformed a delicate natural ecosystem.

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Beekeeper Patrick Pynes has spoken out about what’s happening in his industry – and, more specifically, the role that almond harvests play in that process. He told The Guardian, “The bees in the almond groves are being exploited and disrespected. They are in severe decline because our human relationship to them has become so destructive.”

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And the people who profit from the production of almonds have also had their say. Bob Curtis, a pollination consultant for the Almond Board of California, explained to The Guardian, “The bee mortality rate is too high and is unacceptable. It is only because of the hard work and creativity of beekeepers that [almond growers] have gotten the bees they need.”

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So, what exactly is being done to turn the problem around? Well, certain initiatives have been rolled out to try and minimize the number of chemical pesticides used in almond farming. The Bee Better Certified program, for instance, wants groves to plant fragrant shrubbery. This, the organization argues, should hopefully deter unwanted insects from coming too close to the bees while simultaneously providing extra sustenance for hives.

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Big companies are also doing their bit to turn the situation around. Häagen-Dazs was the first food brand to adopt the Bee Better trademark, and you may spot the logo when you’re next out shopping. Rather temptingly, the firm’s honey salted caramel almond ice cream flavor is among the products that showcase the symbol.

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But apart from the somewhat delightful task of buying more Häagen-Dazs ice cream, you may be wondering what else you, as a consumer, can do to save the bees. For instance, do you need to find an almond milk alternative with which to drown your cereal?

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In any case, there are plenty of other dairy-free alternatives – such as coconut milk. But while coconut milk may be tasty, delicious and nutritious, you should be looking for a fair-trade version. The popularity of the beverage adds to deforestation, for a start. And as the trees are typically farmed in developing countries, this often means that harvesters receive a pittance for their work.

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So, what else is out there? Well, with rice being such a staple in our diets, you may think that milk made of the grain would be a better choice. But though this delicious carb may be cheap, it’s also not very kind to the planet. According to a 2018 University of Oxford study, rice seed requires a lot of water to grow, while microorganisms in paddy fields may give off greenhouse gases. Rice milk also doesn’t provide as much nourishment as other plant-based varieties.

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Fortunately, experts have revealed the two foods that make the best replacements for almond milk: oats and soy. Soy offers nearly the same level of protein as normal cow’s milk, you see, and its production has little negative impact on the environment.

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Oats are also produced in a sustainable way, as much of the land needed to grow the grain is already available. In addition, a vast quantity of oats are currently being harvested for animal feed, meaning some of these can easily be used to keep up with the growing demand for dairy-free milks.

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So, now that we know both the pros and cons of drinking almond milk, what should fans of the nutty beverage do? Well, you can rest assured that despite any negative impact the farming is having on bees, buying the product is still better for the planet than purchasing regular milk. If, however, you’re keen to do your bit for Californian hives, then at least you now know that there are some great alternatives out there.

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And if you’re looking for a tasty toast-topper, you may also be in the market for some avocado. Just like almond milk, the fatty fruit has grown in popularity in recent years – thanks in part to the growing number of vegans. However, if you’re already an avocado fan – or are hoping to incorporate more into your diet – then you should know just how the fashionable food affects your body.

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While an apple a day has long been said to keep the doctor away, the sweet fruit may have had its time as a universal symbol of wellness. You see, avocados have taken the culinary world by storm – both for their subtle nutty flavor and their many health benefits. So, what exactly happens to your body when you eat avocado on a daily basis? Well, as it turns out, there are likely to be some rather startling consequences.

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It’s fair to say, too, that the avocado’s rise has been stratospheric. One way to quantify its popularity is to measure the amount of the fruit that Americans eat annually. In 1989, for instance, that figure was about a half-kilo of avocado per person; as of 2016, though, Americans each consumed 3 kilos annually. Plus, that number is anticipated to increase further in the years to come.

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It was only comparatively recently, however, that the avocado became an everyday food item in the U.S. Perhaps one of the originators of the trend was Gwyneth Paltrow, who included a recipe for avocado-slathered toast in her 2013 cookbook It’s All Good. And from there, things took off, as more and more people touted the fruit’s tastiness – as well as its potential effects on health.

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Yet avocados have actually been around for a seriously long time. For instance, archaeologists have uncovered evidence to show that the natives of Central America were cultivating and eating the nutritious fruit in around 10,000 BC. And, in fact, this region is still where avocados are most commonly grown to this day.

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Mexico is home to the majority of the world’s avocado production, although you can also find farms situated south of the country. They also grow well in the Caribbean and in California, while crops can similarly be found in southern Europe and Israel. Regardless of the avocado’s current ubiquitousness, though, it took a long time for American consumers to catch onto the trend.

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The first effort to popularize the avocado in the U.S. actually came in the 1920s, as avocado farms had by then made their way into California. At the time, though, people didn’t know the fruit by its current name; instead, they called it the “alligator pear.” This moniker makes a certain amount of sense, too, as the avocado’s color and rough exterior skin resemble those of the fierce reptile.

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Even so, alligator pears weren’t selling, and the California Avocado Society wanted to do something about it. To that end, then, the organization launched a ritzy advertising campaign. According to a 2018 article by the BBC’s Guy Kelly, the society bought space in Vogue and The New Yorker to extol the avocado as the “aristocrat of salad fruits.”

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Yet these ads didn’t exactly propel the avocado to superstardom. Instead, as Kelly has stated, they created an “air of superiority around avocados.” Some may even argue that the fruit still carries such a reputation. Nonetheless, that wasn’t necessarily the case in the early 1990s, when California farmers tried once again to market their produce.

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This time, though, California farmers ignited a true obsession with their fruit. In order to spike avocado sales, they decided to rebrand their product as a must-have ingredient at Super Bowl parties the country over. But how could an avocado fit into such a get-together? Well, in a bowl of guacamole, naturally.

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So, California avocado farmers doled out free samples of their harvest as well as recipes that would turn the hard-skinned fruits into tasty guacamole. And their efforts seemed to have worked. Apparently, sports fans now ingest a whopping 47 million kilos of the fruit on Super Bowl Sunday – whether it’s whipped into guacamole or as part of another avocado-centric recipe.

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Yes, guac certainly isn’t only the only way in which to eat the fruit. Adding slices of avocado into a smoothie, for instance, gives the beverage an even more luxurious texture. And when combined with almond or coconut milk and sugar, avocado makes the perfect base for vegan ice cream.

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Then, of course, there’s avocado toast. At the same time as Paltrow included the breakfast recipe in her cookbook, a so-called “clean-eating” movement was sweeping the nation. As a consequence, then, people across the U.S. began to adopt diets similar to that of the Hollywood star.

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The avocado toast trend was especially popular with millennials – and their elders took notice. One in particular, millionaire property owner Tim Gurner, made his feelings known on a 2017 episode of Australia’s 60 Minutes. There, Gurner said that it was young adults’ own fault that they hadn’t gotten onto the property ladder – and, apparently, it all had to do with their breakfasts.

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Gurner said, “When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each.” But while avocado prices have risen in conjunction with demand, the fruit can’t entirely take the blame for millennials’ failure to enter the property market.

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And although the avocado has caused problems for young people, it’s in a way that is entirely unrelated to housing. Specifically, the fruit has earned a reputation for how difficult it is to cut. So many people have slashed themselves while trying to slice through the flesh, in fact, that such injuries have earned a very apt nickname: “avocado hand.”

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Perhaps in response to the “avocado hand” issue, the California Avocado Commission has given out tips for safely cutting into the fruit. Specifically, the organization suggests placing an avocado flat on a board rather than holding it in your hand. After that, you chop lengthwise twice so that you have the avocado quartered.

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Getting an avocado to this point takes time, though. For starters, it takes avocado trees about a decade to grow and mature before they start bearing fruit. They don’t sprout avocados all year long, either. In California, growing season typically stretches from February until September, with production usually highest during the summer months.

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Avocados can also be problematic even once they’re up for grabs at your local grocery store. They don’t have long shelf lives, for one. But while it can be tough to determine whether an avocado is ready to eat, there are ways and means of finding out the answer. Most people give the fruit a light squeeze to see if it gives into the pressure; if so, then it should be soft enough to consume.

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Unripe avocados, on the other hand, can take anywhere from three to seven days to reach peak condition. And when the fruit is at that perfect stage, either eat it then or pop it into the fridge for between three and five more days to keep it fresh. After that, the avocado will probably start to brown – suggesting that it’s overripe and therefore no longer tasty.

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Once you master the arc of an avocado’s ripeness, though, you’re ready to fully incorporate it into your diet. That means you can spread the fruit onto toast, smash it into guacamole or eat it plain. But regardless of how you choose to consume avocado, you’ll likely reap a number of surprising health benefits.

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That’s despite the fact that an avocado boasts high levels of fat; indeed, just one half of the fruit can contain a whole 10 grams of the stuff. Looking deeper, though, the fruit’s fat is actually monounsaturated, and this makes it fine to eat in moderation. As a bonus, monounsaturated fats help boost the amount of good cholesterol in the body while simultaneously banishing the bad kind.

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That’s not the only way in which avocado can help, either. You see, the fruit also contains a wealth of B vitamins that are particularly useful in protecting us from infections and disease. On top of that, it has its fair share of vitamins C and E – which, along with avocado’s natural chemicals, can assist your body in warding off cancer.

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What’s more, a healthy avocado habit can even protect your vision. In particular, the fruit contains antioxidant phytochemicals such as zeaxanthin and lutein that may halt the process of developing cataracts. In that way, regularly eating avocados could be a great defense mechanism – particularly as surgery is the only effective treatment for this eye condition.

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And when speaking to HuffPost in 2018, nutritionist Carol Brown neatly summed up avocado’s many benefits for our bodies. She explained, “Avocados are fantastic for you because they contain over 20 vitamins and minerals – vitamin C, vitamin E, many of the B vitamins… magnesium and potassium. They are also loaded with ‘good fat,’ aka monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs).”

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The immune system isn’t the only part of your body that responds to all these nutrients, either. Because of their high fat and calorie content, avocados may seem like an unhealthy option when compared to other fruits and vegetables. Yet these features, too, have an upside. Namely, avocados have been shown to make you fuller for longer, thus keeping your appetite in check.

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You should also find that your digestion improves if you regularly eat avocados. If you chow down on half an avocado a day, for example, you’ll boost your body’s fiber count by five grams – or 20 percent of your recommended daily intake. Fiber, of course, keeps the digestive process moving, meaning it can loosen up any blockages that have caused constipation.

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An avocado serves up a healthy helping of magnesium, too. And that’s lucky, as this essential mineral can help calm you down. Some experts even refer to magnesium as an anti-stress operative owing to the role it plays in the brain’s functions and deployment of moods.

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And nibbling on an avocado may also help you rest more effectively. Sometimes, you see, low magnesium levels can cause insomnia or, at the very least, interrupted sleep. In order to fix this, then, you may just need to up your avocado intake.

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It turns out, too, that avocados may have even more positive effects. For instance, their monounsaturated fat supply can help ward off the side effects of aging. Of this, Brown has explained, “[Healthy fats are] crucial for every cell in your body. Research shows a diet high in MUFAs may… be protective against cognitive decline as we age.”

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Furthermore, your avocado also contains a quarter of your day’s requirement of vitamin K. Now, this nutrient isn’t one that necessarily gets a lot of attention. Instead, when it comes to bone health, calcium and vitamin D tend to take the spotlight. But vitamin K is crucial, as it can facilitate even more of your body’s calcium absorption – thus helping to strengthen bones over time.

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Additionally, avocados can help you bring lives into the world. That’s thanks to their folate or folic acid, which can play a vital role in healthy pregnancies; the right amount can help reduce a woman’s chance of miscarrying, for one thing. So, make avocados a part of your pre-baby prep – whether you’re trying to get pregnant or you’ve got a little one on the way.

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In fact, adding avocados can also make the rest of your meal much better for you. You see, many nutrients are fat-soluble, meaning you have to ingest them with fat in order for the body to make use of them. And by pouring avocado oil onto a salad, for example, you can absorb more of the good stuff from your veggies.

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You can even slather avocados onto your skin and hair and reap the benefits, as those vitamins and healthy fats can impart your face and locks with a shiny, healthy glow. Simply cover your skin in plain avocado or find a recipe for a healthy mask; either way, you’ll feel brighter afterward.

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But, of course, you can have too much of a good thing. You don’t want to eat multiple avocados a day, for example, as on average they each contain around 30 grams of fat. Indeed, nutritionist Brown told HuffPost that she advises clients to each consume half of the fruit on a daily basis – or one entire avocado at the very most.

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Brown rationalized those numbers, saying, “You can actually overdo even the healthiest of foods. A little variety is key because you require other nutrients that are not found in avocados, like protein and carbs.” So, while you may now be tempted to feast on avocado toast, smoothies and salads all day long, you should definitely still do so in moderation.

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Yet in the grand scheme of things, eating too much avocado isn’t the end of the world. Brown said, “There are worse foods to overdo, of course. But in general, I’d limit your avocado intake to one a day and only have it for one meal.”

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In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that avocados do contain a noteworthy amount of saturated fats that possess links to both stroke and heart disease. Stick to a moderate intake, then, and it hopefully shouldn’t cause any undue complications.

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Plus, if you need a further incentive to eat avocado responsibly, be mindful of the fact that overdoing it can cause an oral allergy syndrome to develop over time. This condition mainly causes your mouth and throat to itch, and while this sensation may not prove dangerous, it can be annoying.

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When speaking to HuffPost in 2018, orthodontist Sue Liebman explained why this minor allergic reaction happens, saying, “Symptoms usually appear directly after contact, although they can pop up an hour or so after ingestion. The reason for it seems to be a cross-reactivity or similarity of the proteins found in latex and in avocados or similar-type fruits that cause such an allergic reaction.”

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Fortunately, you can still eat avocados even with oral allergy syndrome. Simply cook or lightly heat the fruit so that the reaction won’t occur. And with that – and the rest of what you’ve learned about avocados – you’re ready to go. What’s more, when you chomp down on everyone’s favorite “alligator pear,” you’re probably doing yourself good, too.

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