It’s certainly no secret that we’re eating more avocados. Guacamole, avocado egg boats, grain bowls topped with avocado. Avocado toast has become so ubiquitous in certain parts of the country that it’s become a meme making fun of hipsters and millennials. In fact, according to USDA figures, Americans ate about 1.5 pounds of avocados per person per year in 1995. By 2015, that figure had gone up nearly 400 percent, to 7.1 pounds per person a year.
There are definitely great reasons to eat more avocados: the constellation of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals in them can help stave off metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Avocados can also improve your cholesterol profile, thus reducing cardiovascular risk. Rich, fatty avocados make a great substitute for butter or mayonnaise.
Not to mention, avocados taste great!
But our hunger for the tasty fruits is not without its downside. The increased demand both in the U.S. and around the world is leading to deforestation in Central America, as forests are cleared to make way for avocado production. In addition, shipping avocados from outside the U.S. uses fossil fuels at a time when we should be trying to keep crude oil out of our food chain.
But there are ways to make our appetite for avocados more sustainable. Here are four of them:
1. Keep it in season: As with all produce, eating seasonally can help reduce a food’s environmental footprint. California Hass avocados are in season in the spring and summer—their peak is July.
2. Broaden your palate: Sure, Hass avocados are consistently delicious and pretty much ubiquitous, but they aren’t the only avocado on the tree. There are scores of other varieties to search out. Look for unusual Florida varieties or California varieties. Eating varieties like the Bacon, Pinkerton, Reed, or Fuerte can help you enjoy domestic avocados all year long. You may have to explore specialty produce stores to find the different varieties (and/or pester your local supermarket’s produce manager to carry them). There is another important benefit to diversifying our demand: when we concentrate on only one variety of any crop, it leaves that food vulnerable to destruction by disease or pests.
3. Stretch your avocado: We refuse to weigh in on the whole peas-in-guacamole controversy, but finely chopping a few florets of broccoli or cauliflower (raw, steamed, or roasted, depending on desired texture) to add to an avocado dip can help stretch your guac as well as add fiber and nutrients.
4. Don’t throw your avocados away: Be mindful of ripeness and consumption. If you live alone and buy four huge but unripe avocados, and they all reach their peak at the same time, you’re at risk of discarding the precious fruit. Ripen avocados on the counter (slower) or in a paper bag with a banana (faster). Use when they yield to gentle pressure. You can refrigerate ripe avocados for about three days.
In terms of both flavor and health, avocados are one of nature’s perfect foods. But, as beer producers say about their product, let’s enjoy them responsibly.
Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine.