Here’s The Real Impact That Pretzels Have On Your Body

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For a snack on the go, it doesn’t get much more convenient than a pretzel. They can be easily held in the hand and really fill a void when those hunger pangs strike. What’s more, they’re lower in calories and fat than many other grab-and-run bites. But these doughy treats may not be as healthy as you think.

avImage: Lisa FotiosPretzels may all be a similar shape, but they’re not all created equally. For instance, the small, hard variety can be bought in a pack and consumed like chips. They’re a convenient bar or party snack, with a deep and rich malty taste. And while they can be served as sticks, they’re largely identifiable by their knotted shape.

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While the soft version of a pretzel is the same shape, you’re unlikely to consume more than one at a time. You see, they are much larger and more like a meal in themselves. And because of their doughy texture, the snacks are a lot more versatile. Indeed, they can be made with an array of fillings and toppings, and even in sweet varieties.

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Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking of New York as being the birthplace of the pretzel. After all, the snack is ubiquitous to life in the city, with a cart on practically every street corner. The doughy snack, however, first emerged many centuries ago and on a completely different continent.

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The origins of the soft pretzel date back nearly 1,400 years and started in Europe. As an incentive for an Italian monk’s students to knuckle down, he grabbed some surplus dough and fashioned it to look like hands across a chest as if in prayer. Once baked, he named the invention pretiola, a Latin word meaning “little reward.”

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The Italian snack was renamed the more familiar “bretzel” when it migrated to Germany. However, the hard pretzel didn’t emerge until around 1,000 years later and quite by accident. A trainee baker in Pennsylvania fell asleep on the job and overcooked some soft pretzels. But, when his boss tasted one with the intention of embarrassing the student, he ended up loving it.

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Pennsylvania is now the U.S. home of the pretzel. Indeed, Philadelphians consume, on average, a whopping 12 pounds each of the snack annually. That compares to less than two pounds per person for the rest of the country. In total, America consumes at least $550 million worth of the doughy treat each year, with 80 percent of them manufactured in the Quaker state.

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Some manufacturers have also added various twists to their ranges. For example, pretzel specialists Auntie Anne’s have an onion and sour cream version, as well as Parmesan and roasted garlic and a pepperoni variety. The company even has sweet options in its range, with a cinnamon take on the snack, and sweet almond with a caramel dip.

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Perhaps this snack has endured for so many centuries because of its simplicity and basic ingredients. As The Plant Powered Dietician, Sharon Palmer, told Women’s Health magazine in October 2019, “Pretzels are made primarily of refined flour, a little bit of sugar and oil and quite a bit of salt.” And the same recipe applies whether it’s the hard or soft version you’re hankering for.

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Some pretzel makers, though, might also add butter for a bit of flavor. However, most are free from dairy and so can be enjoyed by vegans and the lactose intolerant. Furthermore, while a mixer might take all the effort out of preparation, no special equipment is needed in the method for making the doughy treat.

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You see, all that is needed to create the snack is to combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Once mixed, knead for around eight minutes until soft and smooth. The dough should then be left to rise for around half an hour. Once the pretzels are shaped, the real magic happens when they’re given a bath.

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Prior to baking, each pretzel should be placed in a mixture of baking soda and water for around two minutes. This is what creates their delicious golden-brown hue in the oven. But, not only do they look and taste appetizing, there are several reasons to consider reaching for the doughy teats over some other snacks.

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According to San Francisco news website SFGATE, pretzels contain a small amount of fiber. And while this nutrient is an important player in maintaining digestive health, it also has other benefits. For instance, it helps keep everything moving around the digestive tract, aiding regular bowel movements. It’s also good for the health of colon cells.

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While too much fiber in the diet can cause issues such as constipation and bloating, that’s rarely a concern among Americans. A person’s daily requirement of the nutrient increases as they get older, from half an ounce for infants up to around an ounce for adults. Research showed in 2008, however, that the average U.S. citizen was only consuming half of what they need.

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Furthermore, foods high in fiber can help to sustain a healthy weight once it’s achieved. It’s also important in lowering the chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer. Moreover, the nutrient isn’t the only health benefit that pretzels have to offer, as they also contain other important minerals.

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You see, pretzels contain zinc, iron and folate. Now, a zinc deficiency means an increased chance of contracting illnesses and diseases. But, in contrast, getting the right amount can regulate immune function and help treat colds and ease diarrhea. In addition, the mineral could improve memory and learning, heal wounds and improve health into old age, as well as other functions.

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Iron, meanwhile, is vital to blood health. For instance, if intake of the mineral is too low, a deficiency called anemia may occur. This means the amount of red blood cells in a patient has dropped, leading to fatigue. It’s a condition that affects around five million Americans, roughly half of all those recording low levels of iron.

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The lesser-known folate, however, is a B-vitamin necessary for bone marrow to make white and red blood cells. What’s more, it creates energy from carbohydrate intake, as well as producing our genetic coding. Therefore, the nutrient is most important during growth spurts, for instance in childhood and adolescence, and also during pregnancy.

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Indeed, when it comes to these vitamins and minerals, pretzels are a bit of a powerhouse. Their high levels of iron make them a great pre-workout snack, due to providing fleeting boosts to oxygen stored in the muscles. Just 3.5 ounces of hard pretzels provide two-thirds of the recommended daily intake of the mineral for men and one third for women.

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Moreover, the same sized portion of hard pretzels offers between 20 and 40 percent of the recommended allowance of B vitamins such as thiamin, niacin and riboflavin. And you will get around 70 percent of your suggested daily intake of folate. This is because the snacks are typically made from enriched flour, which provides all this nutritional goodness. But there’s more.

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If you’re looking for a snack that’s low in fat, pretzels are among the best. You see, a portion of the hard variety contains just 0.1 ounces of fat with zero cholesterol. In fact, nearly 90 percent of the fat they contain is unsaturated, so will actually work to lower cholesterol. This compares to tortilla chips with nearly one ounce of fat and potato chips with 1.2 ounces.

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What’s more, the calorie count of pretzels is notably lower than tortilla or potato chips. But it should be noted that the doughy snacks aren’t exactly guilt-free. In fact, they contain around 380 calories per 3.5 ounces. They fare better than tortilla chips, however, at nearly 490, and potato chips at roughly 540. Moreover, there is a nutritional difference between hard and soft pretzels.

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For instance, one serving of hard pretzels is significantly smaller than a medium-sized soft one. And because there’s more of a doughy variety, that means its nutritional composition is also increased. So where a soft pretzel is around three times the size of a serving of hard pretzels, the calorie content for the former is 389, compared to roughly 110 for the latter.

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That size difference also means you’ll get more than three times the B-vitamin content in a soft pretzel compared to one ounce of the hard kind. However, while you’ll receive roughly treble the fiber and protein content, you’ll also be taking on three times the amount of fat. But, perhaps, the ingredients to be most wary of is sodium.

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Now, soft pretzels contain significantly less sodium than a serving of their hard equivalent. Whereas the doughy variety holds around 15 percent of the recommended daily intake of salt, an ounce of hard pretzels has a whopping 23 percent. That’s almost a quarter of the suggested everyday allowance. Both choices, however, make a massive dent in the amount of sodium ingested.

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As Palmer explained to Women’s Health magazine, “Whenever you see a food with actual salt crystals on it, that’s a sign it’s high in sodium.” And where pretzels perform well against other snacks in nutritional value, their sodium content is a major drawback. You see, the doughy snack contains more salt than both popcorn and potato chips.

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Indeed, typically pretzels are sprinkled with coarse salt before they’re baked. Not only does that addition give extra texture to the soft variety, but it also increases the flavor profile. The hard version, too, sometimes contains added sodium to act as a preservative. And, as we all know, salt is delicious.

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However, it can be hard to know when enough salt turns into too much. According to medical website Healthline.com, around a quarter of otherwise healthy people have a sensitivity to sodium. And when their bodies struggle to eliminate excessive amounts of the mineral, high blood pressure can occur. This, in turn, increases the chance of fatal heart failure by around a third.

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Indeed, experts recommend a maximum daily intake of 2,300 milligrams of sodium. However, it can be hard to judge how much one serving of hard pretzels is, and therefore the amount of salt they contain. Believe it or not, a single portion is less than a small handful. So it’s easy to consume a much larger number when you’re peckish.

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The soft pretzel stats mentioned earlier, however, are just for a medium-sized snack. In some circumstances, people consume them in a much larger form. For instance, those bought from vendors at a baseball game can be as large as a person’s face. Which means the increase in salt intake is just as large. And when you start taking on too much sodium, serious health problems can occur.

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As we mentioned earlier, salt can be responsible for hypertension. Between 50 and 70 million Americans experience high blood pressure, which may be improved with a reduced salt intake. Research has shown that blood pressure noticeably drops when the amount of sodium in a diet is lowered. This can be achieved simply by increasing the number of vegetables consumed and avoiding salty foods.

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But how does salt play a part in hypertension? Well, blood pressure rises due to water retention in the body. In turn, this puts increased pressure on the heart. Eating excessive amounts of sodium, then, could cause a stroke or heart failure. Furthermore, there’s a greater risk of other diseases such as kidney disease, stomach cancer and osteoporosis. Around a third of Americans will experience high blood pressure at some point in their lives.

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The bad news about pretzels, though, doesn’t end there. As Palmer explained, “They use refined flour and have a higher glycemic index, meaning the carbohydrates are readily absorbed into the bloodstream.” Which may lead you to experience a rapid increase in energy after consuming them. However, those levels will suddenly drop soon after.

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Because pretzels are made using processed flour, they have been stripped of many nutrients. This means that the body can more easily digest the flour and break it down into sugars. That’s because most of the fiber has been removed, a component that is known to slow the digestion process and slowly release energy instead of spiking it.

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According to Healthline.com, “The Glycemic Index (G.I.) measures how rapidly different foods can increase blood sugar. Glucose, the sugar your body uses for energy, has a G.I. of 100. It has the most rapid effect on your blood sugar. Pretzels have a G.I. of 80, which means they […] can increase your blood sugar very quickly.”

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Eating foods that rank highly on the Glycemic Index is thought to increase the chances of contracting type two diabetes. Looking at this link, researchers observed the diets of more than 64,000 women. They found that those eating foods with a higher G.I. had a 21 percent greater chance of developing the condition than participants eating lower G.I. foods.

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Pretzels are considered to be an “empty calorie” food. Which means, although they are high in calories, their nutritional content is relatively low in comparison. That’s largely due to being made from refined flour. But there are many ways to improve the health benefits of this tasty, dough-based snack.

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If you want to enjoy a tasty pretzel without too much guilt, then, consider a wholewheat option. Or maybe try and find a brand that markets a variety that’s low in sodium. It might even be a good idea to try and make them at home, so that you can regulate how much salt gets added.

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To add nutritional value to a pretzel, consider what you eat it with. Dips and accompaniments should be chosen with care. Although they can be a tasty addition to the snack, some will be have a high salt content, even if it’s barely noticeable on the palate. Furthermore, you’ll also be consuming additional calories.

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For a healthier alternative, Palmer instead recommends pairing pretzels with protein-rich accompaniments to avoid a spike in blood sugar levels. For instance, nut butters, such as cashew, almond or peanut are a delicious side. Hummus is also a healthy alternative. And it’s also a good idea to enjoy the doughy snacks as an occasional treat, rather than an everyday staple.

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And if you’re amazed by the effects that pretzels can have on our health, you might be equally as surprised to learn of the startling consequences that the trusty avocado can have on our bodies. While an apple a day has long been said to keep the doctor away, the fatty green fruit has also had its share of the spotlight when it comes to wellness. Unlike pretzels, though, avocados have taken the culinary world by storm for their many health benefits. But what exactly happens to your body when you eat them on a daily basis?

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It’s fair to say 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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