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Is your avocado habit behind your gut health issues?


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Photo: Stocksy/Stephen Morris
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My avocado love is real. There’s nothing better than biting into a piece of gluten-free toast piled high with the mashed green stuff…or tucking into a bowl of spicy guacamole…or enjoying the salmon-avocado roll from my favorite sushi place. For a long time, if it involved the healthy fat-friendly fruit, I’d eat it.

Until one day, I felt like I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. No matter how clean I ate (adios to grains, dairy, and added sugars) I couldn’t shake my *ahem* digestive problems.

So my doctor recommended I pare down the foods in my diet even further to find the culprit, leaving me avocado-less and a little sad—until I realized it was working. In fact, banishing it (and a bevy of other foods) from my plate left me feeling better than I had in months.

One day, I felt like I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. No matter how clean I ate I couldn’t shake my *ahem* digestive problems.

So what’s the deal? Avocados are supposed to be one of the ultimate health foods, credited with everything from reducing belly fat to revving up your libido. And they keep getting more popular every year—retail sales have steadily increased since 2000, and Americans are filling their carts with $1.6 billion’s worth annually, according to the Hass Avocado Board.

According to Daniel Motola, MD, a gastroenterologist at Gotham Medical Associates in New York City, such enthusiasm could actually be part of the problem. For those who can digest them well, the avo-love is totally justified, but they’re definitely not for everybody.

Confession moment: The irony is, I have not always loved avocados. They were an acquired taste for me, one of those foods I had to teach myself to like. So did my body just suddenly reject this food I had grown to love? Dr. Motola suggests it’s more likely that I’d been ill-equipped to digest it all along, and eventually reached a point where I couldn’t tolerate them anymore. (Note to self: Listen to your body.) 

So if you suspect your avocado intake could be responsible for your digestive issues, you are definitely not alone.

Keep reading for 3 reasons the buzzy health food can sometimes cause gastro distress.

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Photo: StockSnap/Xochi Romero

1. You could be FODMAP-intolerant

This is the category I fall into. FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) are sugars that are are poorly absorbed by the intestine so they end up fermenting—hence your bloating and gut issues.

Avocado contains sorbitol, which is a polyol that is also found in peaches, honey, and sugarless chewing gum. So if you’re sensitive to these sugars like I am, you’re going to have trouble digesting that guac—especially if you’re tempted to polish off a whole tub of it by yourself. Onions, garlic, and apples are other common FODMAP-containing foods—but it’s unlikely you’re going to chomp into a clove of garlic or eat an entire bushel of apples. 

If you’re sensitive to these sugars like I am, you’re going to have trouble digesting that guac.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill to cure your avocado-induced digestive probs. (Though there are OTC medications designed to help mitigate symptoms, Dr. Motola isn’t convinced they are particularly effective). Moral of the story: Limit your portion sizes (1/8 of an avocado is considered low-FODMAP), and maybe consider reserving them for special occasions. Avocado chocolate bar, anyone?

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Photo: Stocksy/Stephen Morris

2. You could have a hypersensitivity

Jessie Lapointe, an NYC-based brand manager, also felt the sting of suddenly developing a negative reaction to avocados. She went from eating whole avocados with a spoon for lunch to getting debilitating cramps one night after a sushi dinner that nearly sent her to the ER.

“A few weeks after that awful evening episode, I grabbed a small avocado to toss in a smoothie, and proceeded to consume its contents at warp speed before work (bold—arguably dumb—move),” Lapointe says. “Moments later, I was projectile vomiting. Lesson learned.”

After meeting with her general practitioner and discussing her (seemingly unrelated) latex allergy, Lapointe was diagnosed with “latex fruit syndrome.”

Approximately 30-50 percent of people who are allergic to natural rubber latex also have a hypersensitivity to avocados.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, approximately 30-50 percent of people who are allergic to natural rubber latex also have a hypersensitivity to certain plant-based foods, including bananas, kiwis, bell peppers, and—you guessed it—avocados.

Hypersensitivities are different from FODMAP intolerances because they do not involve the fermentation process in the gut, but do provoke gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, abdominal cramping, and vomiting.

“Some will say what I have is not actually an allergy, but an intolerance or sensitivity,” Lapointe says. “If I touch avocado, or it’s in beauty products, there is no ill effect. However, even the slightest bit ingested causes gastrointestinal issues.”

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Photo: Unsplash/Caroline Attwood

3. You could be allergic

Hypersensitivities are tricky because they are somewhat of a hybrid, but according to Dr. Motola, the symptoms of simple intolerances and allergies are different enough that it should be fairly easy to tell them apart. An intolerance will provoke digestive problems (think: constipation, diarrhea, bloating, etc.) that might not manifest for several hours, while an allergic reaction triggers more immediate symptoms such as flushing, hives, or swelling of the lips and throat.

“Allergy is completely separate from intolerance,” Dr. Motola says. “Allergies invoke the immune system. Digestive intolerances have nothing to do with that.”

Dr. Motola strongly recommends seeing a doctor if you notice chronic bloating or diarrhea after eating because it could be a sign of a more serious issue—such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease—especially if your symptoms persist after decreasing your avocado intake. 

And if you’re like me and you end up limiting (or completely cutting out) your intake of the creamy, decadent fruit, you don’t have to disavow your avo-love altogether. Thanks to go-green-themed swimsuits, iPhone cases, and even duvet covers, you never really have to go cold turkey.

You can try the low-FODMAP life with these bloat-busting recipes you can make in 15 minutes. And to keep your metabolism in top shape, here are the four foods a gut doctor would never eat.