The Not So Perfect Avocado from Someone Who Can’t Eat Them
Where I live in Hawaii, it’s avocado heaven. A walk down almost any street in season yields avocados lying in the road, avocados dripping from overhead branches, avocados strewn all over suburban lawns. Neighbors bring bundles to give away to other neighbors who already have too many stacked on the counter; the farmer’s market sports stand after stand overflowing with the dark green fruits while roadside vendors hawk yet more.
But for those of us allergic to avocado, the abundance is irrelevant. For me, avocado is anathema. The fruit gives me extreme intestinal distress to the point where I writhe on the floor if I merely touch the flesh, a fact I discovered when I got a tiny bit under my fingernail making salad. My friends consider it a tragedy, almost akin to being terminal, unthinkable. After all, they tell me, avocados not only are delicious, but so healthy, so essential, so Hawaiian.
But no more pity. I have to confess the smug satisfaction I experienced this morning when the news delivered an avocado story that wasn’t all gung-ho, “avocados will save the world” in tone. It turns out, in fact, that avocados send people to the hospital with some regularity. Apparently, trouble arises when enthusiasts attempt to slice the fruit, but chop into their hands instead.1 And these aren’t little nicks and scrapes the news was referring to. Rather, the injuries can include severed tendons, damaged nerves, and even loss of use of the hand.
Of course, such injuries can arise cutting anything, but there’s something particular about avocados that makes accidents more common. In fact, this type of injury happens so often that a hospital in London uses the term “avocado hand” to describe it.
The problem is that avocados are soft and mushy, so people assume they’ll be easy to cut. They get careless, cutting toward themselves or toward their hand as they hold the fruit.2 Sometimes, they try to pry the hard pit out with the tip of a knife, and the knife jumps and slices into flesh. Or people slap the broad edge of the knife down on the pit in an attempt to cause the knife to grab onto the pit so that it can be twisted and lifted out. But this too can cause injury if the blade skips of the pit and down onto the hand. In fact, the proper way to open and slice an avocado is actually, very, very different and allows for the removal of the pit—merely by squeezing the avocado.
According to news sources, plastic surgeon Samuel Eccles, with the Royal Medicine Society in London, claims that he alone handles four avocado-hand cases each week. In fact, he says, the problem is so widespread and persistent that he’d like to see warning labels affixed to the skin.
"We don't want to put people off the fruit, but I think warning labels are an effective way of dealing with this. It needs to be recognizable. Perhaps we could have a cartoon picture of an avocado with a knife, and a big red cross going through it?" he says.
Maybe you’re thinking you’ll be more careful making your salad; you’ll get a special avocado tool; you’ll use a spoon and not a knife to remove the pit. You sure don’t intend to cut back on your avocado intake just because some clumsy idiots (Meryl Streep among them) got injured when slicing.3 After all, avocados are nutritional powerhouses containing 20 vitamins and minerals as well as plenty of fiber and a range of health-promoting phytochemicals. They’ve been celebrated as being healthy for the heart, the eyes, the brain, for protecting against cancer, alleviating depression, and even for preventing birth defects.4
But that’s beside the point for those of us who can’t eat or touch avocado. There are some little known problems avocados bring beside the danger of hurting hands. First, there are the avocado allergies, and there are two types.4 One type of avocado allergy affects about half of those people allergic to latex and is especially pronounced when the avocado isn’t organic.5 That’s because conventional avocados may be ripened with the aid of ethylene gas, which brings out the latex-like chemicals in the fruit. Symptoms tend to be gastrointestinal—severe cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea—but can also include respiratory symptoms and hives. This form of allergy may also manifest in reaction to mangoes, bananas, kiwis, melons, and/or chestnuts.
The other type of allergy is oral, causing itching and swelling in the mouth and face, and sometimes difficulty swallowing. There are no associated gastrointestinal symptoms, and the reaction usually isn't severe. This type of allergy is associated with pollen allergy, and particularly, to birch pollen.
Then, there’s the fact that avocados reduce milk production in nursing mothers and can damage mammary glands.6 Plus, when mother’s consume avocados, it can cause nursing infants gastrointestinal problems. And avocados are caloric nightmares, with up to 320 calories in a single fruit, plus 30 grams of fat.7 Sure, it’s the healthier fat, and studies have shown that a diet rich in monounsaturated fat such as found in avocados may actually prevent body fat distribution around the belly by down regulating the expression of certain fat genes,8 but still.
And finally, avocados cause huge environmental problems. They’re water hogs, meaning growing them consumes about seven times more water per pound than growing tomatoes or oranges, and about 14 times as much water as lettuce.9 To yield a pound of avocados, you need 74 gallons of water. Where there’s been drought, as in California, avocado cultivation has been a problem. Meanwhile, in Mexico, avocado cultivation has led to widespread deforestation, which is resulting in declining populations of monarch butterflies, decreased water flow in mountain streams, and increased human exposure to cultivation chemicals.10
I hate to pick on a humble fruit, especially one with such an overwhelming resume of health benefits, but if like me you can’t handle avocado, perhaps you’ll find solace in knowing even the beautiful green wonder-fruit isn’t perfect.
- 1. Mezzofiore, Gianlucca. “Avocado Hand is Real and Can Turn Your Dream Brunch into an ER Nightmare.” 11 May 2017. Mashable. 11 May 2017. https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/05/11/avocado-hand-is-real-and-can-turn-your-dream-brunch-into-an-er/22081597/
- 2. “Avocado Safety.” Grabow Hand to Shoulder Center. 12 May 2017. http://www.doctorgrabow.com/index.aspx/Patient_Education/Injury_Preve
- 3. Cooper, Gael Fashingbauer. “Avocado Hand is the Most Mockable Injury on the Internet.” 12 May 2017. C/Net. 12 May 2017. https://www.cnet.com/news/avocado-hand-jokes-memes-times-of-london-twitter/
- 4. a. b. Ware, Megan, RDN. “Avocados: Health benefits and nutritional information.” 17 February 2016. Medical News Today. 12 May 2017. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270406.php
- 5. Kaye, Carolyn. “Avocado Allergy Symptoms.” 2 May 2017. Heal Dove. 14 May 2017. https://healdove.com/disease-illness/Avocado-Allergy-Symptoms
- 6. Renu M. “Eleven Serious Side Effects of Avocados.” 27 April 2017. Style Craze. 14 May 2017. http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/serious-side-effects-of-avocados/#gref
- 7. Coleman, Erin, RD. “Risks of Eating Too Much Avocado.” 21 October 2013. Livestrong. 14 May 2017. http://www.livestrong.com/article/545101-risks-of-too-much-avocado/
- 8. J.A. PANIAGUA, A. GALLEGO DE LA SACRISTANA, I. ROMERO, et al. "Monounsaturated Fat–Rich Diet Prevents Central Body Fat Distribution and Decreases Postprandial Adiponectin Expression Induced by a Carbohydrate Rich Diet in Insulin-Resistant Subjects." DIABETES CARE, VOLUME 30, NUMBER 7, JULY 2007. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/diacare/30/7/1717.full.pdf
- 9. Donovan, Laura. “Why You Should Think Twice Before Eating Avocados.” 3 April 2015. Attn: 14 May 2017. https://www.attn.com/stories/1493/avocados-california-drought
- 10. “Your avocado obsession is Mexico’s deforestation problem.” 10 August 2016. New York Post. 14 May 2017. http://nypost.com/2016/08/10/your-avocado-obsession-is-Mexicos-deforestation-problem/