By Cassie Shortsleeve 
August 22, 2018

Guacamole has a solid reputation as a crowdpleaser, for sports fans and health nuts alike. Even the Aztecs indulged in ahuaca-mulli, or avocado sauce. But is guacamole good for you? Here’s what the experts say.

What’s in guacamole?

Guacamole’s main ingredient is avocado, a creamy green fruit full of heart-healthy, easy-to-digest monounsaturated fats. It’s typically mixed with salt and lime juice. Some recipes also call for onion, cilantro, tomato, garlic and spices like cayenne pepper or cumin. “It’s easy to spice up your guacamole by adding in jalapeños, chili peppers and hot sauce, too,” says Jordan Badger, a registered dietitian at Boston University’s Sargent Choice Nutrition Center. “If you crave a sweeter flavor profile, you can add fruits such as diced pineapples, dates and grilled figs.”

What are the health benefits of guacamole?

Guacamole serves up an array of health benefits, and most are due to the avocado itself: specifically its monounsaturated fats. “These are healthy fats that play an important role in the structure and function of our brain and other cell membranes throughout the body,” says Badger.

Because of their fats, avocados also help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and make people feel full and satisfied, Badger says. (The fiber also helps; a serving of guacamole has about 2 grams of fiber per serving.) Eat avocados alongside carbohydrate-rich foods, she adds, and the healthy fats will help control your body’s glycemic response, which is how foods affect blood sugar levels.

Avocados also contain about 20 different vitamins and minerals, and the fruit is a good source of folate, a B-vitamin crucial for cell and DNA health, and vitamin K, which is key for bone, heart and brain health.

Guacamole is typically lower in calories than other dips, like those using ranch or sour cream, says Dana Hunnes, an adjunct assistant professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health and a registered dietitian. It’s also made of natural, whole foods, which come with their own health-promoting benefits (like fiber from the added vegetables).

Any dish that contains minimally-processed plant foods, instead of refined grains and starches, added sugars, highly-processed ingredients and trans fats, promotes better nutrition and health, says Ryan Andrews, a registered dietitian and author of A Guide to Plant-Based Eating — and guacamole certainly fits the bill.

How much guacamole should you eat?

The standard serving size for guacamole is about two tablespoons, which contains 45 calories. But even though the serving size is small, guacamole has an advantage over sour cream and mayo-based dips: it’s a bit harder to overeat, since it contains more filling fiber.

In general, despite the reports of over-the-top avocado consumption, you probably don’t have to worry much about eating more than you should — even if you over-dip every once in a while. “While we continue to eat more avocados than we did 30 years ago, we’re only consuming about seven pounds of them per person, per year,” says Andrews. Compared to how much meat and fish Americans eat each year (181 pounds per person, according to the United States Department of Agriculture) or added sugar (131 pounds per person) that amount is relatively small. “It’s possible to overdo any food, but non-communicable disease rates likely aren’t skyrocketing in North America because we’re all eating too many avocados,” Andrews says.

How do you make guacamole in the healthiest way?

If you’re making your own guacamole, skip the unhealthier add-ins like mayo and add beans or your favorite vegetables, like red and green peppers. Guacamole is great on its own as a snack (dip in carrots or peppers instead of salty tortilla chips), or use it as a spread on a whole-grain sandwich or lettuce wrap in place of Italian dressing, ranch or mayo. “It also tastes great atop a hearty salad,” says Badger.

Homemade guacamole is usually the healthiest type, since you control the ingredients. For packaged options, try to pick a product with the simplest ingredient list. Some store-bought guacamole brands have added sugar, artificial flavorings or large amounts of sodium, so compare labels before you buy — a good tip for any packaged food.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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