Turns out you might have a great excuse to dip into that bowl of guacamole at dinner.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that overweight and obese people who ate one avocado a day had lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol than those who followed similar diets but without the avocado.

Despite being high in calories, avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), “good” fats that have long been known to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

For the study, researchers rotated people through three healthy diets designed to help lower cholesterol: a lower fat diet (compared to the standard American diet), a moderate-fat diet rich in unsaturated fat from sunflower and canola oils, and a moderate-fat diet that included an avocado a day. The moderate fat diets provided 34 percent of calories as fat (17 percent of calories from MUFAs). The lower fat diet provided 24 percent of calories as fat (11 percent from MUFAs).

People on all of the diets dropped their LDL cholesterol, but those on the avocado diet lowered it the most — by 13.5 mg/dL. Other improvements were seen in total cholesterol and the blood fats known as triglycerides.

Avocados may offer more in the way of heart protection than just good fats. The study researchers think other ingredients may have played a role in the results, though they can’t say which, according to Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, one of the authors. Possible contenders include plant sterols, which lower cholesterol, and potassium. One avocado contains two to three times as much potassium as a banana. Diets that are high in potassium can help lower blood pressure.

Apart from eating guacamole, there are plenty of other delicious ways to get this funny-looking fruit into your diet. These ideas may inspire you.

1. Toss it in a salad. For breakfast, try pairing sliced avocado with orange segments and top with a cilantro-lime dressing. At lunch, add avocado (and maybe a squirt of lime juice) to a green salad. Or replace the greens with beans as in this mango, avocado and black bean salad from the American Heart Association. 

2. Have an ALT. That is, of course, a bacon, lettuce and tomato salad, with avocado in place of bacon. Or add avocado slices to just about any sandwich instead of cheese or mayo.

3. Reinvent your pasta. There’s no need for sugar-laden tomato sauce when you have the option of using creamy avocado for a topping. Make your pasta, puree the avocado, throw in some basil and a few other fresh ingredients and you have this creamy avocado pasta, from the food blog Damn Delicious.

4. Substitute in your baked goods. With a similar texture and virtually none of the saturated fat, why use butter when you can use avocado? Try using in place of some or all of the butter or shortening in your next baking endeavor. Don’t worry about your muffins or brownies tasting like avocado. For light colored batter or dough you might notice a change in tint.

5. Make it kid-friendly. This white bean and avocado wrap from the American Heart Association is something even kids will love, and bonus: They can make it themselves!

Before you try out these recipes, check out this video on how to cut an avocado.

And take care that you don’t add avocados to your diet without subtracting other sources of calories. “They should be substituted for food sources of saturated fatty acids and solid fats and added sugars,” says Kris-Etherton. “The number one source of calories in the U.S. diet is grain-based desserts,” she notes. “That would be a good place to start to cut calories so that avocados could be incorporated into the diet.”

Confused about which are “bad” fats and which are “good”? This infographic from the American Heart Association explains.

avocado infographic 

Sydney is a self-proclaimed social media addict and a recent grad of the University of Georgia with a B.A. in Journalism. She spent two summers in New York interning with Cosmopolitan.com and iVillage, where one of her articles garnered the most traffic on the site. In her free time, when she’s not pinning DIY projects or fostering golden retrievers, she looks forward to Christmas so she can add to her 25 days of baking blog. Her favorite safety tip: Don’t text and drive — no text is worth it!