Eating nearly one-third a cup of almonds a day — either alone or combined with almost one-quarter cup of dark chocolate and 2 1/3 tablespoons of cocoa a day — may reduce a risk factor for coronary heart disease, according to a new study.
The study, published Wednesday in the , found that combining raw almonds, dark chocolate and cocoa significantly reduced the number of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, particles in the blood of overweight and obese people. LDL is often called “bad cholesterol” because of the role it plays in clogging arteries.
As was the case in past studies, the key lies in how much you eat, said the study’s lead author Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., a Penn State University distinguished professor of nutrition.
“It’s important to put this into context: The message is not that people should go out and eat a lot of chocolate and almonds to lower their LDL,” she said. “People are allowed to have about 270 discretionary calories a day, and when foods like almonds, dark chocolate and cocoa are consumed together as a discretionary food, they confer health benefits unlike other discretionary foods such as frosted donuts.”
Past studies have shown health benefits from eating moderate amounts of almonds, dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa. The new study sought to see whether combining those three foods had a positive effect on the heart health of overweight and obese individuals.
Researchers studied 31 participants ages 30 to 70. For one month, participants didn’t eat any of the foods in the study. In the next one-month period, participants ate 42.5 grams of almonds a day; in the third period, they ate 43 grams of dark chocolate combined with 18 grams of cocoa powder; in a fourth period, they ate all three foods.
The study showed almonds eaten alone lowered LDL cholesterol by 7 percent compared with the period when participants didn’t eat any of the study foods. Combining almonds with dark chocolate and cocoa also reduced small, dense LDL particles that are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, Kris-Etherton said.
Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., Gershoff professor at Tufts University and director of the school’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, said it’s important to note that participants ate the almonds in place of dairy fat as part of a healthy diet.
“This was a very well controlled study that demonstrated replacing saturated fat coming from dairy fat (butter and cheese) with unsaturated fat coming from nuts (almonds) had a positive effect on plasma lipid concentrations,” said Lichtenstein, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Kris-Etherton agreed that when it comes to fats, almonds are a much better choice than butter and cheese.
“That’s clearly an important message here,” she said. “Almonds can be part of a healthy diet.”
Eating dark chocolate and cocoa alone didn’t appear to have a major effect on heart health, she said. “Chocolate doesn’t increase cholesterol levels, but it doesn’t decrease cholesterol levels either.”
Still, cocoa — a major ingredient in chocolate — may prove to be the next frontier in health research, according to Kris-Etherton. A 2014 study published in showed eating cocoa flavanols was associated with reduced age-related cognitive dysfunction. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston are 18,000 American men and women to see if daily supplements of cocoa flavanols reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
“Cocoa is a plant food with a lot of bioactive components,” Kris-Etherton said. “There might be benefits we don’t even know about … and it’s delicious even without sugar. I would love to see healthy ways to eat cocoa becoming mainstream.”
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- Cocoa And Dark Chocolate Show Positive Effects On Ldls – But Don’t Shun Veggies
- 8 Foods That Help Lower Your Cholesterol
- Dark Chocolate Combats Unhealthy Cholesterol
Cocoa And Dark Chocolate Show Positive Effects On Ldls – But Don’t Shun Veggies
Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, Penn State distinguished professor of nutrition and leader of the study, says, “Cocoa and chocolate are ‘fun foods’ and I think these results show that they can contribute to a healthy diet – especially if they are used in forms that don’t include large amounts of fat and sugar. However, cocoa and chocolate shouldn’t be considered significant sources of flavonoids in the same category with fruits and vegetables which also have fiber, vitamins and minerals.”
The current study was the first to evaluate and compare LDL (low density lipoprotein) susceptibility to oxidation when the test subjects, 23 men and women, ate an average American diet purposely made low in flavonoids and a diet that contained about one and a quarter oz (38 grams) of cocoa powder and dark chocolate which are rich flavonoid sources. Oxidation of LDLs is thought to play an important role in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Increasing LDL’s resistance to oxidation is thought to possibly delay the progression of the disease. Flavonoids, which are present in a wide variety of plants, have long been known to inhibit LDL oxidation.
The study is detailed in a paper, “Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentration in humans” published in the current (November) issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Kris-Etherton’s co-authors are Ying Wan, who earned her M.S. in nutrition at Penn State; Joe Vinson, a faculty member at the University of Scranton; Dr. Terry D. Etherton, distinguished professor and head of the dairy and animal science department; John Proch, a technician at the University of Scranton; and Sheryl A. Lazarus, scientist in the Analytical and Applied Science Group, Mars Inc. The study was supported by the American Cocoa Research Institute.
In the study, 10 men and 13 women, ages 21 to 62, ate one of two experimental diets, either an average American diet altered to be low in flavonoids or a diet containing about three quarters of an ounce (22 grams) of cocoa powder and a half ounce (16 grams of dark chocolate) for four weeks. After a two-week break in which the participants ate their habitual diet, they switched for another four weeks to the experimental diet they hadn’t consumed during the first four-week period.
Both experimental diets contained the same amount of caffeine and theobromine, which are stimulants found in chocolate and cocoa. Cocoa butter was used in baked goods in the average American diet to match the amount of cocoa butter in the dark chocolate.
The cocoa and dark chocolate were incorporated into the experimental diet in milk or pudding snacks or baked into cookies or brownies and eaten throughout the day by the subjects.
The subjects had blood drawn at the end of each diet period. The LDL was extracted from each blood sample and then subjected to oxidation in the laboratory. The researchers noted the amount of time it took for oxidation to begin, the rate at which oxidation proceeded and the amount of oxidized fatty acid produced.
When the subjects ate the cocoa and chocolate containing diet, oxidation occurred about 8 percent slower compared to when they ate the experimental average American diet. Analysis of their blood plasma also showed that total antioxidant capacity was four percent greater after the cocoa and chocolate containing diet. HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) was four percent higher after the chocolate diet than after the average American diet.
The paper notes “The incorporation of dark chocolate and cocoa powder into the diet is one means of effectively increasing antioxidant intake. Furthermore, the inclusion of dark chocolate and cocoa powder in a diet that is rich in other food sources of antioxidants, such as fruit, vegetables, tea and wine, results in a high antioxidant intake and may consequently reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.” Kris-Etherton adds, “An important caveat is that chocolate be incorporated sensibly and prudently in a healthy diet that emphasizes the intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, skim milk, reduced-fat dairy products, fatty fish and lean meats, fish and poultry. A balanced dietary approach that includes a wide variety of foods in the diet is preferred to total exclusion of certain foods. Nonetheless, we would be remiss in endorsing unlimited quantities of chocolate.”
8 Foods That Help Lower Your Cholesterol
My patients often ask me if there are any foods that can help with reducing high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This is the so-called “bad” cholesterol that can cause plaque to form in your coronary artery walls, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. My answer is a qualified “yes,” since high LDL can be the result of many factors, including poor genes, obesity, and lack of exercise. For this reason, not everyone will react to dietary changes the same way, and optimal LDL levels are different for every individual.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that your body uses to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest food. At normal levels, it’s essential for health, but if the concentration in the blood becomes too high, LDL, the so-called “bad” cholesterol can build up in your arteries forming plaques that put you at risk for cardiovascular disease, including chest pain (angina), heart attack, and stroke.
If these plaques rupture or tear, a blood clot can form at the site — blocking blood flow. Sometimes, a clot breaks free, moving from the affected artery to smaller blood vessels. A heart attack can result if the clot blocks blood flow to part of your heart. Similarly, a stroke can occur when a clot subsequently blocks blood to part of your brain. People with high levels of LDL are also at risk for developing peripheral artery disease (PAD), an often undiagnosed condition in which plaque gradually forms inside the walls of the arteries that carry blood to the head, stomach, arms, and legs. Persons with PAD are at increased risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke, or even gangrene and amputation.
Frequently, too much LDL is the result of a diet rich in saturated fats (usually from animal foods such as beef, butter, lard, and whole-milk dairy products) and trans fats (found in processed and fast foods). Eliminating these foods from your diet is a good first step in improving your LDL. Then try adding some or all of the following LDL-lowering foods every day. If you’re already on a statin, dietary changes may help you reduce your dosage, but never reduce or stop taking a statin drug (or any other heart drug) without first consulting your doctor.
Additional reporting by Barbara Kean
Adding seeds to your diet can be an easy way to shore up defenses against heart risks without adding too much work to meal prep.
Many types of seeds can be valuable as part of a healthy diet – commonly added as a snack or add-on to salads or desserts – because they are rich in nutrients. You also can find seeds baked into breads or crackers, or even in some fruits and vegetables.
Flaxseed and chia seeds, in particular, have been linked to good heart health because their nutrients pack a powerful punch.
“Flaxseeds or chia seeds offer good sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which are unsaturated fatty acids that convert to omega-3 fatty acids typically found in fish,” said Linda Van Horn, a registered dietitian and professor in the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. “But they also offer a good plant-based supply of plant-based proteins, fiber, minerals and other nutrients.”
Specifically, flaxseeds contain lignans, a natural chemical compound that along with fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats can help reduce blood cholesterol and may also help lower blood pressure. Some studies suggest lignans may have the potential to reduce tumor growth in women with breast cancer and may protect against prostate cancer.
Chia seeds, which contain many of the same nutrients found in flaxseeds, can help lower the blood sugar response to eating. Chia seeds also may serve as an appetite suppressant because of their high fiber content.
Other seeds such as hemp, sunflower, pumpkin or sesame seeds are highly nutritious as well. Federal dietary guidelines include seeds and nuts as a good source of protein and part of a healthy diet. When incorporating them into meals, it’s important to choose seeds that are prepared in a healthy manner, Van Horn said.
“There are no ‘wrong’ seeds, just unhealthy packaging, including added salt, sugar or fat,” she said. “Better to use seeds in a natural or toasted state, like nuts, or blended into baked goods, cereal or mashed as a paste, like tahini from sesame seeds.”
Because they are easy to eat by the handful, Van Horn said, it’s wise to introduce them to your diet carefully.
“Seeds are high in fiber and require lots of fluid to fully digest them properly,” she said. “Problems with constipation or diarrhea can occur if too much is consumed too fast without fluid.”
Additionally, research shows chia seeds swell in size when exposed to too much water, so moderation is important.
“Also, it is easy to overeat seeds and experience weight gain if not careful in factoring in these calories,” Van Horn said.
A 1-ounce serving of whole flaxseed contains 150 calories, 7.6 grams of fiber and 6.4 grams of omega-3 fats. A similar-sized serving of chia seeds contains 137 calories, 10.6 grams of fiber and 4.9 grams of omega-3 fats.
Because of their size, seeds could be harmful among people who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel disease or diverticulitis, Van Horn said.
“Problems occur when particles get trapped in certain folds or ‘outpouches’ within the intestinal track that can become irritated and inflamed as a result of these conditions. Better to check with your doctor if you suffer from any of these conditions,” she said.
“Most such patients have been advised to avoid any foods with seeds, including strawberries, blueberries or sesame seeds or other small particles of this size.”
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If you had a Chia Pet as a kid, eating chia seeds might not seem like the most appealing idea. However, chia seeds are a nutritional powerhouse as well as a tasty addition to your meal.
Chia seeds are versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. They make a good thickener for smoothies or pudding and add a nice crunch to muffins. You can even sneak them into fruit squeezes for your kids. However you want to use them, chia seeds can be a great healthy addition to your diet. Here are five reasons you should start eating chia seeds.
They’re an excellent source omega-3 fatty acids
Chia seeds are a good source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have a wide range of health benefits, including reducing inflammation and improving your cardiovascular health. This essential nutrient can be found in oily fish, but if ocean creatures aren’t your favorite food, you can find omega-3 fatty acids in plants as well. Chia seeds are a good way to get this nutrient in your diet.
Maria Enriquze, dietary manager at Holladay Healthcare Center, said omega-3s are an essential nutrient that should be part of every healthy diet. “These healthy fats can help improve cardiovascular health and could help prevent a stroke,” she says. “Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3s and can be used in a variety of dishes.”
Chia seeds are high in fiber
Chia seeds are rich in soluble fiber. One serving of chia contains about one-third of the daily recommendation for fiber. Getting the recommended amount of fiber can help you avoid constipation. It can also help you with your diet plans, as fiber helps you stay full longer. Adding some chia to your lunch could help you to avoid heading to the refrigerator for an afternoon snack.
They have loads of vitamins and minerals
One tablespoon of chia seeds contains almost 10 percent of your daily requirement for calcium, iron, and magnesium. Getting enough calcium will help keep your bones strong, while magnesium is good for your bones, muscles, and heart. Iron is an essential nutrient that is used to make a part of red blood cells called hemoglobin.
Chia seeds are packed with protein
Protein is an essential part of a person’s diet and helps the body to function well. However, wolfing down a large steak every day may not be the best way to get it. Meat is an excellent source for protein, but some meats can also be high in unhealthy fats.
Chia seeds are a great way to get protein without the extra fat. A single tablespoon contains about two grams of protein. They are also a complete protein, which means the seeds contain the nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make itself.
They may lower your cholesterol
Some studies have shown that chia seeds may be able to help lower the LDL cholesterol that is bad for your body. Research indicates that the fiber in chia seeds, and the way it is digested in the body, could be a key to lowering LDL and total cholesterol.
Chia seeds have become one of the latest health crazes, and it is easy to see why. Although more research is needed to determine the full health benefits chia seeds can offer, throwing them in a smoothie or muffins could help keep your body chugging happily along. It’s a simple addition with huge benefits, so why not make the change?
Amy Osmond Cook is the host of Good Day Orange County and the founder of the Association of Skilled Nursing Providers. She is a healthcare consultant and VP of marketing at Simplus, a Platinum Salesforce partner.
Dark Chocolate Combats Unhealthy Cholesterol
The news just keeps getting sweeter for chocolate lovers. A new review of 10 previous studies of chocolate consumption and cholesterol reports that the cocoa found in dark chocolate is linked to significant reductions in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
This is the second such meta-analysis to find a link between cocoa consumption and cholesterol improvements, notes Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, director of Tufts HNRCA Antioxidants Research Laboratory. A similar review published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition included eight trials totaling 215 participants; it found that cocoa consumption significantly LDL cholesterol, by an average of 5.87 mg/dL.
In the new meta-analysis, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Luc Djoussé, MD, DSc, and colleagues from Brigham and Womens Hospital and Harvard Medical School combined studies totaling 320 participants. Half the trials tested more than 500 milligrams daily of the flavanols that seem to give cocoa its healthy effects and half less than 500 milligrams. Overall, consumption of dark chocolate was linked to average reductions of 6.23 mg/dL in total cholesterol and 5.9 mg/dL in LDL. There was no apparent effect on healthy HDL cholesterol or triglycerides. Eating dark chocolate seemed more beneficial than drinking cocoa-containing beverages.
Researchers noted that the cholesterol benefits were observed despite the saturated fat and calories contained in chocolate along with those healthy flavanols. The flavanols in dark chocolate, they added, are thought to inhibit cholesterol absorption as well as the bodys receptors for LDL cholesterol.
It may also be that the saturated fat in chocolate is different from that implicated in boosting unhealthy cholesterol. Stearic acid makes up 33% of the total fat in cocoa butter and more than half the saturated fat. Says Blumberg, Some lipid experts (and chocolate manufacturers) note that stearic acid is a neutral saturated fat as it does not appear to increase LDL.
The new meta-analysis, Blumberg adds, confirms earlier reports that dark chocolate/cocoa does not induce untoward lipid profiles and can even lower slightly LDL and total cholesterol as determined in randomized clinical trials. But note well that all these trials were essentially short-term in duration and some used quite high doses.
Do these meta-analyses mean chocoholics can indulge without guilt? Blumberg says, The findings suggest that this indulgent treat can reasonably be included in a heart-healthy dietin small amounts that do not increase body weight.