Dark chocolate and almonds may protect heart health in obese people

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Scientists from Penn State University found that eating nearly almonds every day—either alone or combined with dark chocolate and cocoa—may reduce the risk for coronary heart disease.

Damage or disease in the heart’s major blood vessels. The usual cause is the build-up of plaque. This causes coronary arteries to narrow, limiting blood flow to the heart.

Coronary artery disease can range from no symptoms to chest pain, to a heart attack. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medication, angioplasty, and surgery.

Cocoa powder contains polyphenols and antioxidants that help to improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Cocoa powder is rich in theobromine, which helps to reduce inflammation and can protect you from diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Dark chocolate is packed full of important minerals, including iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and phosphorus.

These minerals can support immunity (zinc), can help keep bones and teeth healthy (phosphorus), and contribute to better sleep quality (magnesium).

Previous research has found eating almonds or dark chocolate and cocoa may reduce markers of coronary heart disease.

In the study, researchers aimed to examine the individual and combined effects of eating dark chocolate and cocoa, and almonds on the risk of coronary heart disease.

They examined 31 overweight and obese people aged 30 to 70 years. Participants ate each of four weight maintenance diets:

The first was an average American diet, the second included 42.5 g/d of almonds and was called the almond diet, the third diet included 18 g/d of cocoa powder and 43 g/d of dark chocolate and was called the chocolate diet, and the fourth diet included all three foods.

Each diet period was 4 weeks long, followed by a 2‐week break.

The team found that compared with people on the average American diet, people on the other three diets had total cholesterol, non–high‐density lipoprotein cholesterol, and low‐density lipoprotein cholesterol.

High‐density lipoprotein cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Low‐density lipoprotein cholesterol, sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, makes up most of the body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise the risk of heart disease and stroke.

“Bad” cholesterol consists of several subclasses of particles with different sizes and densities, including large buoyant and intermediate and small dense LDLs.

The team also found the chocolate plus almond diet decreased apolipoprotein B by 5% compared with the average American diet. Apolipoprotein B is a protein that helps carry fat and cholesterol through the body.

For low‐density lipoprotein subclasses, compared with the average American diet, the almond diet showed a greater reduction in large buoyant low‐density lipoprotein particles.

The chocolate plus almond diet had a greater decrease in small dense low‐density lipoprotein particles.

Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that eating almonds alone or combined with dark chocolate could help improve blood cholesterol.

Adding almonds, dark chocolate, and cocoa into a typical American diet without exceeding energy needs may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

The research is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association and was conducted by Penny Kris-Etherton et al.

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