12 January - 20 June 2016

Consumption of almonds combined with chocolate and cocoa may lower cholesterol

A small study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has indicated that consumption of almonds and chocolate may lower cholesterol in overweight and obese people.

A small study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has indicated that consumption of almonds and chocolate may lower cholesterol in overweight and obese people.  Previous research has found nuts and chocolate consumed separately to be linked to lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.  Almonds, are high in unsaturated fatty acids and an “excellent source” of α-tocopherol, as well as fibre and phytosterols. The health benefits of dark chocolate have been linked to them containing flavonoids. 

The author of this current study, Lee et al., recruited 31 overweight and obese people aged 30 to 70 years old and investigated the effect of individual and combined consumption of dark chocolate, cocoa and almonds on lipid, lipoprotein and apolipoprotein concentrations, vascular health and oxidative stress.  The participants were provided with 1 of 4 diets for 4 weeks, with a 2 week washout period before they were instructed to consume the subsequent test diet. For 4 weeks the participants consumed a typical American Diet (2088 kcals) and then for the following periods the subjects consumed the American diet with either 42.5g of raw almonds (253 kcals/day), 18 g of natural cocoa powder and 43 g of dark chocolate (251.1 Kcal/day) or both (504 kcal/d) as a snack.  Lee et al. report that butter, cheese and refined grains were “isocalorically” substituted with the treatment foods in the test diets.  So compared to the American diet the almond diet was lower in saturated fatty acids (8% compared with 13%) and higher in monosaturated fatty acids (16% compared with 13%) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (9% compared with 7%).  The chocolate diet was similar to the almond diet.  The combined treatment diet containing cocoa powder, dark chocolate, almonds had the highest fibre content (32g). Blood samples were collected at baseline and at the end of each treatment and analysed for lipids, lipoproteins, apolipoproteins, glucose, insulin, C-reactive protein, nitric oxide, flavonoids, phenolic acids and tocopherol.  They were also analysed for LDL oxidation.  Urine samples were also collected.

Lee et al. found that compared to the average American diet, treatment with almonds lowered total cholesterol by 4%, non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol by 5% and low-density lipoprotein by 7%.  Treatment with chocolate, cocoa, and almonds combined decreased apoliprotein B by 5% compared with the average American diet.  The chocolate and cocoa treatment did not change the level of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.   The study notes that whilst both the combined treatment and almond treatment decreased low-density lipoprotein by a comparable degree, almonds decreased large LDL particles, whereas the combined treatment decreased small dense LDL particles.  Small dense LDL particles are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  The researchers report that the additional 273.8 mg of flavonoids may have contributed to this decrease.  Insulin and glucose levels did not change after any treatments, although the authors report that fasting glucose was higher after the chocolate and cocoa treatment compared to the almond treatment. However Lee et al report that this could be due to the sugar content of the chocolate.

In conclusion the authors state “our findings indicate that the consumption of almonds alone or combined with dark chocolate and cocoa may improve lipid/lipoprotein profiles, which, in turn would be expected to decrease coronary heart disease risk.”

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