If you’ve been gorging on chocolate and nuts over the holidays, there’s no reason to feel guilty, a study finds.
In fact, you may be doing your heart a favor.
Penn State University researchers found that choosing the right kind of chocolate and nuts can actually help you improve your cholesterol readings.
Previous studies have shown that when eaten separately, almonds and dark chocolate can help prevent heart disease. But the scientists wanted to find out the combined effect of these foods on heart health.
They gathered 31 people 30 to 70 years old. The subjects were overweight with high cholesterol. But they were otherwise healthy. To participate, the subjects needed an LDL (“bad”) cholesterol reading of over 138 mg/dL.
The researchers put the participants on four different snack regimens for one month each:
- No almonds, cocoa, or chocolate (control).
- 2/3 ounce (2 tablespoons) of cocoa powder and 1 ½ ounces dark chocolate.
- 1 ½ ounces (1/2 cup) almonds every day.
- 1 ½ ounces almonds, 2/3 ounce cocoa powder, and 1 ½ ounces dark chocolate.
As one would expect, on the no-chocolate/almond snack, subjects had no change in cholesterol.
Eating cocoa and chocolate also did not lead to significant change.
Eating almonds reduced LDL cholesterol by 7%. This was mostly a reduction in large LDL molecules. This is a less dangerous form of LDL cholesterol.
When the participants combined almonds, cocoa, and dark chocolate, they got the most benefits.
Not only did their large LDL cholesterol molecules drop by at least 7%, but they also reduced small LDL particles. These are particularly bad for heart health. People whose LDL particles are mostly small have a 300% greater risk for heart disease. 
The researchers also found that the combination almonds/chocolate snack reduced by 5% an LDL particle called apolipoprotein B. This protein holds unhealthy fat molecules in the cardiovascular system. And it increases the risk of heart disease.
Dr. Penny M. Kris-Etherton was the lead researcher on the study. She is a nutrition professor at Penn State. She published her work in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
For many years, doctors warned that nuts and chocolate were bad for your heart. The new study shows the opposite is true, she noted.
There is “clearly an important message here,” she said. “Incorporating almonds, dark chocolate, and cocoa into a typical American diet without exceeding energy needs may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
Almonds, in particular, have “a positive effect on plasma lipid concentrations,” she noted.
Chocolate and Almonds: The Best of Both Worlds
Make sure that you snack on the right kind of chocolate and almonds. The study used dark chocolate. The higher the cacao content, the more heart healthy flavonoids you’ll get.
And be sure to choose organic almonds. Because of their high fat content, almonds easily absorb pesticides. So you want nuts that haven’t been sprayed with toxic chemicals.
We’ve found a terrific product that combines the best of both dark chocolate and almonds. Taza organic dark chocolate covered almonds has all-organic ingredients and is 55% cacao.
They are a delicious, heart-healthy snack for the holidays…or anytime.
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