Overweight and obese people who eat almonds and chocolate every day may have lower cholesterol than their counterparts who don’t consume these foods, a recent experiment suggests.
Consumed separately, almonds and chocolate have each been linked to lower blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and hunger levels in previous studies. All of these things are risk factors for heart disease.
For the current study, researchers tested cholesterol levels in 31 overweight and obese people. For four weeks, all of them followed a typical American diet. Every day for another four weeks, they all added almost one-third of a cup of almonds to the typical diet. In another four-week period, participants added almost one-quarter cup of dark chocolate and about 2.5 tablespoons of cocoa powder per day. Everyone also had a four-week period of adding both the nuts and the dark chocolate with cocoa to their diet.
“Almonds alone lowered LDL cholesterol levels and chocolate and cocoa did not, but they also did not increase LDL cholesterol levels, ”said senior study author Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition researcher at Penn State University.
The results don’t mean it’s wise for people to eat almonds and chocolate by the pound, however.
“We do have about 270 discretionary calories that we can include in our diet, and I tell people to use their discretionary calories wisely,” Kris-Etherton said by email. That means having almonds and chocolate in moderation, and instead of other sweets and treats, not in addition to cookies, candy and desserts.
The study was small, and it’s possible results would be different with a larger group of people.
Kris-Etherton and other authors received funding from the Hershey Company and from the Almond Board of California.
Even so, the findings add to existing evidence that nuts and cocoa have health benefits, said Samantha Heller, a registered dietician and author in New York City who wasn’t involved in the study. These foods can help fight inflammation, provide fiber and healthy fats, among other things.
But moderation is key, Heller said by email.
“Eating nuts and dark chocolate in place of other less healthy foods such as chips, fast food, commercial candy or cookies, in appropriate portions, along with an overall healthy lifestyle, may offer health benefits,” Heller said.