What better topic for Heart Health and Valentine’s Day month than to talk about the love affair between chocolate and your heart.
Observational and interventional studies have demonstrated that the flavonols in chocolate yield cardiometabolic benefits.
A recent study published in 2017 by Lee et al demonstrated the individual and combined benefits on almonds, cocoa and dark chocolate on coronary heart disease risk factors. Participants of this study were split into 4 groups. The control group which was fed an average North American diet. The three treatment groups were also assigned an average north american diet and then were asked to add additional foods. The almond group, was asked to eat 250 calories worth of almonds per day. The dark chocolate group, was asked to eat 250 calories of dark chocolate and cocoa. The combined dark chocolate and almond group ate 250 calories of each of those foods.
Results showed that the chocolate and almond group created the greatest reduction in the small dense LDL cholesterol particles as well as ApoB/A1 ratio.
What does this mean?
LDL is considered to be “bad” cholesterol, but it is not only the quantity but also the quality of the LDL that is now important. LDL is a calculated average made up of different types of lipoproteins. There can be large fluffy or small dense LDL particles. It is the small dense LDL particles that can increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis because they are small enough to penetrate the walls of the arteries, they stay in the bloodstream longer and are more likely to be oxidized.
A higher consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars are thought to increase the dense LDL particles. In my opinion dark chocolate helps this problem in two ways. This study shows that the flavonols in the chocolate will reduce this atherosclerotic small LDL cholesterol. Dark chocolate can also be used as a sugar substitute reducing the food that cause small particles in the first place.
This doesn’t mean that you can go out and eat O’Henry bars! The darker the chocolate the better. Lindt has a great 90% dark that can be found at most grocery stores. While it may taste bitter at first, the more you cut sugar from your diet the more your palate will be accepting of these bitter flavours.
If you are not quite ready for 90% than 70% is a great start!
If you suffer from high cholesterol and are curious about getting your particle size tested, there are now advanced tests that will allow you to see your lipoprotein breakdown. This is helpful in determining your overall risk of coronary heart disease.
Lee Y, Berryman CE, West SG, et al. Effects of dark chocolate and almonds on cardiovascular risk factors in overweight and obese individuals: a randomized controlled-feeding trial. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6(12):pii:e005162.