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High cholesterol: Indulge in this tasty treat in moderation to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol

High cholesterol generally implies you have too much of a waxy substance called LDL cholesterol in your blood. LDL cholesterol is branded the “bad” cholesterol because it can lead to a number of heart complications, such as a heart attack. It does this by narrowing the arteries that supply blood to the heart.

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LDL cholesterol buildup is usually the result of unhealthy lifestyle decisions, such as a consistently poor diet.

The reverse is true also – certain foods can lower LDL cholesterol and ward off the associated risks.

Increasing your intake of heart-healthy components such as fruit and vegetables will seem like common sense, but research has also made some surprising discoveries.

Take a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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How to lower cholesterol: Combining raw almonds, dark chocolate and cocoa significantly reduced LDL (Image: Getty Images)

The study, led by Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., at Penn State University, a distinguished professor of nutrition, found that combining raw almonds, dark chocolate and cocoa significantly reduced the number of LDL particles in the blood of overweight and obese people.

This is not a licence to overindulge, however, warned Professor Kris-Etherton.

“It’s important to put this into context: The message is not that people should go out and eat a lot of chocolate and almonds to lower their LDL,” she said.

“People are allowed to have about 270 discretionary calories a day, and when foods like almonds, dark chocolate and cocoa are consumed together as a discretionary food, they confer health benefits unlike other discretionary foods such as frosted donuts.”

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Prof Kris-Etherton continued: “People are allowed to have about 270 discretionary calories a day, and when foods like almonds, dark chocolate and cocoa are consumed together as a discretionary food, they confer health benefits unlike other discretionary foods such as frosted donuts.”

Past studies have shown health benefits from eating moderate amounts of almonds, dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa.

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This study sought to see whether combining those three foods had a positive effect on the heart health of overweight and obese individuals.

Researchers studied 31 participants ages 30 to 70. For one month, participants didn’t eat any of the foods in the study.

How to lower cholesterol: Opt for unsaturated fats, such as oily fish (Image: Getty Images)

In the next one-month period, participants ate 42.5 grams of almonds a day; in the third period, they ate 43 grams of dark chocolate combined with 18 grams of cocoa powder; in a fourth period, they ate all three foods.

The study showed almonds eaten alone lowered LDL cholesterol by seven percent compared with the period when participants didn’t eat any of the study foods.

Combining almonds with dark chocolate and cocoa also reduced small, dense LDL particles that are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, Prof Kris-Etherton said.

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Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., Gershoff professor at Tufts University and director of the school’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, said it’s important to note that participants ate the almonds in place of dairy fat as part of a healthy diet.

How to lower high cholesterol: An active lifestyle can also help lower your cholesterol level (Image: Getty Images)

“This was a very well controlled study that demonstrated replacing saturated fat coming from dairy fat (butter and cheese) with unsaturated fat coming from nuts (almonds) had a positive effect on plasma lipid concentrations,” said Lichtenstein, who wasn’t involved in the study.

According to the NHS, eating foods that contain unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can actually help reduce cholesterol levels.

Other rich sources of unsaturated fat include:

  • Oily fish – such as mackerel and salmon
  • Nuts – such as almonds and cashews
  • Seeds – such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • Avocados
  • Vegetable oils and spreads – such as rapeseed or vegetable oil, Sunflower, olive, corn and walnut oils

Other tips to lower high cholesterol

An active lifestyle can also help lower your cholesterol level, notes the NHS.

“Activities can range from walking and cycling to more vigorous exercise, such as running and energetic dancing,” it says.

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