Health Benefits of… Chocolate!

photo cardiovascular health benefits for chocolate

There’s been a lot of buzz about chocolate on the web recently, so I thought I’d weigh in (pun intended). I’ve known for a while that dark chocolate was supposed to be good for you because it was rich in antioxidants. But I had no idea it might even be among the cholesterol lowering foods. Recent studies, such as the one below suggest that it has many more benefits as well. Perhaps the most surprising is that it appears to reduce BMI (body-mass index). That’s a direct measure of being overweight, which in turn has a strong and well established relationship to cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. 

It looks like the reason for this surprising result is that dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols, sometimes taken as a supplement. These chemicals help increase lean muscle mass and may also reduce the risks of diabetes. One thing that really caught my eye is that polyphenols are also anti-inflamatory. That could be the biggest benefit, and the main explanation for the reduction in ccoronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and even cancer. The study covered 1,000 people and was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine so the data should be good, even if rumors that it was funded by a chocolate company prove true.

Although the study showed benefits from all types of chocolate (dark, milk, even white) it seems to me that there might be some downside. The benefits come from coca, and the added oils and fats are still a drawback. So go for chocolates that are at least 70% coca and keep your consumption to an ounce or two per day. And that’s about 1 Hershey bar (or something better) each day. So it’s nice to know that there’s an indulgance that may actually improve health.

Chocolate has long been known to lower blood pressure, but the study shows that this may increase HDL—or, good cholesterol. High rates of HDL are coincident with heart disease prevention. 

– by RTT Staff Writer 

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Are Statins Side Effects Sometimes Good?

good statin side effects?

I certainly focus on natural treatments for elevated cholesterol, but I also try to be objective. I ran across this news item which suggests that not all statin side effects are negative. The article reports on research that suggests that Crestor, a popular statin, may slightly reduce the incidence of some infections, pneumonia in particular.  Weird, I know.

The article seems really fair and balanced as it notes that the results don’t really indicate a cause, and reminds us of the detrimental effects. It’s a common difficulty with medical research.  Just because two things go together doesn’ necessarily mean that one causes the other.  Maybe the people in the study taking statins were more careful about their health and that improved their immune system.  Or maybe their body was struggling with clogged arteries and lots of things started getting better when that was relieved.  One thing I noticed was that there was even a slight reduction in fungal infections.  Very few medications help with this, so I suspect there’s something going on with the overall immune system.

All this points out that now more than ever it’s important to have a doctor that’s up to date on all the latest studies.  There’s been a lot of interecting research on cholesterol recently, so I’ll be filtering through it all and relay what’s helpful for those managing our health. Right now I’m digging into a new FDA requirement that lists even more side effects related to various statins.

By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay Reporter

Statin drugs, which are used to lower cholesterol, might reduce a bit the risk of developing pneumonia, a new study suggests. Researchers analyzed data from a large international study [...]

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More on Statin Side Effects

I ran across another balanced and informative news article recently.  It reviews the usual side effects of muscle pain,  stomach upset,  memory loss, and insomnia (which I’ve personally experienced) as well as liver damage over the long term balanced against the 25-30% reduction in heart attacks.

But more interestingly Dr. Lipschitz mentions that there’s also evidence that statins may reduce the incidence of Alzheimers, depression, and bone fractures.  Again, weird, but maybe the result of improved circulation.  He also mentions that a “study of studies” suggests that statins don’t benefit otherwise healthy people who’ve yet to have cardiovascular problems.  But most importantly, it reminds us to consult with a doctor before stopping any prescription medication.

Lifelong Health – -Side Effects of Statins Can Outweigh Efficacy (Dr. David Lipschitz, San Fernando Valley Sun)

In the United States generic statins are inexpensive 10 for a three-month supply But statins do have some side effects that limit their usefulness. The most serious is significant muscle tenderness and inflammation. This can impair quality of life Statins may help to fight early-stage Alzheimer’s by improving blood functions. 

Reference:  Statin

Low Triglycerides without Medicine

What Are Triglycerides?

You need to maintain low triglycerides in order to maintain a healthy heart and body. So just what are triglycerides? They’re another compound related to fats. If you want to get technical, they’re various esters made from fatty acids. The important thing to remember is that they’re the main components of vegetable oils and animal fats. Plus, your liver manufactures them when you have a high intake of simple carbohydrates as an efficient way of storing the energy. Your body’s ability to make triglycerides is a key reason why you need to fast (typically for 14 hours) before having a cholesterol blood test. Besides energy, triglycerides are necessary for many processes in your body. Although bodybuilders often take MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) as a “nutritional” supplement to bulk up, there are definite health risks in the long run for high triglyceride levels. These include atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke.

So what are reasonable levels? The American Heart Association provides the following recommendations (2005).

  • Normal (low risk) – < 150 mg/dL
  • Slightly above normal – 175-199 mg/dL
  • High (risk) – 200-499 mg/dL
  • Very high (high risk) – >500 mg/dL

Actually, you don’t need to know these numbers. When your blood test results come back your doctor will go over 4 key numbers: LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and overall cholesterol levels. If any of these are significantly outside the healthy range, the doctor is likely to make several recommendations to avoid some very serious consequences. If your levels are above 250 milligrams per deciliter (¼ gram per liter), that’s cause for alarm, and action. Research shows that a great many individuals who need to lower triglyceride concentrations also have excessive total cholesterol levels. So it’s great that you can reduce both bad cholesterol and reduce your triglyceride levels without medication. But your doctor knows best – follow his or her advice, especially if you’re in the high-risk range.

Low Triglycerides by Diet and Exercise


low triglycerides... NOT

Wrong In So Many Ways

For LDL, exercise and reducing the intake of saturated and trans-fats are the most important.  For reducing triglycerides, exercise and reducing calories are the most important. Diets where more than 60% of total calories are from carbohydrates have been shown to increase blood-serum levels. Foods with a high glycemic index are particularly bad. Drinking alcohol is also a significant factor, as are diets high in simple sugars and simple carbohydrates.  So avoid all these.

An Example Diet

Breakfast time, for example, could be whole grain bread with a little touch of egg-whites.  Ideally, you should stop having coffee and replace this by using unsweetened teas. Those preferring milk ought to use non-fat or low-fat, or try some fresh juice instead. A heartier breakfast might be oatmeal and fruit.  If your breakfast was light, you might want a hearty lunch, say poultry (without the skin) or a lean cut of beef. And don’t forget plenty of vegetables.

Having bottled water is a lot healthier than a can of soda, avoiding sugar that contributes to high triglycerides as well as the questionable effects of even diet soda. Try and substitute vegetables and fruit for your snacks. That’s much better than oily snack foods like chips or high-sugar snacks like candy bars.
Your evening meal should also be light. You’ll be going to sleep not too much later and not needing much energy for many hours, so that dinner calories are more likely to be converted into fats. Steamed fish or a small serving of pasta would be a good focus for your dinner, supplemented by some vegetables and perhaps a little fruit.

These dietary changes shouldn’t be limited to home. You need to make the same sorts of choices when dining out.
You’ll also need to get into the habit of regular exercise. It doesn’t have to be intensive. A brisk ½ hour walk or light workout every other day is often enough. Alternating aerobic exercise with strength training on alternate days is even better if you have the time. Even the occasional interruption in the routine can lead to falling back into old habits. Coordinating with family and friends also reducing their cholesterol levels can be a big motivation boost.


There aren’t any super-supplement magical cures. But then, there usually aren’t. You’ll be glad to know that omega-3 fish oil as well as flax seed oil also help to lower triglycerides.

Carnitine, another bodybuilding supplement is known to reduce triglyceride blood-serum levels. This compound plays an important role in fat metabolism. In the long run (½ year or more) L-Carnitine may serve as a weight-loss supplement, reducing fat mass while increasing muscle mass, but scientific results are mixed. These effects may occur only in people with unusually low natural carnitine levels. Results do, however, indicate improved energy in elderly people. Studies have also shown that it’s helpful in reducing medication needs for those with angina. One study showed a reduction in the likelihood of subsequent heart problems, but other research showed no such connection. Carnitine may also be helpful in reducing osteoporosis, and may also have anti-oxidant effects and help with asthma. Healthy foods rich in carnitine include nuts and seeds, beans, vegetables, and whole grains.


Reducing your LDL and triglycerides while increasing HDL without medication is quite possible, even straightforward. If you have elevated triglyceride levels, watching the empty calories is crucial and exercise is especially important. So it does take some dedication and self-discipline to achieve low triglycerides.

Foods to Lower Cholesterol

In combination with exercise, a lower cholesterol diet can reduce blood-serum levels almost as much as medication for many people. Don’t be afraid of that word “diet.” You can lower your cholesterol by changing which foods you eat, not necessarily how much you eat. Being overweight does contribute to elevated levels, but switching food selections you can loose weight and lower cholesterol without feeling hungry. You just might find yourself enjoying your meals even more than before.

We cover what foods to avoid here. Instead of those, focus on healthy staples like veggies, beans and whole grains. They’re also high in protein, and so can balance your reduction in meats. Did you know that some foods can actually lower your cholesterol? Studies suggest that reducing the bad foods and increasing the good foods can work as well as some prescription medicines in reducing bad cholesterol.

So what should I include in my lower cholesterol diet?

Foods to Lower Cholesterol

A Nutty Answer

photo almonds for lower cholesterol diet

One of My Favorites

My favorite is almonds. Almonds and other types of nuts can reduce your cholesterol levels. Most nuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats. But avoid nuts that are salted, sugared, or “roasted” in oil. And nuts are high in calories, so don’t over do it.  Just a handful is about right. Eating a handful (1 ½ ounces) of nuts per day may reduce your odds of heart disease, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

  • walnuts
  • almonds
  • hazelnuts
  • peanuts
  • pecans
  • pine nuts
  • pistachios

Some people even claim that walnuts help keep blood vessels healthier.

Replacing foods high in saturated fats with nuts is a double win. Add them to your salad instead of cheese, croutons (usually buttered), or meat. My favorite is pine nuts toasted in a little healthy vegetable oil. No need for salad dressing, except for maybe a little vinaigrette.

Something’s Fishy

Fish fat is usually good fat, rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are great in reducing  your cholesterol. The omega-3 “oils” are also good for lowering your blood pressure as well as the risk of developing blood clots.
What are the good fish? The greatest amounts of omega-3 is found in

  • mackerel
  • trout
  • herring
  • sardines
  • albacore tuna
  • salmon
  • halibut

Actually I hate sardines, but bring on the salmon and tuna! The general recommendation is to have at least two servings of fish each week. Avoid cooking it with saturated or other bad fats. Baking or grilling is better still.
If you don’t like any of the above fish, try to cut down on red meats a bit more. You can get a little omega-3 from ground flax or canola oil. You can find canola oil in just about any large grocery store; it’s pretty much the only cooking oil I use. You can also take omega-3 or “fish oil” supplements.

For people who’ve already had a heart attack a lower cholesterol diet can lower the risk of sudden death. That’s well worth a little fishy taste.

Block the Bad Cholesterol You Do Eat

photo lower cholesterol diet

Enjoy These... and More

Finally, some foods block the absorption of the cholesterol you do eat. They’re rich in soluble fiber. You should aim for at least five to ten grams of soluble fiber each day. Foods containing soluble fiber include

  • oatmeal
  • kidney
  • beans
  • bananas
  • apples
  • prunes (so that’s why)
  • pears
  • barley

These can make a great breakfast combination. One and a half cups of cooked oatmeal provides 6 grams of fiber. Add a banana and you’re up to 10 grams, and worry-free for the rest of the day. At least as regards fiber. If you don’t like oatmeal, a cold cereal made from oatmeal or oat bran and one of the above fruits will get you started on the day’s goal.
Again, it’s not about eating less, but eating differently. With a little thought you can break your routine and make eating even more enjoyable. You’ll probably find quite a few appealing item in this list of foods to lower cholesterol.

High Cholesterol Diet – Foods to Avoid

If you learn your cholesterol levels are elevated, it’s time to take action, starting with exercise and adopting a high cholesterol diet that avoids fatty foods.. Most people know that high cholesterol increases your likelihood of serious health issues like heart disease.  Even if your levels are normal, cholesterol-reducing changes in diet and exercise can improve your general health.

For most people, saturated fat is the major dietary cause of high cholesterol and is a big contributor to heart disease. So reducing your intake of saturated fats and cholesterol is extremely important in reducing your blood levels.

High Cholesterol Diet — The Bad Stuff

The first step to lowering your cholesterol is learning what foods to avoid. You should of course reduce your intake of foods rich in cholesterol, but also reduce your total fats, especially saturated- and trans-fats. Saturated-fats occur in meats, dairy products (except low-fat varieties), and some oils. They’ll raise your overall cholesterol. Trans-fats are sometimes found in margarine and are especially bad. Here’s a partial list of foods high in saturated fats and/or trans-fats.

  • fatty meats
  • cheese
  • margarine
  • butter
  • ice cream
  • oils
  • cookies
  • cakes
  • crackers
  • fried foods
  • eggs

Cookies and cakes are on the list because they typically contain milk, butter, and eggs – plus lots simple carbohydrates. Meats with visible fat, processed meats (bacon (sigh), sausage, salami, bologna, etc.), goose, duck, and red meats in general should be minimized. Be sure to check nutrition labels for excessive saturated- and trans-fats.  To avoid saturated- and trans-fats, use canola or olive oil in your cooking.


photo high cholesterol foods to avoid

Yech! Not Worth It

But changing your diet is not a magic bullet. It’s sometimes not easy making significant changes in what you eat, even though you’ll feel better (and even find meals more enjoyable) in the long run.

Don’t get too discouraged. To reduce your cholesterol levels you don’t need to eliminate these foods, just cut back. Many items on the list are available in low-fat versions. Pay special attention to the amounts of saturated- and trans-fats; some products are unhealthy despite a healthy-looking package. And there’s one more piece to the puzzle.

All Things in Moderation

Yes, it’s possible to take these dietary guidelines too far. Your body needs some fats and even some cholesterol to survive. A diet low in fats but rich in carbohydrates can actually put your liver in overdrive making it’s own cholesterol! Such a diet can also lead to elevated insulin levels.

Additionally, meats are great sources of B vitamins. So as you reduce your meat intake it’s important to pay attention to vitamins.

Get a Move On

Exercise can be as important as food for lowering cholesterol. Loosing weight can make a big difference. Fewer pounds usually means a lower LDL as well as lower triglycerides (also a part of your cholesterol “blood panel”) and increase your HDL (good cholesterol). Less excess baggage also lowers your odds for problems like diabetes. Diabetes can in turn increase your cholesterol levels in a vicious circle.

There’s another vicious circle too. Over a long period, stress can raise blood cholesterol levels. Stress also influences your habits. When stressed many people automatically turn to “comfort foods,” usually high in fats. Exercise can help break this particular circle, reducing stress and lowering cholesterol.


Try to exercise, or at least be physically active. As little as moderate exercise for ½ hour every other day can improve your cholesterol numbers. It’s especially important to avoid eating foods high in saturated- and trans-fats, like meat and dairy products.  But in n adjusting your diet, taking it step by step making changes a little at a time is usually the easiest way. Don’t forget that you can add other foods, so there’s no need to go hungry with a high cholesterol diet.

List of cholesterol in foods

Can Certain Diets Lower Your Cholesterol?

Do Low Cholesterol Diets Work?

Many people are able to get their cholesterol down into the safe range by simple changes in what they eat – a low cholesterol diet. There’s no specific diet regimen or single foods that will magically lower your cholesterol.  Just groups of food that are good and groups that should be avoided.  Yes, there are foods which lower cholesterol.

Several factors can contribute to cholesterol levels that are too high. First, there are genes that control how much cholesterol your body produces. So high cholesterol (as well as other heart disease risk factors) tend to run in families. Second, being overweight can increase cholesterol and is a heart disease risk factor itself. Additionally gender and age tend to affect cholesterol levels. Finally, much of the food we eat contains cholesterol and fats that can be converted. So, yes, there are many diets that lower cholesterol.

It’s important to maintain proper cholesterol levels for a healthy and long life. With or without “bad genes” it’s possible to lower your cholesterol naturally.

A Low-Cholesterol Diet

The general guideline is to eat more plant-based foods instead of animal-based foods. Yes, the vegetarians are on to something. But you only need to reduce, not eliminate. Plus, most fish is on the good list.

Like most healthy diets, to lower cholesterol you should focus on vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains. Other foods low in saturated fat are also good, such as cereals, pasta, and rice but should be eaten in moderation.

Reducing your cholesterol and fat intake by only 10% to 20% can improve your health and reduce strain on your heart. In addition to reducing fatty meats, you should reduce your servings of foods containing butter, trans-fat margarine, and polyunsaturated oils. You’ll need to reduce the amount meat and dairy products you eat, especially those high in fats.

There are different kinds of fats.  Saturated fats are perhaps the worst. They’ll raise your cholesterol level even more than eating cholesterol itself! Needless to say, keep these to a minimum. Trans fats also increase cholesterol levels.

Animal products, including eggs and dairy products, are high in both cholesterol and saturated fats and should be avoided. Most breads, cakes, and cookies include high-cholesterol (and high-fats in general) ingredients like milk, butter, and eggs. You’ll also find fats hiding in salad dressings and fried foods.

You don’t need to eliminate these foods to lower your cholesterol, just enjoy them in moderation. And at least give low-fat versions a try.  Animal food sources are rich in B vitamins and other nutrients. Since you’re cutting back on these protein-rich sources, be sure you get enough high-protein veggies, nuts, and grains.

Don’t forget good cholesterol. It actually reduces your levels of bad cholesterol. Its a double-win when you can substitute good cholesterol foods for those bad cholesterol foods. Good foods include most fish, nuts, and many vegetable oils.

photo low cholesterol diet

A Low-Cholesterol Diet Doesn't Have to be Boring!

A Balancing Act

You do need to do some calorie counting, but not necessarily total calories. If you’re also aiming to loose weight, focus your calorie reductions on foods high in saturated and trans fats. But be wary of taking this too far. High-carb low-fat diets can actually raise your cholesterol levels. Your body actually needs cholesterol. If it thinks you’re starving, your liver will start producing more cholesterol! Worse still, a low-fat high-carbohydrate diet can increase insulin levels and cause your liver to make more triglycerides as well.

So don’t over-emphasize reducing fats in you diet, or strive to completely eliminate foods containing cholesterol. If you decrease these too much and substitute carbohydrates and/or sugars, you liver may go into overdrive trying to make up for the loss.

So taking these dietary changes too far can actually make things worse! All things in moderation.  A proper diet will lower your cholesterol.

Nutrition Labels

Now you know a bit more about what to look for while reading the nutrition labels on packaged foods – types of fats, not just calories and vitamin content. If the amounts of saturated and trans fats aren’t listed, you’ll need to look at the list of ingredients. They’re required to be listed in order of their usage – the ingredients used in largest amount first, those in the lowest amount last. So you don’t need to worry too much about items way down on the list.

Many products have managed to greatly reduce saturated and trans fats, so take a good look at the label. They might not be all that bad even though they’re in the “avoid” category.

For many of us, these changes can take a bit of effort. I personally prefer to make just one or two changes at a time. This gives me the opportunity to find alternative foods and recipes I really enjoy. A low-cholesterol diet may actually be more enjoyable than your current habits.

How Much Cholesterol Per Day is OK?

Your doctor says you need to lower your cholesterol, but how much cholesterol per day is allowable? You might also be asking yourself some questions like these. What exactly is cholesterol? Do you have to take prescription medications?  Or are there ways of lowering cholesterol naturally? We’ll talk about all of these in this short article

Just What is Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance similar to fat. It’s made mostly in the liver, but also by other cells. Because of this, you need to do more than simply reduce cholesterol in your diet.

Cholesterol Crystals in Synovial Fluid compensated…
Your liver makes cholesterol because your body needs it to function properly. Your body uses it to produce hormones, vitamin D, and “bile acids” needed for digestion. But you only needs so much, and a build up of cholesterol can cause problems such as heart disease. So that excess can be from your diet, or your own liver.

So, Just How Much Cholesterol per Day is OK?

You should reduce your intake of foods high in cholesterol, such as meat, eggs, and dairy product. The American Heart Association’s cholesterol guidelines are to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day (200 milligrams if you already have heart disease). Always remember that this is the maximum you should have – not a “recommended daily allowance.” You also should keep in mind that your blood cholesterol levels depends on more than just what you take in in your diet. Your liver will convert saturated fats into cholesterol, at rates that are significantly influenced by heredity. And your good cholesterol transports back to your liver reducing the bad cholesterol. So in addition to reducing your daily cholesterol intake, you need to be reducing fats in general.

Are There Alternatives to Prescription Medications?

There are three ways to lower cholesterol:

  • increased exercise
  • dietary changes
  • medications.

Your doctor is of course the best equipped to review your blood tests and heart-disease risk factors to determine if cholesterol-lowering drugs are needed and how much you need to reduce your cholesterol intake per day. These risk factors include smoking and lack of exercise, so you can deal with these in any natural approach as well. For those with known heart disease, diabetes, or multiple-risk factors there may be no alternatives to prescription medicines.

Now days most doctors suggest you first try to naturally lower your cholesterol unless your levels are extremely high.

how much cholesterol per day depends on exercise

Lowering Cholesterol the Old Fashioned Way

If your doctor OKs a natural approach, consider yourself lucky. Often a few simple changes in your life can lower your cholesterol. You just might even feel better. As mentioned, exercising and stopping smoking are important, with a multitude of other benefits. Smoking lowers your good cholesterol, but this reverses when you quit. Exercises lowers bad cholesterol in most people, and can increase good cholesterol in some people. Just cutting back on smoking plus moderate-intensity daily activity can reduce your heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and excess weight.  That’s all in addition to lowering your cholesterol.

Changing your diet is also crucial in lowering your cholesterol. If you’re overweight, weight-loss will help. But irregardless of that,  it’s more a matter of eating differently rather than eating less. It’s especially important to avoid foods high in saturated fat as these usually contain high levels of cholesterol. Instead, focus on foods like fish, fruit, and nuts instead.

Mixing up your eating habits just might surprise you – you may find yourself enjoying your meals more.

If you don’t know your cholesterol levels, you should visit your doctor. He’ll most likely recommend a blood test to determine your blood-serum levels. Heart disease and high cholesterol are hereditary, so this is especially important if there’s a history of heart problems in your family. This will be far more helpful than just following general cholesterol guidelines and hoping for the best. Your doctor will then be able to accurately determine your best course of action, including more specific advice on how much cholesterol per day you should target in your diet.

List of cholesterol in foods

Reading Nutrition Lables to Know Your Cholesterol Intake…

… and more (great video!)