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CAT | Heart Health

burgerFifty is a decade or two away. Why worry about managing your cholesterol now? Because, say scientists at the Duke Clinical Research Institute in North Carolina, the longer you live with high cholesterol—even slightly higher than normal levels—the greater your risk of developing heart disease.

Using health data from the long-term Framingham Heart Study, researchers were able to determine that if you are between the ages of 35 and 55, every decade spent with borderline high cholesterol increases your heart disease risk by up to 40 percent.

Specifically, one to 10 years of elevated cholesterol levels was associated with an 8.1 percent risk, while 11 to 20 years of exposure boosted the risk to 16.5 percent. To put that in perspective, for those individuals who did not show signs of high cholesterol at the beginning of the study, their future risk of heart disease was only 4.4 percent—meaning long-term high cholesterol can nearly quadruple your chances of heart disease.

The study results, published last month in the journal Circulation, are important because they point out that how long a person has high cholesterol is directly related to his or her risk of developing heart disease—highlighting the need for middle-aged adults to pay better attention to their cardiovascular health.

Study author Dr. Ann Marie Navar-Boggan recommends adults in their 30s should consider getting screened at least once for high cholesterol. In addition, she believes a healthy diet and lifestyle should be a priority early on.

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cocoa-heartGive the gift of chocolate this Valentine’s Day and you may be giving your sweetheart’s brain a healthy boost. After an eight-week study, researchers in Italy found more evidence that the natural flavanols in cocoa are linked to improved thinking and memory skills.

In a study of nearly 100 older adults in good mental health, those who consumed a daily beverage containing either 520 mg or 993 mg of cocoa flavanols performed better in tests that measured memory, attention span and overall cognitive function including reasoning and problem solving.

Flavanols are a type of plant nutrient found abundantly in cocoa beans, and previous studies have linked them to healthy blood pressure and improved cardiovascular function. Dark chocolate typically has more flavanols than milk chocolate, but experts say cocoa powder is best. And even better is cacao powder—a less processed version of cocoa powder available at health food stores.

Try these sweet and simple cacao recipes for Valentine’s Day!

Decadent Cacao & Avocado Mousse
Serves: 4
1 avocado
¼ cup cacao powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tbsp. chia seeds

Directions: Place avocado, cacao powder, vanilla, and almond milk in food processor and process until smooth; stir in chia seeds. Transfer mixture to medium bowl; refrigerate 1 hour. Scoop into individual bowls and serve chilled.

Not-So-Sinful Nut Butter Cups
Makes 16 individual cups
5 tbsp. coconut cream concentrate (coconut butter)
5 tbsp. coconut oil (best if in liquid form)
6 tbsp. cacao powder
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lo han (monk fruit) sweetener
3 tbsp. nut butter of choice (cashew, sunflower, almond)

Directions: Mix all ingredients except nut butter in a medium bowl. Place ½ tsp. of mixture into each cup of a mini muffin pan. Freeze about 10 minutes. Set remaining mixture aside. Add ¼ tsp. nut butter atop each frozen “cup.” Add another ½ tsp. of the cacao mixture on top of the nut butter; freeze again about 15 minutes (to harden).

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