Good news, chocolate fans.
A new study suggests that people who eat the sweet stuff may more frequently have lower BMI.
The research published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine finds that among approximately 1,000 Californians, age 20 to 85, individuals who consumed chocolate more frequently had a lower BMI than those who consumed it less often. (Body Mass Index is a measurement of height relative to weight.) Overall, participants ate chocolate an average of two times per week and exercised 3.6 times per week.
According to the study authors, the findings were not explained by having a better overall diet or engaging in more physical activity.
"We had data from a full food frequency questionnaire and found that [these people] didn't necessarily eat more fruits and vegetables, and they ate more saturated fat," said Dr. Beatrice Golomb, with the department of family and preventive medicine at the University of Califonia, San Diego, and one of the study's authors. "But with or without adjustment for a range of other factors, we found the more frequent chocolate eaters had lower BMI."
The study's authors caution that the new study does not establish a cause and effect relationship between eating more chocolate and losing weight.
However, given prior research suggesting chocolate consumption may be beneficial for metabolic function, linking it to reduced risk of diabetes, stroke and heart attack, the authors claim that the new study may point to something beyond a mere association.
"Chocolate can be rich in antioxidants, which can protect against oxidative stress," said Golomb. "That has the ability to 'poison' cell metabolism a little bit."
She said that at the very least, the current study makes it clear that there's a "reasonably strong" possibility that something causal may be occurring and justifies further research.
Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and a blogger with The Huffington Post, said that attempting to establish a causal relationship from a cross-sectional study would be "informed guessing at best."
Still, he added that research has suggested that antioxidants might play a role in reducing inflammation, and that dark chocolate in particular might help balance the hormones that facilitate weight control.
Another key factor may be satiety.
"It may be that people who make it a regular part of their routine know that it really gets the job done," Katz said. "They think 'If I need a bit of pleasure, I'm not going to try and eat 11 other things first.'" He explained that what matters often in weight control is the number of calories it takes for people to feel full and satisfied, which accounts for why high calorie foods like walnuts can actually help people maintain their weight.
While it is not an emphasis of the new study, Katz cautioned that all chocolate is not created equal, particularly when it comes to potential health benefits. He suggested that people stick with dark chocolate.
"Dark chocolate, specifically if it's bittersweet -- if it's that that 60 percent or higher threshold -- is really rich in fiber, and it's filling," Katz said. "It can be intensely satisfying to eat, and often what we're looking for with food is satisfaction."
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