If you gave up chocolate with the hope of shrinking your waistline, you may want to reconsider that decision. New research from the University of California, San Diego, found that adults who ate chocolate often were actually—wait for it—thinner. They had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who ate the sweet stuff less frequently.
This finding proved true even after the researchers accounted for other factors, such as calorie intake and daily activity. Frequent chocolate intake was linked to more overall calories (meaning the chocolate eaters weren't simply living on a diet of water and chocolate alone) and yet, they still had lower BMIs than those who ate chocolate less often. Chocolate consumption was also not linked to more activity, refuting the idea that maybe the chocolate eaters simply exercised more to counteract the additional calories.
So what gives? "Chocolate is rich in certain antioxidants and may have a positive effect on our metabolism," says lead study author Beatrice Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine. On top of that, the researchers note that chocolate contains epicatechins, a type of flavonoid that has been shown to increase lean muscle mass and reduce weight in previous studies on rats. If epicatechins have the same effect on humans, it could explain why chocolate may help maintain or even reduce overall body weight.
One more good-to-know fact for chocolate lovers: a small, daily indulgence might not be so bad. In the study, eating chocolate five times a week was associated with one lower BMI point than eating chocolate fewer than five times per week. So for a five-foot tall, 120-pound person, this would equal about a five-pound lower weight, explains Golomb.
Bottom line: This study joins the growing body of research that supports the idea that not all calories are created equal. The findings suggest that the components of calories rather than calories alone might be just as important for weight, according Golomb. “My idea is that the metabolic effects [of eating chocolate] may be such that fewer calories are deposited as fat,” she explains.
Chocolate is one example of a food that has gotten a bad rap over the years thanks to its calorie count, but maybe those self-professed chocolate addicts are actually on to something.
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