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Eat More Chocolate, Weigh Less?

Whoa! Not so fast. Despite what you might have heard, use your common sense

En español | Talk about research that sounds too good to be true: A new study finds that men and women who treat themselves to chocolate several times a week tend to weigh less than those who don't.

Even more amazing — the chocoholics in the study not only were slimmer, but also consumed more total calories overall, ate more saturated fat and didn’t exercise any more than did their non-chocolate-eating counterparts.

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Really? Chocolate melts away pounds?

As appealing as this sounds — and the study did receive a huge amount of news coverage — experts caution that the findings are at best very preliminary. Namely:

  • The researchers didn't ask how much chocolate —a whole bar? a few chips? — each participant consumed.
  • The researchers didn’t take into account other factors that can cause weight loss, including smoking, certain medical conditions, medications and depression.

Plus, the study only found a link between eating chocolate and lower body weight; it didn’t address what might actually cause chocolate’s supposed ability to help us lose weight. To demonstrate that, researchers would need to conduct a study that compared the weight of chocolate eaters and non-chocolate eaters over time.

Still, the chocolate findings were intriguing. Researchers asked nearly 1,000 men and women, average age 57, to fill out a one-time food frequency questionnaire that inquired about a variety of foods and beverages. The question on chocolate asked, "How many times a week do you consume chocolate?" but did not specify the amount or the type. The researchers also calculated body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight, for each person in the study.

They found that, for example, someone who was 5 feet 10 and ate chocolate five times a week weighed about seven pounds less than someone of the same height who didn't eat any, says study author Beatrice Golomb, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego. They also found that, on average, the men and women ate chocolate twice a week.  

Golomb confirms that the current study cannot determine whether or not eating chocolate led to weight loss. She speculates, however, that although chocolate is rich in both calories and fat, the character of the calories, not just the quantity, might help explain chocolate's apparent impact on weight. She suggests that chocolate might raise your metabolism, with the result that you burned more calories, which might basically neutralize chocolate’s caloric effect.

Others aren’t so sure. "There's absolutely no convincing evidence that chocolate consumption changes metabolic rate," says endocrinologist Robert Eckel, M.D., of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, who was not involved in the research. "A fat calorie is a fat calorie." He’s also skeptical that eating chocolate “would reduce body weight unless you also cut down on calories.”

But, he adds, that doesn’t mean you should avoid eating chocolate. “If chocolate is a small part of an otherwise healthy diet,” he says, “go ahead and enjoy it."

The study was presented online as a Research Letter in the Archives of Internal Medicine on March 26.    

Also of interest: Do you qualify for free weight-loss counseling?