Actress Katherine Hepburn credited her famously slim build to "a lifetime of chocolate," and now a new investigation from California suggests that eating chocolate is "calorie neutral" and doesn't cause weight gain. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego set out to test the hypothesis that eating small amounts of chocolate on a regular basis wouldn't contribute to weight gain. They analyzed information from 1,000 overweight but not obese men and women and found that those who ate chocolate most often tended to consume more calories overall, including saturated fat, but weighed five to seven pounds less than people who didn't eat any chocolate. This held true regardless of age, gender or amount of exercise reported by the chocolate-eaters. The difference seemed to hinge on how often the participants ate chocolate, not how much they ate. The study was published online on March 26, 2012 by the Archives of Internal Medicine.
My take? Chocolate has many health benefits - it is a source of polyphenols (the same type of antioxidants found in red wine), and the fat it contains, stearic acid, doesn't affect cholesterol levels. In addition, research has indicated that the flavonoids in dark chocolate may help reduce the stickiness of platelets, cells that play an important role in blood clotting. As a result, blood takes longer to clot, reducing the risks of coronary artery blockages. Chocolate's polyphenols also appear to boost levels of HDL (the "good" cholesterol) and lower LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) at least in the lab. I have long recommended good-quality dark chocolate as a healthy snack, as long as you don't go overboard. An ounce or two a few times a week is good for you, but it's not a strategy to lose weight. I'll be interested to learn what it is about chocolate that explains the findings that people who eat chocolate regularly are thinner than those who don't.