HealthDay News — Eating chocolate every few days may help keep weight off, study findings suggest.

In a cross-sectional analysis of nearly 1,000 participants in a clinical study, more frequent chocolate consumption was associated with lower BMI, Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of California San Diego in La Jolla, Calif., reported in Archives of Internal Medicine.

“The connection of higher chocolate consumption frequency to lower BMI is opposite to associations presumed based on calories alone, but concordant with a growing body of literature suggesting that the character — as well as the quantity — of calories has an impact on [metabolic syndrome] factors,” the researchers wrote.

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Results from previous studies have shown favorable metabolic associations between chocolate consumption and BP, insulin and cholesterol levels, which many think may be due to antioxidant phytonutrients found in chocolate. But concerns persist because chocolate is often consumed as a sweet and is high in calories.

To get a better understanding of the risk-benefit profile of chocolate consumption, the researchers studied data from 972 men and women who did not have known cardiovascular disease, diabetes or extremes of LDL cholesterol levels (inclusive LDL was 115 to 190 mg/dL).

All participants completed the Fred Hutchinson Food Frequency Questionnaire and had BMI assessed. The researchers used the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale (CES-D) to assess mood, and defined activity by how many times per week a participant engaged in activity sufficient to get the heart beating rapidly for at least 20 minutes.

On average, participants were 57 years old, had a BMI of 28 kg/m², ate chocolate twice a week, and exercised 3.6 times a week.

The researchers than used linear regression methods to evaluate the frequency of chocolate as a BMI predictor, both in unadjusted models and in models adjusting for a range of possible confounders, including age, sex, physical activity, intake of saturated fats, mood and calorie intake.

They found that chocolate consumption frequency correlated significantly with greater calorie and saturated fat intake and higher CES-D scores, each of which was positively associated with BMI. However, the frequency of chocolate consumption was significantly linked with lower BMI in an unadjusted analysis (P=0.008) and remained significant at P=0.001 when all the confounders were included.

There was no significant association between the frequency of chocolate consumption and greater activity (P = 0.41) and in an analysis adjusted for age and sex, the amount of chocolate eaten was not significantly associated with BMI.

The researchers cautioned that the study was cross-sectional and so they were unable to determine if the chocolate causes the beneficial effect on BMI.

The results were “intriguing,” the researchers concluded, and added further randomized trials exploring the metabolic benefits of chocolate may be merited.

Golomb BA et al. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(6):519-521.