The Skinny on Chocolate and Weight Loss

Can a chocolate habit help you stay slim? I’ve been following this research (with good reason!) for years, so I was thrilled to see a study published earlier last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine that found people who frequently eat chocolate have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than people who don’t—as much as a 5- to 7-pound difference.

The study builds on a growing body of evidence that not all calories are created equally—and that certain foods contain special compounds that can affect metabolism or how the body stores fat. In chocolate’s case, the researchers suspect that antioxidants and other ingredients in chocolate may boost metabolism and help offset its calories.

Related: 13 Magic Foods That Release Fat >>

This is, of course, amazing news for all chocoholics like me. I know the study discovered only an association between weight and chocolate consumption, and didn't prove that eating chocolate led to weight loss. (It may that people who tend to eat chocolate have overall healthier lifestyles or other habits that are linked to a healthier weight). But the findings add to the list of chocolate's many health benefits: It can lower blood pressure, decrease the risk of stroke, improve insulin sensitivity, and even protect from the damaging effects of the sun’s UV rays on your skin!

Related: 15 Decadent Chocolate Treats >>

So do occasionally indulge, and here's how to do it as healthfully as possible:

1. Nibble, frequently

The Archives study author told the New York Times that it was the frequency of chocolate eating, not the total amount, that led to its beneficial effects on weight. (There was even a trend toward higher BMIs among people who ate more chocolate at each sitting). Think a square or two of a decadent chocolate bar each day.

 2. Go dark 

The darker the chocolate, the greater the levels of antioxidants, which are what researchers believe are responsible for chocolate’s potential fat releasing properties. Many experts recommend picking dark chocolate that’s 60 percent cocoa or more, which ensures you’re getting a healthy dose of antioxidants.

I also love this reasoning that my friend David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, shared with WebMD.com: “Dark chocolate is bittersweet. Whereas sweet stimulates appetite, bitter actually suppresses it.”

In other words, that little morsel of dark chocolate may actually quell your appetite and prevent more snacking. Dark chocolate is also high in healthy fats called MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids), which have been shown to help melt belly fat.

Related: How MUFAs Work >>

3. Don’t deprive yourself

 Chocolate may also help people stay slim by making the rest of their diets more, well, palatable. One Israeli researcher told HealthDay News that diets that force people to ditch sweets altogether just make them more appealing; she found that people could tolerate a diet better when they ate chocolate on it.

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