Get stuck into Easter chocs... they may help you stay thin
Far from piling on the pounds, a chocolate habit can help keep you slim, new research suggests.
Just in time for Easter, scientists have announced the discovery that every chocolate lover has been waiting for.
A study has found that, despite boosting calorie intake, regular chocolate consumption is related to lower body mass index (BMI).
The effect is modest but greater than can be explained by chance, say the American researchers who took account of influencing factors such as overall fat consumption and exercise.
BMI relates height and weight and is the standard measurement used to assess levels of obesity. The good news about chocolate emerged after scientists screened a group of 972 men and women with an average age of 57 for a study of statins -- cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Among other diet and lifestyle questions, participants were asked: "How many times a week do you consume chocolate?"
Chocolate is known to contain plant chemicals called polyphenols that combat heart disease and may influence metabolism.
The researchers suspected they might, to some extent at least, offset the unwelcome effects of high saturated fat levels in chocolate bars and sweets.
No account was taken of different types of chocolate, some of which contain more healthy elements than others.
The results showed that chocolate was not only "calorie neutral" but actually appeared to make people slimmer.
Participants who ate chocolate on more days of the week than average were statistically likely to have a lower BMI than those who did not.
This was despite the fact that people who ate more chocolate did not consume fewer calories overall, or take more exercise.
In fact they ate more -- chocolate consumption was associated with greater overall saturated fat intake.
Volunteers had an average BMI of 28 -- meaning they were overweight -- and ate chocolate on average twice a week. No link was seen between the amount of chocolate eaten and either higher or lower BMI.
The findings appear in Archives of Internal Medicine, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Study leader Dr Beatrice Golomb said: "In the case of chocolate, this is good news -- both for those who have a regular chocolate habit, and those who wish to start one."