Chocolate Can Make You Thinner

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THE GIST

- Compounds in chocolate may alter metabolism, reducing the fraction of calories that turn to fat.

- Go for dark chocolate with 60 to 70 percent cocoa.

- Try to stop after just a bite or two.

In a study that may seen like a dream come true, researchers have found that people who regularly eat chocolate tend to be thinner than people who don't eat chocolate at all.

Scientists still do not, unfortunately, endorse snacking on enormous piles of candy bars or massive bowls of chocolate ice cream. Nevertheless, the study adds to growing evidence that chocolate contains compounds that, in moderate doses, may alter metabolism, boost the energy efficiency of cells, and reduce the fraction of calories consumed that get deposited as fat.

PHOTOS: Art of Chocolate: A Short, Sweet History

Eventually, the research may lead to obesity drugs that isolate chocolate's benefits in the pill form. In the meantime, the findings suggest that a square of chocolate after dinner most nights could help counter bulging waistlines.

"The presumption has always been that because chocolate is full of pesky calories and eaten as a sweet, that it would be associated with higher BMI," or body mass index, said Beatrice Golomb, an internal medicine doctor who studies oxidative stress and other topics at the University of California, San Diego.

"This is not a randomized trial and we shouldn't necessarily make recommendations from it, but for now, people can feel less guilty about moderate chocolate consumption," she added. "It does make me feel less guilty about telling my patients that chocolate is my favorite vegetable."

People have been tuned in to the health benefits of chocolate for at least 5,000 years, said Francisco Villarreal, a cardiology expert who is also a professor of medicine at UCSD but was not affiliated with the new study.

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The plant that produces chocolate beans, called Theobroma cacao, translates to "food of the gods." The Aztecs and Mayans used its beans both as money and as a treatment for a variety of diseases. And ancient warriors consumed cocoa to increase their strength.

In modern times, researchers have linked chocolate consumption to a bunch of good health outcomes, including lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, lower levels of bad cholesterol along with higher levels of good cholesterol, and increased sensitivity to insulin, which helps maintain steady blood sugar levels.

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