Does chocolate help you lose weight? Experts weigh in on the new study from the University of California San Diego.
Can chocolate lead to weight loss? There are possible explanations for controversial study results that suggest it, but some critics aren't so sure. Experts weigh in on the new study from the University of California San Diego. Flickr

Dr. Beatrice Golomb says chocolate is now her favorite vegetable.

Golomb and a team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego just published an astonishing finding in the Archives of Internal Medicine: people who eat chocolate frequently tend to weigh less than those who don't.

The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, surveyed 1018 people between the ages of 20 and 85. About 70 percent of participants were male.

Chocolate is highly caloric and sugary, so it's long been considered bad for your health. But the research team was surprised to find a clear link between frequent chocolate consumption and lower weight. Interestingly, it didn't matter how much chocolate was consumed at a time. Frequency was key. Whether you're eating a single Hershey's Kiss or a king-sized chocolate bar, simply indulging five times a week means you're likely to weigh less than those who don't.

It gets weirder; people who ate a lot of chocolate also tended to consume more calories overall, and did not exercise any more than others. And they still had a lower body mass index on average, reports ABC News.

This seems a bit of an affront to common sense, so responses to the study have varied.

The study authors themselves noted that finding a link does not mean the same thing as identifying a cause. In other words, there is no proof that eating chocolate causes weight loss. All they know is that the two phenomena tend to occur in tandem; exactly why is still anyone's guess.

Golomb and her coauthors posit that certain antioxidants called epicatechins, which are found in dark chocolate, might be behind the results. That notion is based on past experiments with mice; those who were fed epicatechins actually had improved lean muscle mass and better physical fitness.

This goes hand-in-hand with earlier findings that the antioxidants found in dark chocolates are good for heart health and blood pressure.

Other health professionals argue that chocolate and weight loss are spuriously linked: correlation, after all, does not imply causation.

Harvard Medical School Nutritionist Eric Ding told Reuters that socioeconomics may be involved. Poverty, he pointed out, has been linked to weight problems. It is therefore quite possible that more affluent consumers, who tend be slimmer to begin with, can afford to spend money on treats and therefore eat more chocolate. That skews the data, making it appear that chocolate and healthy body weights go together when they are only tangentially related.

Or, he suggested, it could be that people on a diet tend to reward themselves with chocolate. In that case, it is the dieting success and not the chocolate itself that results in a lower body weight.

Finally, said Ding, this was a small study that did not set out specifically to determine the effects of chocolate on body weight. Further research is certainly in order.

Golomb agrees with that point. She told the Wall Street Journal that another study -- one designed specifically to see if chocolate leads to weight loss -- would be necessary before any concrete assertions about the weight-reducing benefits of chocolate could be made.