(CBS News) What's the best way to stay thin? A new study finds it's exercising and eating a healthy diet full of - chocolate?
The study found that people who frequently ate chocolate had a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who didn't.
Is it time to ditch fat-free for fudge?
For the study, published in the March 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers examined more than 1,000 healthy men and women who were free of heart disease, diabetes and cholesterol problems. They were all enrolled in another study that measured the effects of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, but for this study researchers assigned them questionnaires that gauged how often participants chowed down on chocolate.
The researchers found that the participants - who were an average age of 57 - ate chocolate for an average of twice of week and exercised roughly 3.5 times per week. But the more frequent chocolate-eaters had smaller BMIs, a ratio of height and weight that's used to measure obesity.
What explains the effect? Even though chocolate can be loaded with calories, it's full of antioxidants and other ingredients that may promote weight loss, the researchers said.
"I was pretty happy with this news myself," study author Dr. Beatrice Golomb, associate professor of medicine at the University of California-San Diego, told USA Today. "Findings show the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining ultimate weight."
Does that mean all diet regimens should include a daily chocolate bar? The researchers say it's too soon to tell.
"Our findings - that more frequent chocolate intake is linked to lower BMI - are intriguing," the authors wrote. However, "It is not a siren call to go out and eat 20 pounds of chocolate a day," Golomb told HealthDay.
This isn't the first study to suggest a daily dose of chocolate can do the body good. Last summer, a study of more than 100,000 people found those who ate the most chocolate were 39 percent less likely to get heart disease and 29 percent less likely to have a stroke, HealthPop reported. Months later a 10-year study of 33,000 women found a 30 percent reduced risk of stroke among chocaholics.
But experts warn not all chocolate is created equal, and some could contain lots of sugar and calories, which could lead to other health issues if consumed daily.
"I would not want people reading this to think that all [they] need to do to lose weight is eat more chocolate," Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Conn., told WebMD. "That would be a huge mistake." Katz suggests dark chocolate, because of its bitter flavor, may suppress appetite whereas sweet chocolate may stimulate it.
The Mayo Clinic has more on chocolate.