Katharine Hepburn once attributed her slim figure to “a lifetime of chocolate.” Now a new study from UC San Diego has found that people who eat chocolate on a regular basis are indeed thinner than those who don't. The findings from the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine Monday.

Researchers examined dietary and other data from about 1,000 adult men and women. They found that adults who ate chocolate on more days a week had a lower body mass index and lower weight than those who ate chocolate less frequently. The size of the effect was modest but “significant” — larger than could be explained by chance. This was despite the fact that those who ate chocolate more often did not eat fewer calories (they actually ate more, including more saturated fat), nor did they exercise more. Participants' age and gender also did not affect the results. The effect worked out to a five- to seven-pound difference between people who ate five servings of chocolate per week compared to those who didn't eat any.

The scientists say it's possible that antioxidants and other chemicals in chocolate could be behind health benefits including lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as decreased body weight and better insulin sensitivity. Past evidence suggests the antioxidants in cocoa, called flavonoids, are behind any benefits tied to chocolate — especially dark chocolate, which has the most flavonoids.

The study's results were even more favorable than the researchers originally hypothesized. “Our findings appear to add to a body of information suggesting that the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining their ultimate impact on weight,” said Beatrice Golomb, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego. “In the case of chocolate, this is good news, both for those who have a regular chocolate habit and those who may wish to start one.”

However, it was only how often people ate chocolate, not the total amount they ate regularly, that was linked to their weight.

The key for chocolate lovers seems to be considering calories and knowing that not all chocolate is created equal, Eric Ding of Harvard Medical School told Reuters Health. “If you consume chocolate, consume it in place of something else, rather than adding to your net daily calories, (and) try to consume dark chocolate,” he said.

Golomb agreed: “This certainly does not provide support for eating large amounts of chocolate.”

OK, so maybe gorging on a box of See's isn't the right idea. But if a cute little chocolate bunny could help a person drop a couple of pounds, who are we to question science?

Follow Samantha Bonar @samanthabonar.

LA Weekly