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One Surprising Effect of Eating Chocolate, New Study Says

A small treat can actually improve your health.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

No doubt you've heard that chocolate can be considered a healthy indulgence—dark chocolate, that is, not the milk chocolate in a Hershey's Bar or the stuff that coats Count Chocula cereal. Now, new research suggests it may help you burn more calories while sitting on the couch.

Dark chocolate with 70% and more cacao is high in plant compounds called flavonoids and flavanols that are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular benefits. The American Heart Association notes that some studies suggest that eating dark chocolate is associated with a lower risk of insulin resistance and high blood pressure.

One study involving obese subjects found that eating dark chocolate and raw almonds helped lower their "bad" cholesterol. Other research points to such cognitive benefits as enhanced cerebral blood, improved memory, quicker processing speed, better test performance, and improved mood. (Related: 14 Health Benefits of Eating Chocolate.)

While some experts believe the evidence for dark chocolate's health benefits is still thin, a new study adds to the growing body of research that may encourage you to enjoy a few squares of your favorite dark chocolate after dinner.

The small study published in 2021 in the International Journal of Exercise Science tested the effect of a small amount of dark chocolate on the energy expenditure (metabolism) of women during rest and exercise. Eighteen fit women were randomly assigned to one of two groups—one given 20 grams of dark chocolate and the other a calorically matched amount of white chocolate to eat daily during the 28-day trial. The subjects were blind to the fact that dark chocolate was being tested and white chocolate was the placebo.

Both groups had their resting energy expenditure (REE) and exercise energy expenditure (EEE) recorded before starting the chocolate supplementation and again after 28 days of chocolate eating. The exercise sessions involved stationary cycling at two different intensities.

Results demonstrated that the participants who ate the dark chocolate recorded a nearly 10% increase in their resting metabolism (REE) compared to no increase in the white chocolate group's REE. However, dark chocolate had no effect on energy expenditure during either of the cycling intensities.

While one may assume that the caffeine in chocolate could have been behind the metabolism boost, the researchers say the daily dose of dark chocolate—approximately 4 squares—was too small for its caffeine content to play a significant role in the outcome. More likely, the flavonoids in the dark chocolate stimulated the boost in metabolic rate, say the researchers, who suggest that further study may find a role for dark chocolate in energy balance, weight control, and body composition.

Hungry for some chocolate? We Taste Tested 5 Chocolate Bars & This One Was the Best.

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Jeff Csatari
Jeff Csatari, a contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, is responsible for editing Galvanized Media books and magazines and for advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA. Read more about Jeff
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