A new study published in the Archive of Internal Medicine further proves that eating chocolate in moderation can actually be good for you.

In Monday's online issue, researchers asked 1,017 healthy men and women from the ages 20 to 85 how many times they consumed chocolate every week. They were also required to fill in questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle habits.

Dr. Beatrice Golomb -- author of the study and a professor in the medical department at the University of California, San Diego -- told the CBC people shouldn't feel so guilty about consuming the sweet treat on occasion.

"This certainly does not provide support for eating large amounts of chocolate. For those of us who do eat a little bit of chocolate regularly, perhaps any guilt associated with that might be qualified," she said.

The study concluded that adults who eat chocolate a few times a week or more did not gain weight, and even had a lower BMI than those who don't. Those who ate five servings of chocolate a week were found to be 5-7 pounds lighter than those who consumed it only on occasion.

Earlier studies have suggested that chocolate may have a beneficial effect on metabolism, which researchers noted could include having a lower body mass index. Experiments have also shown that chocolate has insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and cholesterol benefits.

During the study, researchers looked at factors like the saturated fat content, calories, mood and physical activity levels.

Though the difference was modest, the only strong statistical association came from frequent chocolate consumption. Still researchers caution against assuming there is a cause and effect relationship at play when it comes to chocolate consumption and a lower BMI.

The finding does support a growing base of research that suggests it's not just the quantity, but the quality of calories that affect metabolic syndrome.

It is suspected that the antioxidants in cocoa help to protect the energy-producing mitochondria in the body that powers cells.

Some ingredients in chocolate can increase the number of mitochondria along with the production of small blood vessels that help deliver oxygen and nutrients, which could in turn help metabolism, Golomb told the CBC.

The finding is intriguing enough that researchers have called for a randomized trial testing chocolate's metabolic benefits.

The current recommendation from dietitians? Consume no more than a few squares a day, and stick to dark chocolate.

The U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the University of California funded the study.

Sources: Archive of Internal Medicine, CBC, Digital Journal

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/clubfoto

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Lisa Lagace