A moderate consumption of chocolate may have a positive effect on your body fat, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain have discovered that in European adolescents, body fat levels tend to be inversely proportional to chocolate consumption. A survey revealed that the more chocolate a participant ate, the lower his or her body fat level was.

Published in the journal Nutrition, the study sought to investigate the relationship between chocolate consumption and various indicators of total and central body fat, such as body mass index (BMI). To do this, the study authors surveyed 1458 adolescents enrolled in the Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescents (HELENA) project – a multinational research effort that collects nutrition data from thousands of children between the ages of 12 and 17. The team then compared the participants’ estimated chocolate intake with their overall body fat profile.

According to lead author Magdalena Cuenca-Garcia, the results indicated that a higher consumption of chocolate corresponded to a lower level of total and central fat. The link persisted when the team controlled for total energy intake, sexual maturation, intake of saturated fat, coffee consumption, physical activity, and other factors known to influence body fat levels. Total and central fat levels were measured by skin folds, waist circumference, and bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA).

“Our results demonstrate that a higher chocolate consumption was associated with lower total and central fatness in European adolescents,” the study authors wrote in the conclusion.

Several nutrients may account for the observed effect. For example, chocolate contains high levels of the flavonoid catechin, which has been linked to lower BMI levels in previous studies. According to the researchers, this compound is thought to promote healthy body fat levels by influencing cortisol production and insulin sensitivity.

But like all studies that rely on self-reported data, the current research project is not entirely conclusive, as its findings depend on the honesty of each participant. Earlier this year, researchers from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina discredited 40 years of nutrition research by showing that study subjects with higher BMI consistently misrepresented their overall caloric intake. By the same token, HELENA participants with higher body fat levels may have been more reluctant to report their actual candy and chocolate consumption.

In the end, moderation may be your best bet. “Chocolate can be good for you, as our study has shown,” the team concluded. “But, undoubtedly, excessive consumption is prejudicial. As they say: you can have too much of a good thing.”

Source: Association between chocolate consumption and fatness in European adolescents. Magdalena Cuenca-García, Jonatan R. Ruiz, Francisco B. Ortega, Manuel J. Castillo, HELENA study group. Nutrition - 21 October 2013 (10.1016/j.nut.2013.07.011).