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Chocolate is a health food. (This message brought to you by the makers of Hershey bars.)

Here’s some news you’ve been waiting for: Chocolate is a health food!

Well, maybe not. But it can be part of a healthy diet. It’s true – 70% of dieticians said you can eat 100 calories worth of chocolate each day “while maintaining a balanced lifestyle.” Nearly as many agreed that you could eat that much chocolate daily and still lose weight.

OK, so that survey was not scientific, and the results don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of dieticians as a whole. But the survey sponsor is still eager to share its finding that nine out of 10 registered dieticians say people are more likely to stick with a weight-loss diet if the plan includes “treats.”

By the way, the survey sponsor was none other than the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition, which supports research on “the health benefits of cocoa, chocolate, nuts and more,” according to its website.

The Hershey Center stepped up its commitment to your health this week by becoming a corporate sponsor of the American Dietetic Assn., the professional group for nutritionists and dieticians. (The organization can be found online at EatRight.org. In doing so, Hershey joined an esteemed list of health food purveyors, including the Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and Mars Inc. (Yes, the soda companies also sell juice and water, and Mars makes Uncle Ben’s rice, but that doesn’t make them health food companies.)

The folks at Fooducate are understandably appalled (if not surprised) that the ADA would let itself be influenced by big bucks from candy and soda makers. “Instead of a very simple message – ‘less candy’ – we’ll hear ‘moderation,’ ‘balance,’ ‘chocolate is healthy’ and other messages that help nudge consumers to buy more snacks instead of less,” according to a post on the Fooducate blog.

The Sustainable Food blog got to the heart of the issue: “If the world’s largest group of nutrition professionals is in bed with junk food giants like Pepsi and Mars, how can consumers believe any of the organization’s dietary advice?” Instead, the blog suggested that “folks can get better dietary direction from a fortune cookie.”

And for those of you readers pursuing a healthy, balanced lifestyle, you can eat 48% of a classic milk chocolate Hershey bar or 56% of a Hershey Special Dark without exceeding the 100-calorie daily limit.

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