Health benefits of 6 popular foods

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published November 26, 2018

Key Takeaways

In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised its Nutrition Facts labels for packaged foods. The new food labels make it easier for consumers to identify healthy foods, and to understand the links between diet and chronic conditions, such as obesity and heart disease.

One big change is an update to the list of vitamins and minerals now required or permitted on the label, which should show why certain popular foods are so darn healthy.

Let’s look at the health benefits of six popular foods.

Dark chocolate

The Mayans of the Mesoamerican region (now parts of North and Central America) were among the first to cultivate and consume chocolate. They mixed chocolate, in the form of a bitter fermented beverage, with spices or wine—a process modern historians have dated to 2,000 B.C.E.—which was often consumed during ritual festivities. This unusual concoction set the foundation for the wide range of chocolate products that regale consumers today. And to think, all these wonderful products come from the cacao pod.

Cacao is rich in flavanols, a phytochemical that has been linked to heart health. Dark chocolate is between two and three times denser in flavanols than milk chocolate. Researchers have shown that flavanols can boost insulin sensitivity, which may help with diabetes.

Other healthy minerals found in chocolate include iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus.

Although chocolate is high in calories, it can also make you feel full. Therefore, the weight impact of this sugary sweet is unclear. Because dark chocolate contains a moderate amount of saturated fat—which can adversely affect blood lipid levels—as well as a high caloric profile, it should be eaten in moderation.

Acai berries

Acai berries resemble grapes and grow on acai palm trees found in the rainforests of South America. Acai berries are rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin, which may decrease oxidative stress and lower the risk of heart attack in women.

The antioxidants in acai berries also may help fight cancer by activating detoxifying enzymes, preventing cancer cell division, and inducing cancer cell apoptosis.

Aside from being eaten raw, acai is available in a tablet form and can be found in beverages, jellies, and even ice cream.


One single almond takes an astonishing 1.1 gallons of water to grow, which is concerning to environmentalists. From a health standpoint, however, almonds are remarkably healthy, rich in copper, magnesium, quality proteins, healthy unsaturated fatty acids, and vitamin E. Furthermore, researchers have found that almonds can help to prevent heart disease and cancer, as well as lengthen life.


For some time, experts believed that coffee consumption might increase blood pressure levels, interfere with sleep quality, and possibly lead to cancer. Times have changed, and now researchers have shown that moderate coffee consumption may be linked to decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, uterine and liver cancers, and more. Of note, coffee is a principal source of antioxidants in the diet.


Edamame are immature soybeans that are often served raw in the pod. This delicacy has made its way out of Japanese restaurants and onto the plates of everyday Americans. Edamame consumption has been tied to improved blood pressure control, depression relief and recovery, enhanced fertility, and lower bone loss.

Edamame are gluten-free, low calorie, cholesterol-free, and a rich source of protein, iron, and calcium.


Honey is made from the nectar of flowers collected by bees, which is then broken down into simple sugars and stored inside the honeycomb. Honey is rich in monosaccharides, fructose, and glucose. Interestingly, the flavor of honey depends on the type of flower from which it is made. Raw and pasteurized honey are both commonly available, with raw honey bottled directly after being harvested from the hive and still containing wax, yeast, and pollen. Some experts think that raw honey helps with seasonal allergies due to its pollen content. Pasteurized honey is heated to remove impurities.

Honey possesses antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and has a range of medical uses including the management of infections and chronic wounds. In fact, honey has been used in medicine for more than 5,000 years!

Don’t forget, of course, that babies less than 1 year old should not be given honey of any kind.

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