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5 Health foods with extra benefits you may not have heard about

Maggie Giuffrida is a graduate of The University of Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism. She is a contributing writer for SheKnows, specializing in health and fitness. Maggie is a certified yoga instructor and health and well...

Foods that may be even more healthy than you think

We’ve all heard the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and while you may have rolled your eyes — it's true.

Registered dietician, M.S., C.D.N., and co-author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel? Ilyse Schapiro reassures us that eating a healthy diet in many cases can help prevent many diseases.

Vitamin and supplement expert Hallie Rich, who is also co-author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel?, agrees. “By consistently eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, you will have more energy, feel more satisfied, have more focus, and your body’s processes — like metabolism, digestion and immunity — will be functioning at a much higher and more efficient level,” she says.

More: 15 New books that will change your view on dieting

And while we're all probably well aware of the benefits to certain healthy foods, there are also many less-mentioned perks. Check out a few of these two nutrition experts' favorite health foods with surprising perks.

1. Almond butter

“Anyone who knows me knows that I love almond butter,” says Schapiro.

What we know: Almond butter is rich in the powerful antioxidant vitamin E and in magnesium, which helps support the metabolism. It is also a great source of healthy fats, which are important for regulating energy, mood and even weight.

Food for thought: But, what most people don't know is that almond butter is also beneficial for building and maintaining strong, healthy bones. When compared to regular peanut butter, almond butter contains more calcium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus.

2. Greek yogurt

What we know: Greek yogurt is packed with protein, which helps keep you full longer, and is also rich in probiotics, which are great for gut health.

Food for thought: Did you know that Greek yogurt can also help clear your complexion? "Yogurt contains lactic acid, which is a component in some in-office chemical peels," says dermatologist Hema Sundaram, M.D., in an article for Health. "It gently exfoliates the top layers of the epidermis, which can clear up blemishes and discolorations, and may even reduce fine wrinkles."

3. Dark chocolate

What we know: Indulging in a little dark chocolate each day is a great way to get some extra antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. “Moderate intake of dark chocolate can help support heart health, blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar,” says Schapiro.

Food for thought: It also has a few hidden health perks that you may not know about. For example, researchers found that people who ate more chocolate with high levels of flavanols were less likely to get sunburned, and Finnish researchers found that women who consumed chocolate during pregnancy had babies which were happier and smiled more often.

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Dark chocolate can also help with anxiety. Swiss scientists (makes sense) found that stress hormones in very anxious people were lowered significantly when they ate 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate every day for two weeks, proving that breaking into a dark chocolate bar is perhaps the best post-breakup remedy.

4. Eggplant

What we know: Eggplant is rich in phytonutrients, including chlorogenic acid and flavonoids, such as nasunin. “Chlorogenic acid has antimicrobial, ant-LDL (bad cholesterol) and antiviral properties,” Schapiro notes. “Nasunin is a powerful antioxidant which can help with anti-aging, is anti-carcinogenic and helps to keep blood vessels open.”

Food for thought: In addition to these great health benefits, eggplant has also been noted to help fight cancer. A 2005 study published in a scientific journal found that the nasunin in eggplant skins has antiangiongenic properties, which help prevent tumors from growing and thus fights the spread of cancer.

5. Carrots

“Carrots are rich in beta carotene, which turns to vitamin A and is great for vision,” Schapiro says.

What we know: Vitamin A helps protect your body against sun damage, aging and free radicals. It’s also integral to many functions, including cardiovascular, immunity and memory. “Those people who don’t get enough vitamin A can suffer from night blindness, wrinkles, dry and discolored skin, weak nails, brittle hair, and are more likely to get infections,” notes Schapiro.

More: Why you might want to try Tom and Gisele's extreme diet

Food for thought: While you probably already know that carrots can help improve eyesight, what you may find surprising is that they can also help boost your immune system and improve your oral hygiene.

Carrots stimulate the gums and induce excess saliva. Saliva is an alkaline substance and combats the bacteria and foreign bodies that can often result in cavities, halitosis and other oral health risks.

So perhaps it's safe to say a carrot a day keeps the dentist away?

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