Research on food and health sometimes leads to jaw- dropping discoveries. Some studies even reveal that foods once scorned as completely unhealthy or considered guilty pleasures actually may have health benefits and deserve another look. The beauty of science is that it allows us to open our minds to whatever the evidence shows us. Sometimes this gives us an entirely new perspective on foods. The following are not recommendations, but simply the surprising facts from research.    



As a sweet, chocolate is a confection that contains saturated fat and processed sugar, two ingredients that are not healthy. But dark chocolate contains high amounts of cocoa solids, the core ingredient that does deliver a number of health benefits. A greater percentage of cacao along with less sugar and little dairy is what makes dark chocolate a healthier confection.

What are the benefits?

Consuming dark chocolate has been found to lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, protect your DNA, and improve gut bacteria. As we saw in chapter 7, drinking hot chocolate made with high concentrations of cocoa can increase your stem cells and improve blood flow. It can even switch cells in your immune system from a pro-inflammatory to an anti-inflammatory state.    



Overindulgence of any alcoholic beverages is harmful to your health defences, and beer does deliver a load of calories you probably don’t need. But, beer contains bioactives that float into the liquid during its fermentation.

What are the benefits?

One of them, xanthohumol, has anti-cancer effects, is anti-angiogenic, and can retard the growth of fat cells (yes, actually). An epidemiological study of 107,998 people showed that drinking beer is associated with a reduced risk for kidney cancer. The non-alcoholic part of beer also stimulates stem cells that are good for the heart, as we saw in chapter 7.    



Cheese does contain saturated fat and can be high in salt, which pose health dangers on their own. But studies of tens of thousands of people in Sweden have shown that eating small amounts of cheese (up to six slices per day) is associated with a reduced risk for heart attack.

What are the benefits?

A major study in Germany of 24,340 people found that eating the equivalent of two slices of hard cheese, such as Gouda, Jarlsberg, Emmenthal, or Edam, each day was associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer and prostate cancer. These benefits, as noted in chapter 6, are linked to the vitamin K2, which is found in hard cheeses. Other cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheddar, and Camembert supply healthy gut bacteria for your microbiome.

Prosciutto and jamón


Processed meats are definitely not healthy food choices. While willpower and self- discipline are virtues, some people just can’t stop themselves from eating bacon. If you must have ham to enjoy your quality of life, remember from chapter 6 that jamón Ibérico de bellota from Spain is made from pigs fed on acorns, and Italian prosciutto di Parma is made from pigs fed on the whey of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (beneficial to gut bacteria) and chestnuts.

What are the benefits?

Both acorns and chestnuts contain omega-3 PUFAs. For your health, you should minimise your intake of all meats, especially processed meat (there are no human studies supporting the health benefit of eating any processed meat), but it is surprising that these two speciality hams do offer some healthy fat.  

Spicy food

Spicy food

There was a time when spicy food was considered a health hazard, if only due to the potential for heartburn. But research led to a complete rethink about the heat- generating, health-promoting properties of capsaicin found in chilli peppers, both fresh and dried.

What are the benefits?

A massive study from China, where entire regions eat fiery cuisine, showed that eating spicy food at least once a day was associated with a reduced risk of death from any cause, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, and infections. Your gut bacteria also like the heat. Research has shown that a chilli- fed microbiome can ward off inflammation and obesity.    

Tree nuts


Nuts (almonds, cashews, chestnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts) by themselves are not jaw-dropping — we know eating them is good for you. But what they can do to change your fate from cancer is jaw dropping.

What are the benefits?

One major European study showed that consuming one and a half servings of tree nuts ( twenty- two walnut halves) per day was associated with a 31 per cent reduced risk of developing colon cancer. Even more stunning was the study from thirteen major cancer centres, including Harvard University, Duke University, the University of California San Francisco, and the University of Chicago, that showed eating just two servings of tree nuts per week was associated with a whopping 53 per cent reduction in the risk of death in patients with stage 3 colon cancer who were being treated conventionally with chemotherapy. 

  • Eat to Beat Disease

  • Is your diet feeding or defeating disease?

    We are at a turning point in our understanding of how to prevent and fight disease. Rates of cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, obesity and other common health problems are skyrocketing. However, the latest scientific research and clinical evidence is revealing that the power to protect ourselves against these threats and resist them lies in a simple solution: the foods we eat everyday.

    In Eat to Beat Disease, Dr William Li explains that your body was designed to fight threats like these and we have radically underestimated how food can be used to amplify this hidden power. Your body has five natural defence systems that, if functioning well, can protect you: angiogenesis (growing new blood vessels), cell regeneration, the microbiome, DNA protection and immunity. The healthy working of each has been found to be intimately connected to the foods we eat – and the findings are sometimes surprising. Discover:
    · Why scientists think drinking hot cocoa boosts stem cells crucial for your body's regeneration
    · The role of cheese and wine in maintaining healthy gut bacteria
    · Why drinking coffee lowers your risk of dying

    Revealing more than 200 foods that you can incorporate into your life today to help you live longer, Dr William Li proposes a simple 5 x 5 x 5 framework, inviting you to choose five foods and eat them five times a day, to fortify your five defence systems. It is not about dieting or cutting out – it is about having the confidence to incorporate the healthy foods you already love into a plan for life-long change. It could save your life.

  • Buy the book

Read more

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