The Healthiest Island Foods

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Vanilla; Madagascar
We're not talking about vanilla extract or imitation vanilla. In most chefs' kitchens, real vanilla from Madagascar or Tahiti is the second most expensive ingredient, after saffron. And it has huge health benefits, like B-complex vitamins to regulate metabolism. On some islands it's used as a natural antidepressant and fever reducer. It's the bean that works wonders, not the cookies

Cinnamon; Grenada
The benefits of this spice made from bark are still coming out of the woodwork. Cinnamon is suggested as a blood-sugar regulator and might help some people with diabetes. It also is said to be good for digestion, complexion and memory, and, with honey, may help against colds. The most basic and least disputable claim is that chewing on a cinnamon stick makes the breath fresh.

Wulong ****Tea; Taiwan
Black, green and wulong (or "oolong") teas come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, and so the health benefits are similar. (Herbal teas, like mint and chamomile, are not in the same family.) The difference is the processing. Wulong is only partially fermented, and is believed to improve blood circulation, bone density, oral health and digestion. Three cups a day is a good intake.

Açai; Belize
Yes, these berries are rich in vitamins A, C and E. And like most dark berries, they could help keep your heart fit, but only if you climb the trees in the rainforests of Belize, pick the açai and gorge yourself. To reap the benefits, you need the skin and pulp. If you must, use freeze-dried pure açai pulp instead of the costly pills, drinks and bars. Or just save some cash and eat blueberries.

Kelp; Japan
Also called kombu, kelp is cultivated off ropes along Japan's coast. It's full of iron, certain amino acids and iodine, so they've used it in the Far East to stave off cancer and sharpen the brain. The stuff is far more flavorful than you might imagine seaweed to be. It is usually described by a fifth taste, "umami," because "sweet," "salty," "bitter" and "sour" just don't do it justice.

Coconuts; Anywhere
That tree up there is often called "the tree of life." Coconuts are used by many islanders to prevent tooth decay, kidney stones, liver disease, measles and stinky breath. The water inside is so mineral-laden that it's been used as an intravenous fluid. Like so many natural island edibles, consumed in its natural form (read: not powdered, processed or packaged), coconut is a true super food.