After a lot of contemplation, here is my list (in no particular order):
Why these nine, out of all of the foods I could possibly choose? They represent all of the essential Paleo food groups (protein, fruits, veggies, fats), contain a plethora of nutrients, and provide quite a few health benefits. Oh, and they're just straight-up delicious.
Let's take a look.
I love tomatoes. I put them in all of my salads, eat them as snacks, use them in cooking (tomato sauce, anyone?), and simply love the taste. There aren't many things better than a ripe tomato! While I could go on for hours about how much I love tomatoes, it's the essential nutrients that this superfood provides that makes it on this list. Tomatoes are extremely rich in Vitamin C, but also contain significant amounts of Vitamin A and Vitamin K. Further, they contain minerals such as potassium, are a good source of fiber, and are said to lead to healthier skin. One of the biggest health benefits of tomatoes is lycopene, which is a great antioxidant and is thought to reduce the risk of cancer. (Tomatoes also add a great burst of color to your food-- your plate should be a rainbow!)
I can't live without eggs-- they're probably the number one staple in my diet. Not only are there (allegedly) 100 ways to cook them (so there's plenty of variety!), but they're also a cooking staple and really great source of protein and amino acids. Eggs also contain choline, selenium, riboflavin (Vitamin B-2), and iodine... and a ton of other vitamins and minerals as well. What I love most about eggs is just how versatile they are-- you can seriously do anything with them. My favorite ways to eat eggs include omelets, frittatas, and chopped up in salads. Yum!!
If I were to choose one type of lean protein, I'd most certainly choose chicken. But since the question says be specific, I've decided on (organic and skinless) chicken breast for its deliciousness and versatility. There are endless possibilities in almost every type of cuisine-- just run a google search! Chicken breast is great on its own, but I also love cutting it up and putting it in my salads-- there are just so many ways to eat it. Chicken is obviously a fantastic source of protein, but also contains selenium, niacin (Vitamin B3), tryptophan, and Vitamin B6. So delicious, and so good for you!
I would've said just "beef," but if I have to do specific, my absolute favorite way to have (grass-fed) beef is as steak. During my brief period of Primal vegetarianism, I really missed steak. There's just something so satisfying about eating a tender, juicy piece of filet mignon... or sirloin... or skirt steak... or flank steak... or any cut! Beef is similar to chicken in a lot of the nutritional benefits-- it's an awesome protein source and contains selenium, niacin, and B6. It's also a fantastic source of zinc, phosphorus, iron, Vitamin B12, and conjugated linoleic acid. Conventional Wisdom has used beef as a scapegoat for a lot of health problems, but there are so many health benefits!
Green, leafy vegetables always rank at the top of the "healthiest" or "superfoods" lists, and spinach is no exception. It's extremely rich in Vitamin K, Vitamin A, manganese, magnesium, iron, Vitamin C, riboflavin (B2), calcium, potassium, fiber... the list goes on. Spinach is also an excellent source of lutein, an antioxidant that's great for your eyes, skin, and heart. It's no wonder Popeye ate so much spinach! I use baby spinach in almost all of my salads, and I also put spinach in omelets, frittatas, quiches, and various other dishes. This is definitely a necessary superfood!
I became addicted to sunflower seeds a few months ago, and now they're one of my absolute favorite foods. They add a great crunch to salads, are delicious eaten raw, and are even better when toasted with a bit of EVOO and some spices. I don't snack much, but when I do, it's on (raw) sunflower seeds, which contain healthy fats. Further, they're an amazing source of Vitamin E, thiamine (B1), manganese, magnesium, copper, tryptophan, selenium, phosphorus, fiber, and more! If you buy sunflower seeds, buy them raw-- if they come in a bag or have a label, don't get them!
I love all types of berries, so it was really hard picking just one to make my list. Blueberries, however, are probably the best in terms of health benefits. They are the only naturally blue food, so are an essential part of the food rainbow, and contain the highest amount of antioxidants out of all fruits. They're also high in Vitamin C, manganese, fiber, and Vitamin E, and are low in both carbs and calories as compared with other fruits. Blueberries are good for your eyes and heart, aid in digestion, protect against many types of cancer, boost your immune system, help fight against urinary tract infections, and help prevent degenerative diseases. Throw them in a regular or fruit salad, eat them as a snack, or throw them in a smoothie-- no matter how you eat them, these little berries are the best!
Romaine lettuce contains many of the same nutritional benefits as spinach and other green, leafy vegetables: Vitamins K, A, C, manganese, potassium, and fiber. In addition, Romaine contains folate, chromium, molybdenum, and quite a few other vitamins and minerals; further, Romaine lettuce is extremely low in calories and carbs. While it's delicious as the basis of a salad, my favorite way to eat Romaine is as the top and bottom "buns" of a burger or sandwich, or as a lettuce roll-up with meat and/or veggies in the middle. These lettuce "sandwiches" are really great if you want the fillings of a sandwich but don't want the bread! (A lot of restaurants offer lettuce wraps as a sandwich alternative, such as the Unwich at Jimmy John's, so I love that I can go to sandwich places with my friends and not be worried that I'll be wasting bread by just eating the sandwich contents!)
I actually don't like olives all that much-- however, they do contain good nutrients such as iron, Vitamin E, fiber, and copper. The reason that I put this food on my list, though, is because I love the uber-healthy (extra virgin) olive oil. It's rich in monounsaturated fats, which help prevent heart disease and reduce the risk of some types of cancer. Olive oil contains polyphenols, reduces blood pressure, promotes longevity, improves insulin sensitivity, helps with weight loss, and has anti-inflammatory properties... as well as quite a few other really awesome health benefits. EVOO is my favorite salad dressing, and it's also great for toasting seeds and sautéing veggies.
So those are my nine foods. However, there are two things that aren't necessarily "foods" that I must add to this list as well: coffee and cinnamon.
I love coffee, and it's something I don't think I'll ever stop drinking. You can get coffee pretty much anywhere at any time of the day, it's a great means of socializing (when I'm at home, I practically live at the local coffee house), and a good cup of coffee just makes my day so much better. Without the milk and sugar, studies show that coffee reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, dimensia, some types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
I'm a little bit cinnamon-obsessed-- I put it in my coffee, on my salads, and on top of my sunflower seeds. It smells amazing and tastes even better, and is the one spice I absolutely cannot live without. If a "super-spice" list existed, I'd rank cinnamon at the top-- it aids in digestion, fights bad breath, regulates insulin, enhances cognitive function and memory, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer, has anti-inflammatory properties, and contains manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.
Quote of the day:
"Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be thy food." -Hippocrates
Dinner tonight: Using 8 out of 9 superfoods (blueberries aren't exactly in-season here...), a baby spinach and Romaine salad with chicken, beef, sunflower seeds, egg, and tomato, topped with EVOO:
(For some Paleo recipe ideas, I encourage you to click here and buy the Paleo Recipe Book!)