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Bring on the Fish

For a while now, cold-water species of fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, striped bass, sardines, and herring have taken the spotlight as the best protein-rich food source because they are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that people who eat such fish two times a week have less heart disease, a reduced risk of cancer, and improvements in mental health, particularly in mood function.

But there's a caveat.

"I'm also concerned about the mercury that these species of fish can carry for pregnant women," says Kava. She recommends that pregnant women stay away from shark, swordfish, and king mackerel because these bigger species tend to present more of a risk.

If you're not pregnant but still concerned, Kava says small salmon species give the most benefit with the least exposure to mercury.

Animal Fat to Avoid

We've long been told to eat less red meat, but new long-term studies of how eating habits affect actual health measures do not bear out many of the popular myths.

"People want to hear that not eating less red meat will save them, but that is a simplistic notion that doesn't really fit in with modern nutrition science," says Kava. "What the science tells us is that lifestyle changes -- stopping smoking, getting regular exercise, limiting alcohol intake, increasing vegetable intake -- has by far the most pronounced effect in improving a person's health than does cutting out certain food categories."

This does not mean you should eat steak every night. If you're at high risk of heart disease, you should still severely limit your saturated fats. But the newer research does explain why many health organizations no longer try to scare people away from "bad" foods.

For example, says Kendall, "for years, we've encouraged people to eat poultry instead of red meat because it is lower in saturated fat. But when you look at the data on how these foods affect actual bloodcholesterol levels, there isn't that much difference."

Rather than avoid meats, nutritionists today say you should simply eat more of the foods proven healthy in long-term studies: fish, vegetables, and fruit. Equally important, exercise, even you just walk briskly 30 minutes a day.

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