Pescatarian is a popular diet around the world. A person who eats a pescatarian diet eats a vegetarian diet and adds seafood and fish. These people do not eat other types of meat for various reasons, such as health, ethics, or environmental concerns. Some people may just prefer the taste of fish and seafood to other meats.
If you switch to a pescatarian diet plan, get advice from a certified dietitian to make sure you know all the nutrition information. Until then, here's all the information you need to know about the pescatarian diet, whether you're interested in a lifestyle change or just want to learn more.
What is a Pescatarian Diet?
Pescatarians consume fish and seafood, but they do not consume meat such as chicken, pork, and beef. The term pescatarian is a combination of the word vegetarian and the word for fish in Italian. Some people think of pescatarians as a type of vegetarian because the diet is mostly plant-based.
While seafood acts as a protein source, pescatarians get their other vitamins and minerals from healthy fats, produce, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. Pescetarians may also consume eggs and dairy (but not all do). There are no hard-and-fast rules to this eating style, so people's interpretations of the diet can vary widely.
What Do People Eat on a Pescatarian Diet?
Pescetarians can eat anything that a vegetarian can eat. There is a long list of acceptable foods, which include:
When it comes to fish and seafood, pescatarians eat anything in those categories, such as salmon, fried fish sticks, canned sardines, catfish, scallops, and shrimp. As you can see, the pescatarian diet allows for plenty of diversity. The only foods that pescatarians stay away from are deli meat, wild game, turkey, lamb, chicken, and red meat.
Reasons For Eating Pescatarian
Every person has their own reasons for following a pescatarian eating plan. Here are some of the most popular:
People often use ethical reasons to choose a vegetarian diet. So, it can also be a driving factor for people to become a pescatarian. Some ethical reasons for not consuming meat products include not wanting animals to be killed for food, not wanting to support factory farms that raise animals in inhumane conditions, not wanting to support companies that use poor labor practices for their workers, or not wanting to use land and resources for animal feed when we could use that land for human food.
Eliminating meat from your diet can address some of these ethical concerns on a personal level. However, when it comes to pescatarians, they also have to concern themselves with overfishing and aquaculture. Fortunately, there are resources available for finding fish and seafood that are fun and caught in ethical ways.
Many environmental concerns come with raising livestock. In 2014, a scientific study found that people who eat fish cause 46% less greenhouse gas emissions than people who eat meat. (1) According to the United Nations, livestock practices contribute to over 15% of human-made carbon emissions. So, seafood has a smaller carbon footprint than other types of animal meats and cheeses.
Although the benefits of a pescatarian diet vary depending on what you choose to eat, there are many reasons why going pescatarian can be good for your health. The health benefits of plant-based diets include a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. If you currently consume red meat, switching to a pescatarian diet can minimize pork and beef's negative health effects. If you are a vegetarian, adding fish to your diet can give you more variety and beneficial animal protein.
In general, seafood is rich in many nutrients. In addition to protein, seafood (such as oysters) is high in selenium, zinc, and vitamin B12. Muscles are also rich in selenium and all of the B vitamins, including vitamin B12. Lean fish such as flounder and cod are a great source of protein without much fat. These whitefish are also good sources of vitamins B12 and B6, niacin, and phosphorus.
As a type of plant-based diet, the pescatarian diet is high in antioxidants such as flavonoids. Flavonoids are anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory. In 2016, scientists found that people on the pescatarian diet had the highest intake of flavonoids than any other diet. (2) Additionally, the diet can reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
According to a review of studies related to diabetes, "Overall, the results suggest that a plant-based diet could improve the overall quality of life, psychological well-being, and chronic diabetic neuropathy in people with T2D without changes in food enjoyment and diet costs." (3) It's also possible that omega-3 fatty acids that exist in oily fish might reduce inflammation.
Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are unsaturated fats with many benefits to a balanced diet. Because of Omega-3s, people who eat fish regularly can have a lower risk of heart attack and lower blood pressure than people who do not eat fish at all.
In fact, the American Heart Association encourages everyone to eat at least two seafood meals per week to reduce the chances of heart failure, stroke, and heart disease. The high veggie intake helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease as well.
Oily fish contain DHA and EPA, which have health benefits for both heart and brain function. Lastly, veggie-based diets are a way to help improve your overall mood and wellbeing.
Drawbacks of Pescatarian Eating
It is well known that some larger species of fish can contain toxins such as mercury. The heavy metal contamination risk is high for marine fish, and some experts warn about mercury poisoning. However, if you are eating the recommended dose of fish for dinner, you don't have to worry about high mercury levels.
Still, the FDA recommends that women who are childbearing age, pregnant, or nursing avoid specific fish such as king mackerel, shark, and swordfish. Some experts suggest limiting Yellowfin and albacore tuna to one serving per week. Some choice fish varieties that are low in mercury include:
One other potential drawback is making sure that you get your vitamins and nutrients. When it comes to plant-based diets, some people find themselves consuming the same types of foods over and over again. Also, it can be easy to rely a lot on carbs in the form of processed grains. A pescatarian diet doesn't automatically equal health. Your food choices could be fried seafood and french fries every day, which won't give you the nutrients you need.
For that reason, it is important to make sure you are eating diverse, whole, plant foods and preparing your fish in different ways. Instead of relying on deep-fried protein, consider sauteing, scheming, poaching, bacon, grilling, or broiling your fish. You may want to learn a few go-to dinner techniques, such as creating one-pan meals of vegetables and fish and putting them in the oven.
Is it Sustainable?
There are some environmental issues related to the pescatarian diet. One of the ways to obtain seafood is by fish farming. Farming fish was once a solution to overfishing, but there are drawbacks to this practice that have grown in the past few years. Unsustainable fish farming can cause disease, resulting in overcrowding, introduced invasive species, and mess up water ecosystems.
Regular fishing and fisheries also harm water ecosystems. Eating wild-caught fish is not necessarily a better option than fish farming, depending on the practices used. However, the pescatarian diet is more sustainable than factory farming birds and mammals. Raising goats, sheep, cattle, and pigs harms the environment by emitting greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Additionally, agriculture and grazing results in major deforestation.
Sample Meal Plan
If you don't know where to start, here's a sample three-day meal plan menu that follows a pescatarian diet. Remember that pescatarian meal plans include vegetarian and vegan foods, so you have plenty of options for meals. To make sure you are meeting your nutrition goals, consult a dietitian for advice.
- Day 1: Avocado, tomato, and eggs
- Day 2: Greek yogurt and mixed berries
- Day 3: Sardines on toast
- Day 1: Shrimp tacos
- Day 2: Mediterranean couscous bowl with salad
- Day 3: Tuna pesto pasta
- Day 1: Vegetarian Lentil Curry
- Day 2: Seared salmon with sauteed veggies
- Day 3: Chickpea burger with baked french fries
You have plenty of snack choices as well. Unlike vegans, who avoid all animal products, pescatarians don't have to look too carefully at snack labels. Of course, you will avoid beef jerky or cubed ham on a pescatarian diet. Still, you may enjoy any snack such as roasted chickpeas, vegetables and peanut butter, chips, and more.
If you struggle to follow a menu like this, you can start small. Begin by adding one or two pescatarian meals to your dinner plans each week.
A pesce-pollotarian is someone who only eats fish and chicken. The term is a mashup of pescetarian (a person who only eats fish) and a pollotarian (a person who only eats chicken). People may choose this diet if they are avoiding red meat for health reasons.
Whether a vegan or pescatarian diet is healthiest depends on your body, goals, and lifestyle. A pescatarian diet may make it easier to get all of your vitamins and nutrients and a solid protein intake. However, it may not be the most sustainable choice. Consult a dietitian to find the best option for you.
The American Heart Association recommends that individuals consume fish at least twice a week for health benefits. It is best practice to sautee, bake, or grill fish instead of frying it and eating it with a serving of vegetables.
Final Thoughts - Eating Pescatarian
Overall, the pescatarian diet is like a vegetarian diet. It includes a variety of foods that make it easy to get adequate nutrition. The pescatarian diet relies on plant foods and seafood and avoids meats from land animals. Some pescatarians may also choose to consume dairy and eggs for added nutrients.
There are many benefits to eating fish this way, including cardiovascular health and blood pressure regulation. In some cases, individuals can use a pescatarian diet to lose weight. When possible, you'll want to get your seafood from sustainable sources. The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch is one resource that allows you to find information about approved fish sources.
1) Scarborough, P., Appleby, P. N., Mizdrak, A., Briggs, A. D., Travis, R. C., Bradbury, K. E., & Key, T. J. (2014). Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans in the UK. Climatic change, 125(2), 179–192. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1
2) Burkholder-Cooley, N., Rajaram, S., Haddad, E., Fraser, G. E., & Jaceldo-Siegl, K. (2016). Comparison of polyphenol intakes according to distinct dietary patterns and food sources in the Adventist Health Study-2 cohort. The British journal of nutrition, 115(12), 2162–2169. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114516001331
3) Toumpanakis A, Turnbull T, Alba-Barba I, Effectiveness of plant-based diets in promoting well-being in the management of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care 2018;6:e000534. DOI: 10.1136/bmjdrc-2018-000534