A pescatarian diet includes fish and seafood but does not include meat and poultry. Foods that you can eat in this diet plan are seafood, fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, etc. Foods that you can’t eat are chicken, beef, lamb, pork & turkey. This modified version of a vegetarian diet has many takers. Some opt for a pescatarian diet for health reasons as fish adds the much-needed protein to the diet. Others choose this diet due to environmental causes.
Pescatarian diets are not a new fad. Residents of Greece, Japan and other Asian and Mediterranean countries have been relying on fish and seafood for their protein requirement for centuries.
Let us learn some more about this diet, its advantages, and disadvantages.
What is the pescatarian diet?
A pescatarian diet is a plant-based diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, healthy fats and it also includes fish and seafood as its primary source of protein. Many pescatarians also eat eggs and dairy.
The term pescatarian was coined in the 1990’s. The words ‘pesce’ (Italian for fish) and ‘vegetarian’ were combined to form pescatarian, which refers to vegetarians that also include fish in their diet.
This style of eating is also known as ‘vegequarianism,’ a word coined by putting together the terms ‘vegetarian’ and ‘aquatic.’
Importance of protein in pescatarian diet
Many vegetarians are concerned that their food will not be able to provide them the adequate quantities of protein (1). Protein is a crucial nutrient as it helps build muscles and tissues.
Animal sources are considered to a complete source of protein while plants are not. Fish and seafood are an excellent source of protein as they provide all the essential amino acids.
Though vegetarian diets include whole grains and beans, these are not complete sources of proteins. Moreover, these foods also contain antinutrients that tend to decrease protein absorption in the body. Fish doesn’t contain antinutrients so all the essential amino acids are quickly absorbed.
Foods you can eat
- Nuts and seeds
- Fresh fish
- Eggs and dairy products (in some cases)
Foods you can’t eat
Why do people opt for pescatarian diet?
There are numerous reasons why people want to follow a pescatarian diet.
1. Smooth transition to a vegetarian diet
The change from a non-vegetarian diet to a vegetarian one can be quite tricky, especially for those who love to eat meat. Following a pescatarian diet makes this transition a bit easier.
2. It’s an ethical choice
People opt for pescatarian diet because they believe consuming vegetarian and seafood is more ethical than consuming meat. The organized meat industry often treats the animals in a cruel and exploitative manner.
3. Environmental reasons
Large-scale consumption of meat-based products puts a strain on the environment. The resources needed to raise livestock like feed, fertilizers, fuel, water, and pesticides, negatively impact the environment.
A pescatarian diet leaves a smaller carbon footprint. According to Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations raising livestock produces 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions (2).
Advantages of pescatarian diet
There are many advantages to having a pescatarian diet. This diet provides many essential nutrients that would otherwise be missing from a strict vegetarian diet.
1. Provides Omega-3 fatty acids
Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (3). Vegetable and seed oils, plants and farm-raised animals offer omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory qualities.
Consuming omega-3 fatty is linked with lower triglyceride levels, better mental and cardiovascular health and lower risk of diabetes.
Fish contain long chain omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These two fatty acids are responsible for the numerous health benefits of consuming fish (4).
Vegetarians often think they can make up for the lack of omega-3 in their diet by consuming nuts and seed, but this is not correct. Unfortunately, ALA is not very easily converted in the body into EPA and DHA.
2. Lowers inflammation in the body
Inflammation is the cause of many diseases in the body. Reducing the inflammation in the body can lower the risk of many diseases like cancer, asthma, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can fight inflammation.
Processed foods and seeds, nuts and vegetables contain omega-6 fatty acids have an opposite effect on inflammation. So, pescatarian diet which is rich in omega-3 is quite helpful in lowering the risk of several serious illnesses.
3. Lower risk of heart disease
EPA and DHA are essential for a healthy heart as they help to control inflammation. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, and tuna contain the most omega-3 fatty acids.
According to a report published in the American Journal of Medicine, fish eaters have a reduced risk of having a heart attack or unstable angina than non-fish eaters (5). EPA and DHA and other nutrients found in fish help to prevent clots stabilize heart rhythms and lower blood pressure.
4. Lowers cancer risk
According to research, a diet rich in fish and seafood is helpful in reducing the risk of breast, prostate and bowel cancer due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
According to researchers from China, women who consumed the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids from fish were 14 percent less likely to suffer from breast cancer than those who ate the least.
Omega-3 acids have also been known to stall tumor growth in those people who have already been diagnosed with cancer (5).
5. Helps prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia
Omega-3 fatty acid rich diet is helpful in the proper development of the brain and in preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia in old age (6). Many studies have confirmed the benefit of omega-3 in diet during pregnancy for proper development of the brain and the retina.
6. Fights anxiety and depression
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, people who ate the most fish have a 17 percent lower risk of depression than people who ate the least fish.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish modify dopamine and serotonin. The ability of omega-3 in reducing inflammation also plays a vital role in fighting depression. A diet rich in fish is also helpful in treating the symptoms of ADHD.
7. Helps in weight loss
A pescatarian diet is also helpful in weight loss. Since this diet is rich in protein, it helps in burning fat and muscle growth. Protein takes longer to get digested, so you end up feeling fuller for longer and consume fewer calories.
Research also suggests a link between high intake of omega-3 fatty acids and weight loss (7). Pescatarian diet also helps in cutting down on saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats.
8. Improves muscle recovery
Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids help to lower inflammation levels and aid in joint and muscle pain recovery. According to a study, omega-3 fatty acids are as effective in reducing arthritic pain as painkiller like ibuprofen (8).
Disadvantages of a pescatarian diet
The American Heart Association recommends that you consume two serving of fish a week for good heart health. Fish is a rich source of proteins and omega-3 fatty acids, but it also increases your exposure to mercury. Here are some of the disadvantages of a pescatarian diet.
1. Increased exposure to pollutants
Certain fish like salmon, mackerel, bass, and halibut contain contaminants that can build up in your body over time. This, in turn, can increase your risk for cancer, diabetes, and thyroid. One should limit the intake of such fish to three or four servings a week.
2. Increased exposure to mercury
A pescatarian diet can increase your exposure to mercury. Nearly all fish have mercury in their tissues. High intake of mercury can affect the nervous system and cause developmental delays in infants.
Generally smaller fish store less mercury in their tissues. According to Natural Resource Defense Council sardines, herrings and tilapia contain low amounts of mercury.
3. Limited choice of proteins
A pescatarian diet provides a limited selection of non-vegetarian proteins. For those looking for a high-protein diet, you must include other vegetarian food choices in your meal.
- Also read: 23 High Protein foods for a Healthier You
4. Can be expensive to follow
Fish is a more expensive source of protein as compared to other non-vegetarian sources. So, it can be somewhat costly to follow a pescatarian diet.
Best seafood to consume in a pescatarian diet
Salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies are the best fish to include in a pescatarian diet. Wild caught fish are lower in toxins as compared to the farm-raised fish.
Not only are farm-raised fish lower in EPA and DHA and also contain more toxins. Also, avoid eating shellfish as they are more likely to be contaminated with heavy metals, bacteria, and chemical residues.
Over to you
A pescatarian diet is an excellent choice as it provides many health benefits including lower risk for heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer and depression. It is also beneficial for weight loss. However, you must be careful about which seafood to include in this diet to avoid exposure to pollutants and mercury.