A pescatarian diet is a relatively flexible diet that usually includes all foods except meat and poultry. Many pescatarians choose fish and seafood as their main source of protein, although this can also be interpreted as a vegetarian diet that includes fish. Those following the diet for its health benefits may favor nutrient-dense plant foods and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
The word pescatarian itself is a combination of the Latin words for fish, pisces, and the English word vegetarian. The diet only emerged in the 1990s and is thought to have originated in ethical vegetarianism in the 19th century. During this time, the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom began to allow people who ate fish but not other meat to become members.
A pescatarian diet is now a popular choice for people who want to support their health and the environment without going vegan or completely vegetarian.
A pescatarian diet promotes health in part by reducing the amount of saturated fat you consume. Meat and poultry are common sources of saturated fat in the diet, which can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Eliminating these sources of protein from the diet can help reduce this risk and promote heart health.
Eating more fish with a pescatarian diet can also increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in the body. Most Americans do not eat as much fish or fiber as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Because a pescatarian diet focuses on plant foods and fish, it may be easier to meet the Dietary Guidelines recommendations.
Environmentally, meat production is a major contributor to global warming, so reducing meat consumption can also have environmental benefits.
When you follow a pescatarian diet, you can eat everything except meat and poultry. It can also be considered a vegetarian diet plus seafood and fish. However, some pescatarians may choose not to eat eggs or dairy products.
Pescatarians do not necessarily eat fish every day; I can only eat fish a few times a week. The rest of their meals can focus on plant-based foods, similar to the Mediterranean diet. Just like vegetarians, pescatarians can also get protein from beans, nuts, tofu, and seeds.
The pescatarian diet does not include specific rules regarding macronutrients. However, most people will need the following breakdown of macronutrients to maintain overall health:
- Carbohydrates: 4565% of calories
- fats: 2035% of calories
- Protein: 1035% of calories
The pescatarian diet is a fairly flexible diet. You can eat all foods except meat and poultry, so you have many options to meet your needs in each food group. Here are some specific foods that focus on nutrition:
- Protein: Fish, seafood, beans, tofu, nuts, eggs (optional)
- vegetables: Everything is allowed including broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, asparagus, etc.
- fruit: Everything is allowed including bananas, apples, pears, berries, etc.
- Carbohydrates: Everything is allowed including rice, pasta, bread, tortillas, etc.
- Dairy: Milk (optional), yogurt (optional), cheese (optional)
- fats: Nuts, seeds, avocado, oil, butter (optional)
The only foods that are not allowed in a pescatarian diet are meat and poultry. However, if meat makes up a large portion of your current protein intake, it can be a big shift. On a pescatarian diet, you cannot eat foods such as:
- Share the meat
Some pescatarians may also choose not to eat dairy products and eggs.
Animal foods are high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of developing heart disease.
In addition, the livestock industry is estimated to be responsible for 1218% of greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing livestock consumption can also help the environment.
There are many variations of meals that fit within the confines of a pescatarian diet, and you can usually choose the foods you eat based on your personal preferences. Here is an example of what a day of eating on a pescatarian diet might look like:
- the breakfast: Oatmeal with peanut butter, berries and chia seeds
- lunch: Tuna salad sandwich with lettuce, tomato and onion, served with pita chips and hummus
- a snack: Mixed nuts with dried fruit
- dinner: Salmon with couscous and roasted asparagus
Cutting out meat and poultry in favor of fish can improve your heart health along with several other benefits. Eating more fish and plant-based foods can also increase your intake of fiber, phytonutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which promote health.
It can improve your heart health
Many people with high cholesterol are advised to adopt a vegetarian or pescatarian diet because both have been shown to improve heart health.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week because regular consumption of fish and seafood is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, consuming more omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring and bluefin tuna may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
A recent study also found that pescatarian diets were associated with reductions in triglyceride levels, blood pressure, markers of inflammation and mortality. This may be because a pescatarian diet tends to contain more omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and plant nutrients like polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids.
It can reduce the risk of cancer
A large study of over 400,000 participants found an association between following a vegetarian or pescatarian diet and a lower risk of cancer. After a 10-year follow-up period, pescatarian participants had a 9% lower overall cancer risk than meat eaters. However, researchers have not found clear links between a pescatarian diet and specific cancers.
Researchers believe that the lower cancer risk in pescatarians is related to the fact that pescatarians tend to eat more fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants compared to meat eaters.
It can support eye health
Following a pescatarian diet can be beneficial for eye health, especially as you age.
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that regular consumption of fish, skimmed milk, poultry and meat-free animal products may reduce the risk of developing age-related eye diseases. In contrast, eating red meat is associated with an increased risk of age-related eye disease. The researchers concluded that a pescatarian diet was associated with the best eye health outcomes in adults.
There is also some evidence to suggest that consuming omega-3 fatty acids in your diet may reduce the risk of dry eye. Taking fish oil supplements didn’t have the same effect, so pelicans are more likely to benefit because their diet includes a higher intake of fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
It can support the environment
Compared to a Western diet or a flexitarian diet of mostly plant foods with some animal products, a pescatarian diet has a smaller impact on the environment.
If you’re concerned about your impact on the environment, you may also want to consider the type of fish you’re buying. You can use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) FishWatch resource to check the viability of different types of seafood.
The pescatarian diet is generally safe. However, certain groups may need to be cautious about adopting a pescatarian diet.
- Pregnant people. As with non-pregnant adults, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that pregnant women eat 2 to 3 servings of about 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish per week. However, pregnant women should be especially careful when eating too much mercury from fish because excess mercury could harm the fetus. There are many low-mercury fish options including cod, herring, haddock, clams, salmon, scallops, shrimp and tilapia.
- Those with an eating disorder or a history of an eating disorder. Any type of restrictive diet can be harmful to those who currently have or have had an eating disorder. This can further harm their physical health and their relationship with food. For people with a history of disordered eating, it is important to maintain a regular, non-restrictive diet.
- Those with a seafood allergy. Since fish is the main source of protein on a pescatarian diet, those with a seafood allergy should not follow this diet.
If you’re a meat lover or your family eats a lot of meat, a pescatarian diet can be more difficult to follow because meat and poultry are off limits.
Fish can also be a more expensive source of protein than meat or poultry, so you may not be able to eat as much protein as you need or want on the same budget. Fresh, affordable seafood may not be so readily available to everyone.
A pescatarian diet includes all foods except meat and poultry. Many people diet for health and environmental reasons.
The diet usually concentrates on plant foods and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other health-promoting nutrients, which can improve heart health along with other benefits. Buying less meat has also been shown to benefit the environment. However, you may need to do some research to make sure your fish and seafood comes from a sustainable place.
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