What is a Pescatarian Diet?
A pescatarian diet refers to a vegetarian diet with the addition of seafood. Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds supply many vitamins, phytochemicals, and minerals, and seafood provides protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Some pescatarians (people who follow this way of eating) consume animal products such as eggs and dairy but all pescatarians avoid red meat and poultry.
Benefits of Pescatarian Diet
Here are the top four benefits of a pescatarian diet.
1) Lean protein builds muscles, skin, and bones.
Seafood is an excellent source of lean, complete protein. For example, a 5 ounce can of tuna in water contains 30 grams of protein and only 1 gram of saturated fat. Plus, about 90% of a can of tuna calories come from protein. Chicken, pork, beef, and other animal meats might contain similar levels of protein but will have higher levels of saturated fat.
2) Healthy Omega-3 fats lower your risk of heart disease.
Most seafood contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. For example, in salmon, the two main types of omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Research shows that these compounds may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood triglycerides and blood pressure.
3) Limiting red meat is good for you, and for the planet.
Reducing or eliminating red meat from your diet may lower your chances of getting cancer. In fact, according to one study, pescatarians live longer than people who consume red meat and poultry. Also, land animals raised for food, especially cows, put a strain on our environment by requiring excessive natural resources to raise them and by emitting pollution in the form of methane.
4) All the benefits of a vegetarian diet.
Let’s not forget that the pescatarian diet consists primarily of plant foods. Extensive research has shown that following a plant-based diet diet may contribute to a lower risk of coronary heart disease, improved blood lipids and lower blood pressure, and lower risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Vegetarian diets are also high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents, such as flavonoids.
Challenges of a Pescatarian Diet
Getting enough iron. Eliminating red meat from your diet may raise your risk of iron deficiency anemia, a condition in which your body doesn’t produce enough oxygen-bearing red blood cells. But you can still get iron without eating red meat by eating foods such as tuna, legumes, tofu and tempeh, wholegrains, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and eggs.
Mercury. Certain types of fish, such as swordfish, tuna, and tilefish, may be contaminated by mercury. The National Institute of Health concludes that it is safe to eat canned tuna once a week. Canned tuna is healthy and canned salmon is healthy, and according to the FDA, the mercury present in fish is not a risk for most people. However, the FDA recommends that children ages 1-11 and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding limit their tuna intake to no more than one serving (4 ounces) per week.
Fish that children ages 1-11 and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid include:
- King mackerel
Fish low in mercury include:
- Canned light tuna
Pescatarian Diet Planning
It is possible for you to absorb all the nutrients you need on a vegetarian or pescatarian diet. However, restricting certain foods can lead to deficiencies in one or more nutrients. For example, as we discussed above, removing red meat from your diet can result in a deficiency in iron (which you can make up by eating other foods). Or, removing dairy products could result in a calcium deficiency (which you can make up with certain vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds). That’s why you should discuss any major change in your eating habits with your doctor before you dive in.
Below are some recommended food options for your pescatarian diet:
- Fresh fish (salmon, cod, sardines, pollock, and catfish)
- Fresh shellfish (clams, crab, oysters, shrimp, and scallops)
- Canned fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines)
- Canned shellfish (clams, crab, oysters, shrimp, and scallops)
- Frozen seafood (fish sticks, salmon, trout, herring, and shrimp)
- Legumes (including kidney beans, peas, and pinto beans)
- Legume products (including hummus and tofu)
- Cereals and whole grains (including corn, rice, oats, bulgar wheat, and amaranth)
- Gluten-free pseudo grains (such as buckwheat and quinoa)
- Nuts and nut butters
- Seeds, such as flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia
- Eggs and dairy (if lacto-ovo-vegetarian)
Foods to Avoid on a Pescatarian Diet:
- Wild game