What is a Pescatarian Diet?
A pescatarian diet is most clearly described as a vegetarian diet that includes fish and seafood. The word “Pesco” translates to “fish”. You may have heard the term Pesco-Vegetarian to describe this way of eating.
A pescatarian diet includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, and dairy in addition to fish and seafood. Fish and seafood do not need to be consumed on a daily basis to obtain health benefits.
Due to the emphasis on whole foods and highly nutritious aquatic fish, this diet is arguably one of the healthiest ways to eat.
Why Choose a Pescatarian Diet?
Eating a variety of fresh, whole foods supplies your body with all of the essential nutrients needed for optimal health. Fish and seafood are abundant in high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamin B12, which is an important nutrient for your nervous system.
Many pescatarians are drawn to the idea of vegetarianism for ethical or health reasons, but cannot deny the unique benefits of fish consumption.
The same study showed that pescatarians have a lower risk of stroke than meat-eaters and vegetarians.
A vegetarian diet is already abundant in vitamins and minerals due to the focus on plant-based foods. Although a vegetarian diet can be limited in Vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and calcium if not planned correctly. Adding fish eliminates the potential for deficiency of these important nutrients.
Many people struggle with an inflammatory disorder called Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of disorders such as high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, obesity, and insulin resistance. By choosing foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, metabolic syndrome can be reversed.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Benefits
Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fish and seafood. You will also find them in some plant foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.
These important fatty acids have been linked to increased memory and decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The anti-inflammatory benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids have shown a decreased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Fish and Seafood are Considered High-Quality Protein
Vegetarians rely heavily on soy, tempeh, beans, and sometimes protein powders to obtain all the protein they need in a day. Typically, meat-eaters never have to worry about meeting their protein needs.
Adding fish and seafood will increase the amount of high-quality protein to any diet. One serving of large shrimp, for example, contains 100 calories and a whopping 20 grams of protein!
Safety of Fish and Seafood
You have likely heard that fish contains a heavy metal called mercury. You may have been avoiding fish and seafood due to the potentially toxic effect mercury has on the human body. However, not all fish have high levels of mercury.
Predatory fish, such as shark and swordfish, will have higher levels of mercury due to their habit of consuming smaller fish. These varieties can be safely consumed 1-2 times per month.
Fish and seafood with low amounts of mercury are scallops, shrimp, sardines, salmon, clams, tilapia, and oysters. These can be consumed safely 2-3 times per week.
Pregnant women should avoid consuming predatory fish and limit other fish to 8-12 ounces per week during gestation. Safe fish for pregnancy include salmon, sardines, and trout.
What Exactly do Pescatarians Eat?
Pescatarians focus on a plant-based diet, building their meals full of grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. They include fish and seafood as the main source of protein and vitamin B12.
Occasionally a pescatarian will omit dairy and eggs from the diet, but both are still allowed.
Technically, ultra-processed foods such as chips, cookies, crackers, and granola bars are allowed on a pescatarian diet. To obtain the maximum health benefits, pescatarians stray from ultra-processed foods in favor of more nutritious options.
Foods to Avoid
- Poultry such as chicken, turkey, game hens, duck
- Deli meats including salami
- Soups and sauces made with chicken broth
Foods to Eat
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole wheat
- Ocean fish
- Fresh-water fish
- Vegetable broth-based sauces and soups
Sample 3 Day Pescatarian Meal Plan
Breakfast: Blueberry and kale smoothie
Lunch: Salmon Ceaser salad
Dinner: Slow-cooker red curry with coconut milk and brown rice
Breakfast: Whole grain waffles with banana
Lunch: Tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat bread with pickles and a side salad
Dinner: Taco salad with black and pinto beans
Breakfast: Steel-cut oatmeal with walnuts and dried cranberries
Lunch: Fajita bowl with grilled shrimp and bell peppers
Dinner: Creamy baked cod with spaghetti squash
Tips for Eating Out
Vegetarians may have a hard time eating out. Usually, there is only one vegetarian option listed on the menu.
Adding fish and seafood to your diet will provide more options to choose from.
- The healthiest choices are fish or seafood that has been grilled, steamed, or pan-seared.
- Fried fish and seafood can contain unhealthy oils and should be limited.
- Order a side salad or steamed vegetables to go with your meal.
- Ask your server which fish is in the season for the best flavor and price.
- Before trying a new-to-you fish, ask the server about the flavor profile to ensure you will enjoy it.
The benefits of a pescatarian diet are vast and include improvements in brain health, heart health, and decrease inflammatory diseases. The emphasis on consuming whole and minimally processed foods are stapled concepts to the pescatarian lifestyle.
The important nutrients fish adds to the vegetarian diet are iron, high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12. Most fish are safe to eat a few times per week.
Some predatory fish are safe to eat on a monthly basis. Adding fish to a vegetarian diet gives you more options when you eat out at restaurants.
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 Mahase, E. (2019, September 5). Vegetarian and pescatarian diets are linked to lower risk of ischaemic heart disease, study finds. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l5397
 L, D., Diehl, Mae, A., Topor, S, L., Dietert, … La Merrill. (2017, November 2). Metabolic Syndrome and Associated Diseases: From the Bench to the Clinic. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://academic.oup.com/toxsci/article/162/1/36/4585010.
 Danielle Swanson, Robert Block, Shaker A. Mousa, Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 3, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 1–7, https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/3/1/1/4557081
 Office of Dietary Supplements - Omega-3 Fatty Acids. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/pdf/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer.pdf
 Eating fish while you are pregnant or breastfeeding. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.myplate.gov/tip-sheet/healthy-eating-women-who-are-pregnant-or-breastfeeding