There’s some pretty good research out there to support vegetarianism. Vegetarians are 25% less likely to die of heart disease, for example. Now the news about being Pescetarian.
There are some risks associated with full vegetarianism. It can be hard to get enough protein on a strict vegetarian diet. It can also be hard to eat out. Some people are attached enough to meat that just giving it up can seem too difficult. That’s why some vegetarians opt to make an exception for fish. This practice is called pescetarianism.
Pescetarianism is the practice of eating fish in addition to a vegetarian diet. In other words, if you’re a pescetarian, you eat only plants, animal products that do not require killing the animal in question, and fish.
There are a lot of reasons to follow this route. Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the American Heart Association reports that women who consume fish once per week are 20% less likely to develop chronic heart disease!
Seafood also contains high levels of selenium, calcium, and iron. This makes it an attractive source of nutrients for vegetarians. People who want to eat healthy but balk at giving up meat altogether may also find pescetarianism appealing.
If this diet sounds familiar, don’t be surprised. Pescetarian eating patterns are very similar to the famous Mediterranean Diet! This diet, which has been popular for decades, emphasizes whole grains and vegetables.
It has also been strongly linked to better outcomes for people at risk of heart disease. It even helps people who already have a heart problem overcome their condition!
Both Mediterranean and pescetarian diets have been shown to be good for a sustainable food system. Isn’t it great when you can save your body and resources.
I don’t have to tell you that eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is good for you. Everyone knows that a cup of spinach will do your body more good than a cup of chocolate chips! But why eat seafood?
Not only is fish delicious, but it’s as healthy as food gets. The key is omega-3 fatty acids. Almost all fish contain this substance, though fatty fish, like mackerel and tuna, contain more.
Don’t be scared off by the word “fat!” You want plenty of omega-3’s. Here’s what they do for you:
- Reduce inflammation
- Decrease triglycerides
- Lower your blood pressure
- Reduce clotting
- Reduce your stroke risk
- Reduce your risk of heart failure
- Reduce your risk of heartbeat irregularities
Is it “Pescatarian” or “Pescetarian?”
That depends on who you ask! Wikipedia’s page on pescetarianism spells the word with an “e,” as in “pescetarian.”
If you plug the word “pescetarian” or “pescatarian” into Google, it will tell you that the word is spelled with an “a,” as in “pescatarian.”
Luckily, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has a good answer for everyone: both spellings are correct. What matters is how you eat, not how you spell! For this article, I’ve chosen to use “pescetarian.”
What Is A Pescetarian?
A pescetarian is someone who eats a primarily vegetarian diet, but includes seafood. They may have fish a couple times a week, once in a while, or just whenever they go out. It all depends on their personal needs and preferences.
What Do Pescetarians Eat?
Pescetarians can eat anything they want, as long as that thing isn’t the flesh of a land animal. This includes:
- All kinds of fish, from albacore to trout
Think of pescetarianism as basic vegetarianism plus seafood. Vegetarians are OK with eating animal products like eggs and honey. Vegans, however, eschew all animal products. There are no pescetarian vegans.
Should You Try a Pescetarian Diet?
If you’re worried about your cardiovascular health, then pescetarianism may be a good strategy for you. There’s no question that fish is good for your heart. However, there are a lot of different reasons that people choose to focus on fish:
- Better health. Just eliminating red meat can reduce your chances of developing type II diabetes, not to mention cardiovascular disease and cancer. Talk about treating yourself!
- Eat closer to vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is generally good for your health because it forces you to eat more plants. But it can be hard to get started on a diet like this. Eating fish can be a good compromise between eating a beef product for every meal and abstaining from all meat.
- Eat more ethically. Many people become vegetarians because they’re concerned for animal welfare. But feeding and caring for those animals also requires a lot of fossil fuels.
I’m grateful for the hardworking farmers that are the backbone of our Country.
Pescetarian Diet Pros and Cons
As with everything, pescetarianism does have upsides and downsides. First, let me lay out the caveats:
- Some fish concentrate mercury in their muscular tissue. Swordfish, skypjack tuna, and halibut have been found to have some of the highest concentrations. Salmon and lobster have lower levels.
- Raw fish can carry parasites. A good sushi chef will know to check for telltale signs of worms and other creepy-crawlies in a cut of fish. A sushi chef who’s just decent might miss a worm or two.
- A 5-oz can of tuna costs at least $0.75, bringing its minimum price per pound to about $2.40. That’s great…if you really like tuna! If you prefer variety, you may pay at least $10 per pound for fresh fish.
Personally, however, I think that the benefits of pescetarianism well outweigh the dangers. Think about it:
- You don’t need much fish to get the benefits of their omega-3 fatty acids. One or two fish meals a week won’t be dangerous.
- Seafood is full of variety and demands invention. Never had scallops? Now’s your chance! You now have an excuse to treat yourself well.
- Meat is expensive, too. Boneless chicken breast averaged $3.20 per pound in January 2017. If your family of three eats chicken every night of the week, they may consume the equivalent of ten and a half pounds of chicken. That means that, in a week, you’ve spent $32 on meat…and that’s if you stick to chicken! Beef costs more. You won’t be eating fish every night of the week, so the same investment in farm-raised tilapia could be sufficient for your weekly pescetarian needs.
What Can You Eat On a Pescetarian Diet?
The range of culinary choices that you have as a pescetarian is broad! It includes all dairy, eggs, and fish. Just to give you an example of what you could eat as a pescetarian, here are some of my favorite recipes:
What Do Pescetarians Not Eat?
Pescetarians follow a basic vegetarian diet, plus seafood. That means that pescetarians do not eat the flesh of any land animals. If you invite a pescetarian over for dinner, be aware that they will turn down:
- Anything with bacon
Do Pescetarians Eat Eggs?
Eggs are an important source of protein for pescetarians! In fact, if you are having a pescetarian over for dinner and find yourself stuck on appetizers, it can be a good idea to whip up some deviled eggs to supplement your bacon-wrapped pineapple cubes.
If you’re thinking about becoming pescetarian yourself, consider making eggs a part of your diet. Fish alone shouldn’t supply all of your protein! I’ll talk about other protein sources later.
No two ways about it: pescetarians eat like royalty. If you’re hoping for some guidance, check out this 7-day pescetarian meal plan for beginners! When you’re ready to explore, try these:
- Salmon á la Nage. Don’t be intimidated by the fancy name! If you can boil water, you can make this poached salmon recipe.
- Honey Garlic Shrimp. Takes 15 minutes!
- Basic parchment-steamed fish. This easy recipe will work with any fish you’d like.
Primary Foods Pescetarians Eat
Though pescetarians eat fish, their everyday diet is mostly vegetarian. That means they’ll focus their meals on nutritious vegetables, fruit, eggs, dairy, and plant-derived protein.
A healthy pescetarian diet may also emphasize protein-rich foods, like tofu and black beans. This is very important to track. It’s easy for vegetarians and pescetarians to fall behind on protein.
There are 39 grams of protein in a single 1/2 -pound salmon fillet. That is about the same as you’d get from a cup of beans or a cup and a half of tofu.
So that pescetarian should be consuming protein at a few different meals throughout the day to stay healthy. Think eggs and soy milk for breakfast, bean salad for lunch, and haddock for dinner.
Despite this, the majority of a pescetarian’s diet by volume will be fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you want to be a pescetarian, expect to pack your meals full of nutrients!
Foods You Should Avoid As A Pescetarian
Pescetarians should avoid eating the meat of land animals. Otherwise, there’s not much point in calling yourself a pescetarian!
I talked about mercury in fish earlier in this article. It’s worth mentioning again that fish concentrate pollutants in their muscles.
Swordfish and halibut have been known to contain higher levels of mercury. It’s probably best to limit your consumption of these fish to once a week or less.
If you converted to pescetarianism for ethical reasons, then you might like to know whether your meals are being sustainably harvested. According to Greenpeace, Atlantic cod, tuna, and salmon are all species under ecological pressure right now. The Maine Conservation Society recommends farmed bass, clams, and sole, as well as some types of farmed and sustainably harvested salmon.
Pescetarian Weight Loss
According to one study, self-reported pescetarians carry about 25 kilograms per square meter. This is about a pound and a half per square inch less fat than meat-eaters!
There are also strong research indications that vegetarian diets lead to weight loss. In fact, study participants who went vegetarian lost weight twice as fast as participants who just went on a diet.
Pescetarianism is essentially a vegetarian diet with occasional fish. Odds are good that if you go pescetarian, you’ll have an easier time losing weight. Of course, this also depends on your ability to avoid empty calories, like white bread and sweets.
What Is A Vegetarian Who Eats Fish?
A vegetarian who eats fish may call themselves a pescetarian. That’s the term I’ve been using in this article because it’s among the most popular. However, there are a lot of different labels for plant-eaters who enjoy seafood! Other terms you may have heard to describe this diet include:
Benefits of a Pescetarian Diet
There are a lot of good reasons to go pescetarian! The health benefits alone are significant. They include:
- Better heart health
- Better cardiovascular health in general
- Fewer blood clots
- Lower cancer rates
- Decreased risk of developing type II diabetes
Challenges to a Pescetarian
A pescetarian might encounter challenges similar to those vegetarians face. Getting enough protein in a pescetarian diet can be problematic for newbies.
Pescetarians who rely on grains to fill their calorie needs may also find themselves eating a lot of food without filling their nutrition requirements.
For example, white rice is easy to make and inexpensive, but its nutritional value is essentially nil. Pescetarians who rely on that will consume a lot of calories without getting commensurate vitamins and minerals.
They’ll need to eat more, pushing up their calorie consumption and flirting with weight gain. The same goes for white bread and pasta. That’s why it’s so important for pescetarians to consume whole grains as much as possible and focus on vegetables and fruit in their daily diet.
Pescetarian vs. Vegetarian: What’s the Difference?
It’s true that pescetarians and vegetarians share a number of important similarities. Neither group eats any land-based meat, for example.
Healthy vegetarians and pescetarians alike will focus their meals on fruits, vegetables, and non-meat proteins. However, pescetarians can and do eat seafood, including both saltwater and freshwater fish.
How Do I Get Enough Protein in My Diet without Meat?
This great question is often one of the first that a new pescetarian asks! It’s also the first thing your family will worry about when you announce that you’re ready to give up meat.
Getting protein meatlessly isn’t an impossible task. Remember, the amount of protein you need per day, in grams, is equal to your weight times 0.36. Let’s say you’re a 140-pound woman. You need about 51 grams of protein per day. Keep in mind that one cup of chicken contains about 38 grams of protein. Here’s how you might meet your protein needs without eating meat:
- Also known as mock duck or vital wheat gluten, this is by far the most protein-rich meat alternative on the market. A three-ounce portion of seitan contains about 20 grams of protein. Five grams of seitan would almost fill your daily protein requirement! Generally, seitan is made at home from vital wheat gluten. It can also be bought premade. However, if you have gluten sensitivities, this isn’t a great option.
- This fermented soybean product, traditional to Indonesia, packs 31 grams of protein per cup. That’s almost as much as chicken!
- Beans of any kind. Beans are the stars of the natural protein world. One hundred grams of chickpeas, or about half a cup, provides your body with 19 grams of protein. Other beans are comparable.
- You might not want to rely on nuts as a main protein source. They’re very high in calories. However, they’re excellent as supplements. In one ounce of peanuts, there are 7 grams of protein.
- Like nuts, you wouldn’t want to rely on eggs alone for your protein. Nevertheless, they shouldn’t be ignored! One egg measures out to about 6 grams of protein. If you start your day with a two-egg breakfast sandwich, you’ve already cut your requirement down to 39 grams of protein. A handful of nuts reduces that to 32. Add a bean salad lunch to bring it down to 13 grams. After that, filling your protein requirement is easy!
- Did you know that plain yogurt is an excellent source of protein? It’s true! One 170-gram container of yogurt contains 17 grams of protein! This is a better value than milk, but a cup of milk will still provide you with 8 grams of protein. Just make sure that the yogurt you eat is unflavored! Flavorings depend heavily on sugar, and extra sugar defeats the purpose of eating healthy.
- Like cow’s milk, soy milk contains about 8 grams of protein. Don’t discount this as a protein source! Two eggs and a glass of soymilk in the morning brings your protein needs down to 31 grams.
- If you’re pescetarian, then fish is a great source of protein. In general, one half-pound fish fillet contains 39 grams of protein. That beats chicken! Supplement that with a handful of nuts and an egg sandwich for breakfast, and you’ll easily meet your daily protein requirement.
How Do I Get Enough Iron in My Diet without Meat?
If you’re pescetarian, you’ll have no problem! Fish is high in iron, especially shellfish like clams. Stars like sardines can provide you with a full quarter of your daily iron needs.
However, there are lots of sources of iron in the plant world that you shouldn’t ignore. Part of the reason that vegetarians like soybeans so much is that they can provide over half of your daily recommended iron!
Soymilk is similarly rich in iron, and and a serving of tempeh can constitute a quarter of your daily needs. Don’t discount dark greens, either. One cup of raw kale contains 5% of your recommended daily value of iron.
If you’ve ever munched through a cup of kale chips, you’ll know firsthand how easy it is to get your nutrients this way! Nuts are also decent sources of this vital mineral. Try to browse these foods as widely as possible. Variety isn’t just the spice of life, but the key to good health!
Some vegetarians and vegans also take iron supplements. This may be a good route to follow if you struggle to get enough iron in your diet. However, before you take any new drug or supplement, ask your doctor if that’s the correct path for you.
How Do I Get Enough Calcium in My Diet without Meat?
Easily! According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult needs 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. Children and older people need more. If you’re going pescetarian, then those sardines I mentioned before are going to be your best friends. They don’t just go nicely in a wrap or sandwich.
One serving of sardines contains 57% of your daily calcium requirement! Dairy products are outstanding calcium sources as well. One glass of milk contains 30% of your recommended daily calcium intake. Most cheese has even more. (Remember, cheese is basically aged, concentrated milk! One 1-oz slice of cheddar cheese provides you with a quarter of your calcium needs for the day.)
Aside from these sources, you can chow down on some broccoli. One bunch is equal to 28% of your necessary daily calcium intake.
Just like with iron, some people like to take calcium supplements so that they get enough. This is especially true for older women, who are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis. However, research about calcium supplements is unclear. Taking calcium supplements may or may not be good for you in the end. Before you start, ask your doctor.
Pescetarian Diet Pros and Cons
Like everything in life, pescetarianism is a mixed bag. However, there are some very good reasons to try this diet. Here’s why to try pescetarianism:
- Doctors consider it low-risk enough to recommend it
- Your heart will be healthier
- Your risk of stroke and diabetes will be reduced
- You may lose weight
- If animal welfare and the environment matter to you, you’ll sleep better
- Pescetarian recipes are delicious!
Here’s why you might want to think about it:
- Some fish contain high levels of mercury
- Getting enough protein will require some extra work
- You may need to try some unfamiliar new foods
- Eating fish is expensive
Pescetarian Meal Ideas
Ready to start eating pescetarian? Try these meal ideas:
Going pescetarian is a big step. But it’s a step in the right direction if you’re concerned about your health and physical well-being.
Plus, the benefits of eating fish aren’t limited to your heart! You deserve to enjoy what you put into your body. Pescetarianism makes you think about your food.
When you take the time to think about what you’re eating, you’ll also have time to savor it. If eating fish is physically healthy, then taking the time to eat fish is good for your soul.
Have you tried this or a similar eating plan? Let me know below.