The Pescatarian Diet is a relatively flexible diet that typically 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 dieting for health benefits may choose nutrient-rich plant foods and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
The word pescatarian itself is a combination of Latin words for fish. Fishand the English word “vegetarian”. This diet only emerged in the 1990s and is believed to have its origins in 19th century ethical vegetarianism. At this time, the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom began allowing people who ate fish but no other meat to become members.
The pescatarian diet is now a popular choice for people who want to support their health and the environment without going vegan or full vegetarian.
The 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. Removing these protein sources from your diet may help reduce this risk and promote heart health.
Eating more fish on a pescetarian 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 and fiber as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend. Because the pescetarian diet is plant-based and fish-based, it may be easier to follow the Dietary Guidelines recommendations.
From an environmental perspective, meat production is a major contributor to global warming, so reducing meat consumption may also have environmental benefits.
If you follow a pescetarian diet, you can eat everything except meat and poultry. It can also be considered a vegetarian diet with the addition of seafood and fish. However, some pescatarians may choose to avoid eating eggs and dairy products.
Pescatarians don’t necessarily eat fish every day; they can only eat fish a couple of times a week. The rest of their diet may be plant-based, similar to the Mediterranean diet. Like vegetarians, pescatarians can get protein from beans, nuts, tofu, and seeds.
The Pescatarian diet does not have any special rules regarding macronutrients. However, most people will need the following macronutrient breakdown to maintain overall health:
- Carbohydrates: 45–65% calories
- Fats: 20–35% calories
- Protein: 10–35% 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 included in the diet:
- Protein: Fish, seafood, beans, tofu, nuts, eggs (optional)
- Vegetables: Everything is allowed, including broccoli, peppers, carrots, asparagus, etc.
- Fruits: Everything is allowed, including bananas, apples, pears, berries, etc.
- Carbohydrates: Everything is allowed, including rice, pasta, bread, tortillas, etc.
- Lactic: Milk (optional), yogurt (optional), cheese (optional).
- Fats: Nuts, seeds, avocado, vegetable oil, butter (optional)
The only foods prohibited on the pescatarian diet are meat and poultry. However, if meat makes up a significant portion of your current protein intake, this could be a big shift. On a pescetarian diet you cannot eat foods such as:
- Meat delicacies
Some pescatarians may also avoid eating dairy products and eggs.
Animal products are a large contributor to saturated fat in the diet, which can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
Additionally, livestock production is estimated to account for 12–18% of greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing consumption of livestock products can also help the environment.
There are many food options that fit within the pescatarian diet, and you can usually choose the foods you eat based on your personal preferences. Here’s an example of what a day of eating on a pescetarian diet might look like:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with peanut butter, berries and chia seeds
- Dinner: Sandwich with tuna salad, lettuce, tomato and onion, served with pita chips and hummus
- Snack: Mixed nuts and dried fruits
- Dinner: Salmon with couscous and fried asparagus
Avoiding meat and poultry in favor of fish can improve heart health, as well as provide a number of other benefits. Eating more fish and plant-based foods can also increase your intake of fiber, phytonutrients, and omega-3 fatty acidsall this contributes to health.
May improve your heart health
Many people with high cholesterol are advised to switch to a vegetarian or pescetarian diet, as both diets have been shown to improve heart health.
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. Additionally, eating 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 a pescatarian diet is associated with decreased triglyceride levels. arterial pressure, markers of inflammation and mortality. This may be because the pescetarian diet tends to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and plant nutrients such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids.
May reduce cancer risk
A large study of more than 400,000 participants found an association between following a vegetarian or pescetarian diet and a lower risk of cancer. After a 10-year follow-up period, pescatarian participants had a 9% lower overall risk of cancer than meat eaters. However, researchers did not find a clear link between the pescatarian diet and specific types of cancer.
Researchers believe the lower cancer risk in pescatarians is due to the fact that pescatarians tend to eat more fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants compared to meat eaters.
May support your eye health
Following a pescetarian diet may be beneficial for eye health, especially as you age.
A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that regular consumption of fish, skim milk, poultry, and non-meat 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 diseases. The researchers concluded that a pescatarian diet is associated with better eye health outcomes in adults.
There is also some evidence that consuming omega-3 fatty acids in your diet may reduce the risk of dry eyes. Taking fish oil supplements did not have the same effect, so pescatarians may be more likely to benefit since the diet includes a higher intake of fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Can support the environment
Compared to a Western diet or flexitarian diet- Mostly plant-based with some animal products – the pescatarian diet has a lower environmental impact.
If you are concerned about your environmental impact, you may also want to consider the type of fish you buy. You can use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) FishWatch resource to check the sustainability of different types of seafood.
The pescatarian diet is generally safe. However, some populations may need to be careful when adopting a pescetarian diet.
- Pregnant individuals. Like non-pregnant adults, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that pregnant women eat 2 to 3 servings (about 8 to 12 ounces) of a variety of fish per week. However, pregnant women should be especially careful about eating too much mercury found in fish, as excess mercury can 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 for 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 eating disorders, it is important to follow a regular, non-restrictive diet.
- Those who are allergic to seafood. Because fish is the main source of protein in the pescatarian diet, people with seafood allergies should not follow this diet.
If you are a meat eater or your family eats a lot of meat, a pescetarian diet may be more difficult to follow since meat and poultry are prohibited.
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 and affordable seafood may not be so easily accessible to everyone.
The pescatarian diet includes all foods except meat and poultry. Many people follow this diet for both health and environmental reasons.
The diet typically focuses on plant-based foods and fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other health-promoting nutrients that can improve heart health among other benefits. Buying less meat has also been shown to benefit the environment. However, you may need to do your research to ensure that your fish and seafood come from sustainable sources.