What Is a Pescatarian Diet?
The pescatarian diet is a vegetarian diet that includes fish or other aquatic animals. The word “pesce” means fish in Italian, so those that emphasize fish in their plant-based diets have come to be called by this term. Sometimes these healthy eaters are also called pesco-vegetarians or pescetarians.
The Pescatarian Diet
To follow a pescatarian diet, you’ll consume meals that include fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and seafood. The seafood may include freshwater fish such as trout or perch, saltwater fish like salmon or tuna, and shellfish including shrimp, oysters, clams, and more. Most pescatarians eat eggs and dairy, but some do not. Technically, a pescatarian who eats eggs and dairy would be called a lacto-ovo-pescatarian.
Regardless of whether or not you eat certain animal products like yogurt or cheese, if you follow a pescatarian diet you won’t eat meat or meat products. That means you’ll not only avoid red meat (like beef or bison) but you’ll also avoid poultry, lamb, and pork. Many nutritionists compare the pescetarian diet to the popular Mediterranean diet because a primary protein source is fish in both diets. A typical Japanese diet is also similar to a pescatarian diet because it is based on seafood and plants.
According to some sources, an ideal pescatarian meal includes greens or vegetables (50 percent), seafood or plant protein (25 percent), and whole grains or other complex carbs (25 percent).
A healthy pescatarian diet will often include flavorful foods such as olives, whole grains like farro and quinoa, spicy peppers, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and other nutritious, filling ingredients.
According to expert nutrition sources, pescatarians tend to be people who are health-conscious and make mindful choices when planning meals. They may be individuals who are considering a vegetarian diet and are using a fish-based approach to acclimate themselves to plant-based eating. Or they may be people who plan to follow a pescetarian diet for the long-term. They may be following the plan for the purpose of weight loss or simply to improve their health by avoiding red meat.
There are no strict guidelines that determine what is a pescatarian and what is a vegetarian. And there are no rules that define how often you need to eat fish in order to be a pescatarian. For example, you may be a vegetarian who occasionally eats fish or you may include it in every meal.
Either way, if you skip meat and eat a plant-based diet that sometimes includes fish, you can call yourself a pescatarian.
Pescatarian Diet Benefits
Some people who choose to eliminate meat from their diets find that following a pescatarian diet is easier than following a vegetarian diet because it is simpler to get enough protein each day. In addition, fish is a source of complete proteins, so you don’t have to combine proteins to get the nutrients you need.
But you’ll also enjoy other wellness benefits if you choose this eating style. If you follow a pescatarian diet plan, you’ll enjoy health benefits that are associated with a vegetarian diet and benefits associated with eating more fish. Some pescatarians also point out ethical and environmental benefits of choosing this diet style.
Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
Researchers have found that vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and pesco-vegetarians have diets that are “mostly better in terms of nutrient quality” than omnivores (people who eat everything), although some critics would argue that other factors lead to the improved nutritional quality—not just food choices.
For example, people who follow specific diets are probably more likely to practice mindful eating practices, measure food portions, and live an active lifestyle. However, studies continue to find a link between plant-based eating plans and reduced risk for several chronic diseases.
Studies have also shown that following a vegan or vegetarian-based diet (including a pescatarian diet) is associated with lower BMI (body mass index). Others have shown that people who follow a flexitarian diet (one that is primarily vegetarian but occasionally includes meat or fish) enjoy benefits including healthy body weight, improved markers of metabolic health, blood pressure, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
Benefits of Eating Fish
When you eat certain types of fish, you boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. While some people take a supplement to get the recommended daily allowance, most health sources recommend that you get your intake from food. Omega-3 boosts heart health, may reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and may even help to improve brain and eye health.
In addition, fish is low in saturated fat and rich in other nutrients. When you replace meat-based meals with fish-based meals, you are likely to cut calories and fat from your diet to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Tips to Follow
Nervous about starting a pescatarian diet plan? There’s no need to worry. Use these tips to stock your kitchen and prepare fish-based meals that are both healthy and delicious.
- Choose healthy cooking methods: Not all pescatarian diets are healthy. If you choose fried fish and processed foods, you may not reap the health benefits of this eating style. When you prepare fish, use the best cooking methods available. Grill or broil fish using healthy cooking oils, steam fish, or use other lower fat methods to prepare your meals.
- Avoid fish with higher levels of mercury: The FDA and the EPA have provided a chart that categorizes fish into “best choices,” “good choices,” and “fish to avoid.” The chart is aimed at helping consumers—especially pregnant women and parents of small children—make healthy and safe choices when choosing seafood. But even if you don’t fall into one of those categories you can use the chart to reduce your intake of harmful toxins. Best choices include fish such as herring, lobster, scallops, and freshwater trout. Good choices include monkfish, snapper, halibut, and grouper. Fish to avoid includes shark, bigeye tuna, orange roughy, and swordfish.
- Choose planet-friendly fish: If you want to feel better about your impact on the environment, use the information provided by The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to find responsibly sourced seafood. Simply enter the name of the fish you prefer and get specific recommendations for buying the best fish. There is even an app that you can use when you’re shopping.
- Choose dishes that provide vitamin B-12: This important micronutrient is typically found in animal foods so you may get less of it when you eat a pescatarian diet. B-12 (cobalamin) is important for maintaining a healthy nervous system, the formation of red blood cells and DNA, and protein metabolism. Meat-free foods high in B-12 include shellfish, eggs, milk and dairy products, and some fortified cereals.
- Prepare fish-based meals in advance: Not all fish can be prepared in advance. Many types of fish taste better when they are cooked fresh. But there are some seafood meals that can be made in advance so that you always have a protein-packed meal or snack ready to go. Consider making fish chowder or a batch of tuna salad to keep on hand. You can also use your slow cooker to make seafood meals in advance.
- Stock up on canned or packaged seafood: Fresh seafood usually needs to be cooked or frozen within a few days of purchase. So to keep your budget and your belly on track, stock up on tuna packets or canned fish so you always have a seafood source ready to go.
- Fill your freezer with budget-friendly foods: Some people complain about the cost of a vegetarian or pescatarian diet. Buying the foundational foods of this eating plan (fruits, vegetables, and fresh fish) can be costly. But you don’t always have to buy fresh. Fill up on frozen foods to cut costs. Many bulk bags of fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as the fresh versions. And frozen fish is easy to store and economical. Just be sure to buy the products with fewer added ingredients (like added sugar or salt).
- Take a cooking class: Not sure how to cook fish? Uncertain about the best way to prepare savory veggies or make fruit-based desserts? Take a class! Many cooking schools and kitchen stores provide classes that are free or inexpensive. You’ll learn how to get creative with spices and sauces so your fish-based eating plan never goes stale.
- Get creative with grains: Remember that a pescatarian diet includes more than just fish. Grains make a great side dish when you are eating fish and they provide fiber and other important nutrients. Expand your horizons beyond rice. Try other grains like farro, barley, and quinoa.
- Fill your plate with fruit and veggies: In order to take advantage of the benefits of this eating style, you’ll want to eat the rainbow and fill up on produce. Add dark leafy greens, bright red, yellow, and orange peppers, purple eggplant, golden corn, blueberries, bright green kiwi, and other fruits and veggies from the market.
Sample Pescatarian Meals
Some people are intimidated by the pescatarian diet because cooking seafood can be complicated and planning fish-based meals may seem unfamiliar. But there are many quick and easy meals that you can either grab-and-go or prepare in advance to make following the diet plan easier.
Quick and Easy Fish-Based Meals
- Green salad with salmon
- Tuna pockets
- Fish tacos
- Fish stew (bouillabaisse)
- Crab cakes
- Shrimp paella
- Tuna salad avocado boats
- Pizza with sardines
Quick and Easy Vegetarian Meals
- Mediterranean Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
- Maple-Roasted Root Vegetables
- Spinach and Feta Oatmeal Bowl
- Crispy and Hearty Potato Skins
- Butternut Squash Grain Bowl
- Baked Eggs and Cabbage
- Ratatouille Hash
- Stuffed Sweet Potatoes With Healthy Greens
If you prefer not to prepare your own pescatarian or vegetarian meals, some meal delivery services offer them. For example, Sun Basket, a top-rated meal kit service, offers a plan with organic produce, sustainable seafood, and complete nutritional information. Other vegetarian-friendly meal kit services include Plated, Blue Apron, Green Chef, Home Chef, and Hello Fresh.
A Word From Tips For Healthy Living
But you’re also likely to see and feel other benefits as well. You may feel lighter and your clothes may start to fit better. You may also notice that when you boost your intake of grains, vegetables, and other fiber-rich foods, you eat less and feel full longer.
If you’re not sure where to begin, enlist the help of a registered dietitian or a local cooking school to learn how to prepare fish so that you enjoy your meals and feel satisfied.