Is the pescatarian diet right for you?


by Kristine James, RD

Jun 19, 2019

Trying to go plant-based with your diet, but don’t want to give up fish? You’ve come to the right place. Enter the pescatarian diet (also called pesco-vegetarian), which is very similar to the popular Mediterranean diet.

Pesce is the Italian word for fish. In addition to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, eggs and dairy products, pescatarians also eat fish and shell fish. Here’s your ultimate guide to pescatarian eating.

Foods pescatarians do eat:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Foods pescatarians don’t eat:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Wild game (duck, goose, rabbit, etc.)

Pros and cons of the pescatarian diet

Adding seafood to a vegetarian diet provides essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, calcium, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that higher consumption of fish and omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. In addition, pescatarians tend to have lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and a decreased risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome compared to non-vegetarians.

Many studies have shown that higher consumption of fish and omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Another advantage of a pescatarian diet is that seafood is also a source of vitamin B12. Getting enough vitamin B12 can be tricky following vegetarian or vegan diets that eliminate any intake of protein sources from animal products.

Mercury and other toxins might be a concern when following a pescatarian diet. However, some studies have shown that the benefit of eating fish outweighs the risk of mercury in seafood. An easy rule to follow: the larger the fish, the higher the level of mercury. Pregnant and lactating women should avoid fish high in mercury and limit albacore tuna consumption to 6 ounces per week. Talk to your doctor about any specific dietary concerns related to eating fish.

Worried about mercury in fish?

The National Resource Defense Council combined data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and divided fish into four different categories based on their mercury content. Here’s a helpful guide for choosing between types of fish:

Is the pescatarian diet right for you?

A pescatarian diet is a good option for anyone who wants to focus on a more plant-based diet but doesn’t want to become a full vegetarian or vegan. Eating a pescatarian diet allows more flexibility because you can continue to incorporate animal protein from seafood.

How to make the switch to a pescatarian diet

Since the pescatarian diet continues to allow eggs, milk products and seafood, the switch shouldn’t be too hard. But if you feel overwhelmed, just start small.

  • Start by eliminating red meat.
  • Try incorporating a “Meatless Monday” and slowly transition over to eliminate all animal protein except seafood.
  • Include a wide variety of food, especially plant-based protein sources such as beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds. (In other words, don’t eat fish three times a day, seven days a week as your only protein source.)

Overall, a pescatarian diet offers many health benefits. If you would like to follow a more plant-based diet but still retain some flexibility, it might be a great option for you. Your primary care doctor can help you figure out what kind of diet is right for your health goals.

Find a nutrition expert to partner with you on your wellness journey.

About the Author

Kristine James, RD, is a registered dietitian on staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth.

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