Go Fish: Everything You Need to Know About The Pescatarian Diet

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What Is A Pescatarian Diet?

A pescatarian is essentially a vegetarian who eats seafood, whether for ethical reasons or for an easier transition to a vegan diet. The pescatarian diet also helps with weight control and lowers risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer. Make your diet pescatarian by adding lean white or oily fish to a nutritious Mediterranean diet of fresh veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.

Eating habits are constantly evolving, with novel diet plans vying for the spotlight every day. Think lacto-ovo vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, vegans, semi-vegetarians, and flexitarians. And pescatarianism is one of the new kids on the block! The dictionary defines a pescatarian as “a person who does not eat meat but does eat fish.” Obviously, there’s more to it than that. Alongside fish, a pescatarian consumes a variety of vegetables, fruits, pulses, and grains, similar to the Mediterranean diet. While they may sometimes include dairy and eggs, meat (land animals and birds) is typically not present in their daily diet.12 3

There are several interesting reasons for people being attracted to the pescatarian diet. Take a look:

It’s A Halfway House To Going Vegan

For people who love their meat, a move to full-fledged vegetarianism can be difficult to adopt and sustain. A pescatarian diet, say some followers, helps such people transition more easily to a vegetarian diet.4

Pescatarianism Is An Ethical Choice

Some people become pescatarians for ethical reasons because they believe that consuming seafood is a morally superior option as opposed to encouraging the often cruel, exploitative treatment meted out to animals by the organized meat and dairy industry.

Large-scale consumption of meat and animal-based products like lamb, beef, pork, and cheese also negatively impacts the environment by generating greenhouse gases – by way of the resources used to produce them, be it feed, chemical fertilizers, fuel, water, and pesticides. Here, too, a pescatarian diet offers a relatively more acceptable alternative and leaves a smaller carbon footprint, according to enthusiasts.

Pescatarian Diet Offers A Host Of Health Benefits

As a winning combination of vegetarian components and seafood, the pescatarian diet brings many health benefits to the table. Let’s see how.

Health and wellness: A well-planned vegetarian diet that includes a large variety of whole grains, vegetables and fruits, legumes, soy products, seeds, and nuts provides much of the nutrition we need. Add to that the nutrients provided by fish and you can see why the pescatarian diet is attracting so much attention. Lean white fish provides a much-needed protein boost to the vegetarian diet, while oily fish contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, compounds that confer a host of protective benefits against chronic diseases.5

Healthy arteries: Fish contains an organic acid called taurine that keeps your arteries in good shape by reducing inflammation, blood pressure, the “bad” cholesterol LDL, and harmful fats known as triglycerides. A large international study on diet and heart disease found that the highest levels of taurine were found among the Japanese whose traditional diet includes a high intake of seafood. Among the nationalities studied, they were at the lowest risk for heart disease.6

Heart disease: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in both plant foods and oily fish, contain anti-inflammatory compounds that effectively reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease.7 What’s more, even people with existing heart disease can benefit from switching to a pescatarian diet, as studies show that it helps prevent fatal heart attacks.8

Colorectal cancer: Red meats – more so, the processed kind – that are part of a typical western diet have been linked to certain cancers. A 2015 study of California residents indicated that while a vegetarian diet lowers the risk of colon cancer by 22%, including fish in this diet cut the risk factor further by a whopping 43%. Why so? Scientists say that vegetarian diets reduce levels of insulin and insulin-like hormones that are linked to colorectal cancer. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin D from fish cut the risk of colorectal cancer.9 10

Weight control: Fish is a low-calorie food with no saturated fats and, hence, ideal to incorporate into your diet if you are trying to shed some pounds. Supplement this with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, low in calories and fat, high in nutrients and fiber, and you have a winner on hand. By maintaining a healthy weight, you are also keeping type 2 diabetes at bay.11

What A Pescatarian Eats: Fish Plus Components Of The Mediterranean Diet

If you’re thinking of going pescatarian, the vegetarian items in your pantry should ideally mirror the main components of the famed Mediterranean diet. Which means fresh, seasonal fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens; legumes, beans, and seeds; whole grains; and olive oil and nuts as the main source of dietary fat.12

Opt for steaming, baking or grilling rather than frying as the latter method increases the fat level in fish.

Now simply pass up on the red meat and poultry and focus on another star ingredient favored by the Mediterranean people: seafood, comprising both lean white and oily fish. Here are some tips on what to incorporate into your daily menu:

  • Trout, salmon, herring, carp, fresh tuna, and mackerel are some examples of oily fish to include in your diet. Canned sardines and pilchards are oily fish that contain bones you can eat – good for bone health as they contain calcium and phosphorus. Pregnant or lactating women should consume oily fish to help in the growth of their baby’s nervous system.
  • Haddock, cod, flounder, tilapia, and plaice are all species of white fish. They contain less omega-3 than oily fish, but being lower in fat than red meat, they’re a healthy option for weight watchers.
  • How much fish should you eat? At least two portions a week, of which one portion should be oily fish (1 portion = 140 g.) The rest of the week, aim at balanced vegetarian meals.1314

Keep Tabs On Portions And Be Wary Of Certain Seafood

While planning your meals, do exercise caution and portion control to avoid the harmful consequences of ingesting pollutants that may be present in different types of fish. Here are some guidelines:

  • Don’t eat more than four portions of oily fish in a week.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, as well as women planning a pregnancy, should stick to just two portions of oily fish a week as pollutants can negatively impact a baby’s growth.
  • Swordfish contains especially high levels of mercury. Experts advise children, pregnant women, and women intending to become pregnant against consuming swordfish. Others may consume just one portion a week.
  • With white fish, experts don’t suggest a stringent portion limit as for oily fish. But be wary of certain types of white fish – sea bass, sea bream, halibut and rock salmon – as pollutants in them could be as high as in oily fish. Avoid them if you can or go easy on portions.15

Be A Responsible Pescatarian

Finally, when shopping for seafood, you can do your bit for the marine environment by purchasing “sustainable” fish. This denotes responsible methods of fishing that don’t inflict unnecessary damage to marine creatures or engage in overfishing that depletes fish stocks. And go local as much as you can instead of opting for imported fish that travel thousands of miles to reach your plate. You can also help maintain optimal eco-balance by choosing to buy across a wide range of fish species rather than focusing on only a few, which in turn encourages overfishing.16

References   [ + ]

1.Epperly, Victoria. Daniel’s Lifestyle Fasting Cook Book. Xulon Press. 2008
2.Pescetarian. Oxford Living Dictionaries.
3.Vegetarian Diets. British Dieticians Association.
4.Pescetarian Life. Pescetarian Life.
5.Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. NIH.
6.Jibrin, Janis and Sidra Forman. The Pescatarian Plan: The Vegetarian + Seafood Way To Lose Weight and Love Your Food. Rand House. 2014.
7.Del Gobbo, Liana C., Fumiaki Imamura, Stella Aslibekyan, Matti Marklund, Jyrki K. Virtanen, Maria Wennberg, Mohammad Y. Yakoob et al. “ω-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acid biomarkers and coronary heart disease: Pooling project of 19 cohort studies.” JAMA internal medicine 176, no. 8 (2016): 1155-1166.
8, 14.Jibrin, Janis and Sidra Forman. The Pescatarian Plan: The Vegetarian + Seafood Way To Lose Weight and Love Your Food. Random House. 2014.
9.Eating vegetarian, adding fish may lower risk of colon cancers. Harvard T. H. Chan School Of Public Health.
10.Fish And Shellfish. NHS.
11. Jibrin, Janis and Sidra Forman. The Pescatarian Plan: The Vegetarian + Seafood Way To Lose Weight and Love Your Food. Random House. 2014.
12.Zacharias, Eric. The Mediterranean Diet: A Clinician’s Guide for Patient Care. Springer Science & Business Media. 2012.
13, 15, 16.Fish And Shellfish. NHS.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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