The Pescatarian Diet – What is a Pescatarian?
Dr. Kristie Leong
There are a variety of reasons that a person may choose to alter his or her diet to become a vegan or vegetarian. Some of these reasons may relate to ethical issues, religious beliefs, or possibly, environmental or health concerns. The process of becoming a vegetarian or vegan can be difficult for some people who have grown accustomed to eating meat. For this reason, some people choose to become pescatarians.
What is a Pescatarian?
A pescatarian is a person who eats a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or fish without the consumption of red meat or fowl. Only recently has the pescatarian diet gained legitimacy due to the fact that many vegetarians don't recognize pescatarianism as a form of vegetarianism, which technically it isn't. Despite this, there are certain advantages to eating a predominantly vegetarian diet with the inclusion of fish, particularly if you're finding it difficult to eliminate meat entirely from your diet. Here are some of the advantages of a pescatarian diet:
You Have More Options
One of the disadvantages of a vegetarian or vegan diet is the lack of readily available food options. Although there are a variety of meat substitutes available to be prepared at home, if you eat most of your meals out, the choices for a vegetarian can be limited. Most restaurants strongly emphasize meat over non-meat items which puts the vegetarian at a disadvantage when it comes to dining away from home. If you're a pescatarian, there are usually at least a few fish options on most restaurant menus which means you have more choices.
It's a Good Way to Get Your Omega-3's
Studies have shown significant health benefits from eating fish, primarily due to the omega-3-fatty acids that are so prevalent in fatty fish such as salmon. Eating fish high in omega-3-fatty acids twice a week is usually sufficient to give you these added health benefits which include lower lipid levels and a reduced risk of heart disease. The disadvantage is that larger fish may have higher mercury levels as well as high levels of toxins such as PCB's and dioxane. Even as a pescatarian, it's best to limit your fish consumption to several meals per week to avoid exposure to these toxins.
There's Less Risk of a Protein or Iron Deficiency
If you're a vegetarian or a vegan, it may be difficult to get adequate quantities of protein and iron. Although soy- and wheat-based meat substitutes are high in protein, some people don't enjoy their flavour or consistency and avoid them entirely. Small quantities of fish such as shrimp provide a good source of protein with minimal calories or fat. Fish is also a good source of iron which helps to prevent iron deficiency anemia.
It's a Good Way to Get Vitamin D if You Have Limited Sun Exposure
Salmon, herring, mackerel, and tuna are some of the few good dietary sources of vitamin D. If you have limited exposure to the sun, a pescatarian diet can provide you with vitamin D which appears to be important for the prevention of a variety of chronic diseases.
If you're struggling to make the transition to a vegetarian diet, the pescatarian diet may be a viable alternative until you're able to give up meat entirely or it may be a diet you want to adopt for the longer term. It's a lifestyle choice worthy of consideration both for health and ethical reasons.
Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2008-2022. First published in November 2008, last revised in September 2022. Published with permission. Dr. Kristie Leong is a family practice physician and medical writer. Published with permission.