Most people will know what a pescatarian diet is, but for those who are not sure, it boils down to following a diet of plant-based foods but adding various fish and seafood to it. For those that adore fish, they will not find it too much of a problem transferring to a pescatarian diet, but for those meat eaters, it may be a difficult transition, particularly for those that do not even like the smell of fish or the texture.
Whole grains, pseudo grains (such as quinoa or buckwheat), nuts, nut butters and seeds should also be added to a pescatarian diet, it depends on the individual who is following this path. Avoiding highly saturated fats found in dairy products is a must to achieve the necessary healthy benefits involved. This diet somewhat mirrors the Mediterranean diet, although lean grilled meats are a small part of this, whereas they are certainly not included in a pescatarian diet. However, if you ‘ditch’ the dairy and egg products, you need to ensure that you do not deplete your calcium levels.
Balancing your diet is of great importance if you shun red meat. Red meat is rich in iron, so anyone following a pescatarian diet needs to replace this with items such as broccoli or spinach to boost the iron deficiency, and low-sugar cereals for breakfast, as these are frequently fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.
There are both moral and potential medical issues surrounding a pescatarian diet, but overall a person can happily exist of a diet based on fish and plants, and potentially avoid some health issues. Before entering any radical change of diet, it is wise to consult your medical professional.
What are the benefits of a pescatarian diet?
When we say pescatarian, we are also including the wide range of vegetables and fruits that are beneficial to a healthy life. There must be this balance.
As our hearts are our life blood, this is one of the major organs that can benefit from a diet of fish and plant foods. Fish will supply you with omega-3 fatty acids of which some are beneficial. Fatty fish have long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, but don’t be alarmed by the term ‘fatty’, as these acids are comprised of unsaturated fat, i.e. they are healthy fats.
In terms of the heart, eating fish may have the following benefits:
- Reducing hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Lowering or maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
- Lower the risk of arrythmia (irregular or abnormal heart rhythms)
- Decrease the risk of strokes and heart attacks
When coupled with a diet high in plant-based foods, all of these positive effects can increase significantly.
Further health improvements include combatting the risk of diabetes or reducing high blood sugar counts from those that already have type 2 diabetes. Quite often, those with type 2 diabetes may also have high blood pressure or excess weight (even obesity) and can develop metabolic syndrome. Once again, following a pescatarian diet can reduce the risks of such illnesses (no statements are made on curing these conditions) when coupled with a diet high in vegetarian or plant-based foods. The natural compounds found in plants are anti-inflammatory and have properties that will fight against diabetes and other lifestyle diseases.
What are the best fish to eat on a pescatarian diet?
There is a wealth of choice of fish to eat, but predominantly, try to eat as much oily fish as possible, even those contained in cans or frozen.
Fresh fish may not always be an option for pescatarians, from the point of view of availability and convenience. Here are some of the best fish to eat.
- All of the above
- Prawns, shrimp, scallops and clams
You can also eat other types of fish that are not classified as ‘oily’ but intersperse these with oily fish in order to keep the right balance. Try to avoid any fish coated in breadcrumbs or batter, there are plenty of ways to cook fish without adding unhealthy carbohydrates or non-essential fats.
Add a good selection of vegetables to your diet, particularly leafy greens and small portions of grains or legumes to make up a nice, delicious plate of food. Use herbs and citrus to compliment even more. Cooking ‘en pochette’ (in a loose piece of foil or greaseproof paper), will keep the moisture in and produce lovely, soft and glistening fish.
I have heard that fish contains mercury – is that dangerous?
Mercury is a toxic substance, but you should not be afraid of eating fish. Certain fish, such as those that live a long time will contain higher levels of mercury or methylmercury as the compound is known. Larger fish obviously eat smaller fish, so the longer they live, the more likely it is to find higher levels of mercury.
Fish such as salmon, cod, shrimp and sardines contain lower levels of mercury, whereas some of the more exotic fish such as swordfish, King mackerel, sharks and shark derivatives will contain much higher levels. Much depends on where the fish is caught and the surrounding composition of the water.
A balanced pescatarian diet should prove no problems in toxic build up from mercury, although you should be aware of it, and particularly women that are pregnant.
Moral issues such as sustainability
We frequently hear or read about areas of the world where fish stocks are being depleted. More common these days is fish farming in controlled waters, but this comes with its own moral issue.
Over-fishing will continue to be a practice unfortunately, but some countries are making concentrated efforts to contain this. There is a scientific train of thought that farming will damage water ecosystems and potentially introduce ‘rogue fish’ i.e. those that could be invasive species, thereby causing disease to existing fish stock. There are no plans that will help fish in open waters survive these problems, nor those in contained areas for farming. Perhaps a solution will be found soon.
Written by Bev Walton, BSc Nutritional Science
I achieved a First-Class Honours degree in BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences from the University of Reading and now have over 35 years experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for magazines and websites as well as ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I’m also a proud member of the Guild of Food writers.