The Pescatarian Diet - A Complete Guide For Beginners
There are so many different diets out there, from the classic Atkins to Ketogenic, Vegetarian, Vegan, and even the Raw Food diet. Well here's another to the list: Pescatarian (pronounced: pes-kah-tear-ian). There's nothing fancy about this, it's simply a vegetarian diet that allows for fish and other aquatic animals. The word 'pesce" derives from the Italian word fish which is where the name originates from. The vegetarian spin-off is sometimes referred to as 'pesco-vegetarian' too.
The expert's opinion
Chrissy Caroll, RD, MPH: "Defined as a vegetarian diet with the addition of fish, the pescatarian diet can be a great choice for those searching for a nutritious meal plan. Plant-based foods provide numerous vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, and the seafood supplies omega-3 fatty acids and protein."
Like most diets, there are guidelines that individuals follow and can be creative in the way they adhere to the diet. Pescatarians aren't forced to eat fish every day, they can supplement their diet with 1 or 2 servings a week, or could ensure they get a heavy hit of Omega 3 with a portion in every meal. If you're not getting any fish in your current diet, it's important to supplement the necessary nutrients as we've discussed before.
It's common knowledge that those who choose a pescatarian diet and lifestyle are doing so to be health-conscious and mindful in their decisions to eat a rich plant-based diet and supplement fish to ensure a good source of protein. Some pesco-vegetarians are including fish in their meals to slowly acclimatize to a completely plant-based diet. A lot of individuals who follow this diet are doing so to aid their weight loss and fitness regime, and to move away from red meats.
How The Diet Works
This diet allows free reign to eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and seafood. A healthy pescatarian's diet will have similarities with a Mediterranean diet in that it includes a lot of olive oil, fibrous grains such as farro and the difficult to pronounce quinoa (keen-wa), lots of nuts and seeds, spicy peppers, complex oils, and other single-ingredient foods.
Fruits and Vegetables
For most pescatarians, fruits and vegetables will make up roughly half of each meal. This alone is great for anyone trying to lose weight as vegetables are typically low calorie, nutrient-dense, and very filling. A quarter of the meal will be seafood or plant-based protein, and the final quarter will be complex carbohydrates and grains. There is no hard and fast rule as to what fruits and vegetables you should be eating, but it's good to vary the types of foods you eat and attempt to eat foods in season. An idea of what to eat is dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, lettuce), all the bright colored sweet peppers, eggplant (not the emoji...), kiwi, and blueberries. It's entirely up to you.
Anything edible that swims in the sea is fair game on this diet. Depending on where you live you'll have a different supply of fish but typical seafood will be: salmon, sea bass, trout, and shellfish such as clams, shrimps, and oysters.
Grains, and more specifically whole grains are a great way to make side dishes as part of your meals. They add fiber to the diet and are versatile in dishes. Whole grains are especially great to avoid fewer additives and sugars.
Dairy and Eggs
Some pesco-vegetarians choose to avoid dairy and egg products as part of this diet. This is optional but there are great benefits to eating eggs as we've talked about here. There is a growing amount of evidence to support full-fat dairy products having no adverse effects on heart disease or overall mortality - this is a study by Marcia Otto, Ph.D., nutritional and cardiovascular epidemiologist at UT Health Houston’s School of Public Health.
Red Meat, Poultry, Game
It should be pretty clear by now that any type of red meat, poultry, or game meat will not be part of the pescatarian diet. Whether you choose to eat products that come from animals (and not the animal itself) such as yogurt or cheese is fine, but meats are not allowed.
This pesco-vegetarian diet has not been designed specifically for short term weight loss, or to achieve a 6 pack in 4 weeks. The ultimate goal is to live a healthier, longer life through better eating habits which do not involve specific eating times.
You can eat snacks and meals as you choose to as long as you stick to the guidelines. It is also possible to combine this with Intermittent Fasting, we talk about the benefits here. This will simply accelerate fat loss if that is your aim. Anyone who is already eating a lot of vegetables in their diet will know how filling this can be - so if your goal is to lose weight quickly - this diet can be beneficial.
Tips To Make It Work
There are a number of things to be aware of to help you with your pescatarian diet.
Batch cooking: Have certain meals ready beforehand to avoid spending time and effort (and money) constantly cooking. You can batch cook healthy salads which last 3 days that you can add into a lovely tuna meal. Prawn stir fry is a great leftover meal to take to work too.
Cooking oil: Oils high in monosaturated fat are incredibly necessary for this diet. A good olive oil, avocado oil, or sesame oil, or MCT oil should always be in your cupboard. One of our favorite brands is:
Sky Organics Extra Virgin Olive Oil - No additives, GMO-free, chemical-free, cruelty-free (Available from Amazon).
Healthy cooking methods: As much as we all love fried fish (can't beat the UK for this). It's not the healthiest option. Grilling, steaming, or broiling fish is your best bet - you retain the flavor and avoid the extra fatty calories.
Pregnancy and Health Conditions
As a pregnant woman, you shouldn't be eating raw fish such as sashimi or sushi. Mercury can also be found in some fish (especially the skin) so that's also something you'll want to take extra care with when breastfeeding or your young children are pescatarian too.
If your doctor has diagnosed you with diabetes, a heart disease, or celiac disease then this type of diet can be beneficial. As previously mentioned, combining Intermittent Fasting with a Pescatarian diet could help improve your diabetic state. " ...intermittent fasting acts against and lowers the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. You should always consult with your doctor first to ensure you're diet plan is suitable for your lifestyle and conditions.
Benefits and Drawbacks To A Pescatarian Diet
The pescatarian diet includes all the health benefits found in a vegetarian diet, plus more.
Source of protein
Anyone who is into fitness and exercise as we'd expect on Fitness to Diet, knows that protein is required to maintain and grow muscle. A purely vegetarian diet can often lead to difficulties in finding the right sources and consuming enough. With the addition of fish, this makes maintaining your hard-earned muscle easier.
In a world where most adults struggle to get the recommended about of Omega 3's but have a surplus of Omega 6's from refined oils, this diet finds a balance between the two and allows for a healthy lifestyle. Another benefit of having more Omega 3's in one's diet is the reduced inflammation in your body. This anti-inflammatory effect can help control conditions such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.
There are environmental benefits to this diet which include moving away from meats that are over-farmed and contribute to dangerous emissions which impact our planet negatively. If all humans reduced our dependency on these types of meats it would contribute to safer carbon emission levels, more sustainable food, and a more prosperous planet.
If you're concerned about the methods in which fish are caught, SeaFoodWatch.Org is a great way to find responsibly sourced fish. It's simple, type in your fish of choice and they'll give you recommendations on the best fish.
Costly to eat pescatarian
In most countries buying fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive given that you'll need to purchase new food every 3-5 days. However, not all of it needs to be fresh. Frozen alternatives can be cheaper and just as healthy. It's also more convenient to store and use when bulk cooking. Be sure to read the ingredients of frozen foods and choose options without added salt and sugar.
High mercury levels can be dangerous to your health. This is why it's important to understand which types of fish to eat and those to avoid.
Low in vitamin B-12
Typically found in animal foods, this important micronutrient may be difficult to get naturally without supplementation. Although you can find this vitamin in shellfish, eggs, milk, and dairy products. B-12 is important for the formation of red blood cells, a healthy nervous system, and protein metabolism.
Comparing against other diets
The pescatarian diet is a spin-off or hybrid of the vegetarian diet. There are also other very similar diets to this that we've drawn comparisons to.
Protein sources: Primarily from seafood and shellfish. Those who choose to include dairy and eggs will benefit from extra protein here.
General Nutrition: This diet provides all macro and micronutrients to stay fit and healthy. There may be some need to supplement other vitamins if you avoid dairy and eggs.
Flexibility: Scoring a 4/5 for flexibility, this diet allows an all you can eat the amount of fruit and veg with many seafood options with a great deal of Omega 3 benefit.
Potential for weight loss: Calorie restriction aside, eating large portions of vegetables and legumes will be helpful to stay full without a heavy calorific intake. The good sources of protein will also ensure fullness.
Potential for muscle gain: Gaining muscle mass is possible, there would likely need to be larger portions of beans and legumes to add calorie volume.
Protein sources: For most people, finding only plant-based protein may be difficult. Supplementing with plant-based protein powders such as what Vega offer is recommended.
General Nutrition: This diet is somewhat balanced with healthy amounts of raw single-ingredient foods. However, vegetarians should be wary of low iron and B-12.
Flexibility: Scoring a 3/5 for flexibility, this diet is restrictive in terms of the easy availability of protein. If you're avoiding dairy and eggs this can be more difficult.
Potential for weight loss: Vegetarians will easily lose weight due to the difficulty in finding calorie-dense food.
Potential for muscle gain: Muscle gain can be difficult without supplementation of a vegan or plant-based protein.
Protein sources: Very similar to a pescatarian, this diet includes all your fruit and veg, seafood and shellfish, meat, as well as dairy and eggs.
General Nutrition: HeartUK has deemed that this diet is seen as a good way of eating for a healthy heart and general well being. Meat is included, however typically much less in quantity than an American or British diet.
Flexibility: Scoring a 5/5 for flexibility. Very easy to maintain, with no hard and fast rules that restrict eating.
Potential for weight loss: As with the pescatarian diet, with foods containing much lower calories and more nutrient-dense, this can provide a good blueprint for weight loss.
Potential for muscle gain: There is definitely potential here for muscle gain. Having sources of protein from fish, dairy, and meat, it would be difficult not to increase lean mass.
When considering changing to any diet it's always worth testing it out for 1-2 weeks to experiment on how your body adapts as well as how you feel mentally. With the pescatarian diet, it's likely you'll notice other effects such as less bloat, clothes feeling baggier, and feeling fitter. If you want more information on how to apply this diet to getting shredded, we've covered a comprehensive article on the Ultimate Cutting Plan to give you abs this year.