Following a Pescatarian Diet Can Reduce Risk of Several Chronic Diseases

Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CSO, CDN
Photo credit: Claudia Totir - Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

If you're looking to eat more plant-based but find making the full switch too difficult, a pescatarian diet may be the right fit for you. This version of a vegetarian diet focuses on plant-based foods and eliminates meat and chicken, but does allow seafood to be consumed.

What is a Pescatarian Diet?

The pescatarian diet stems from a vegetarian diet, focusing on plant-based foods and seafood, but eliminating meat and poultry. Many people chose to become a pescatarian because it allows for a smoother transition to a plant-based diet and can be easier to sustain in the long-term when compared to a vegan diet. Plus, fish is a complete source of protein and has a slew of nutritional benefits. Most pescatarians also include eggs and dairy in their diet, though some do not as this is a personal choice.

The benefits and risks of a pescatarian diet:

  • Reduces risk of several chronic diseases: Plant-based eating in general is associated with reduced risk of developing heart disease and certain cancers, but fish in particular has several benefits. Research suggests that regular fish consumption can reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, depression, Alzheimer's, and several other chronic diseases. Plus, meat is high in saturated fat, which is known to increase levels of cholesterol in the blood. By eliminating meat from your diet, you can substantially cut back on your intake of saturated fat.
  • Emphasizes heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids: Many of the disease-fighting benefits of fish come from its heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids. These healthy fats have been linked to benefitting cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammation, and even blood clotting.
  • Can help you lose weight: Although not a formal weight loss plan, the pescatarian diet is full of plant-based foods that are rich in nutrients and fiber which can help enhance satiety. Portion sizes are key though for this diet to help you lose weight, as is choosing more plant-based foods and limiting fried/greasy foods that may be high-calorie.
  • Better for the environment: According to the Environmental Working Group, the carbon footprint of tuna and salmon is significantly lower than cheese or meat.
  • Excess mercury is a concern: Contaminants can be a concern in any food, but mercury levels in fish are especially an issue for certain populations (think pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children). The larger fishes tend to have higher mercury levels, including fish species such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. Low-mercury fish include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, and catfish. If you're a big tuna eater, know that albacore white tuna contains more mercury than canned light tuna.
Photo credit: OatmealStories - Getty Images

Pescatarian diet shopping list:

Produce

  • Fruit: apples, bananas, berries, grapes, oranges, pears, plums, watermelon, etc
  • Vegetables: asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, garlic, green beans, kale, onions, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, etc

Protein

  • Fish (fresh, frozen, or canned): salmon, cod, trout, swordfish, tuna, sardines
  • Shellfish: shrimp, scallops, clams
  • Tofu & tempeh
  • Veggie burgers (preferably bean/legume based)
  • Beans & legumes: black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, etc
  • Nuts & nut butters: almonds, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts
  • Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds
  • Eggs (optional)
  • Dairy (optional)- Greek Yogurt, low-fat cheese, milk or non-dairy milk alternatives (i.e. almond milk, oat milk, etc)

Grains & Pantry Staples

  • Brown Rice
  • Condiments: ketchup, mustard, bbq sauce, sriracha, etc
  • Dips: hummus, guacamole
  • Dried spices and fresh herbs
  • Flour: regular, gluten-free, almond flour, etc
  • Oatmeal
  • Maple syrup
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Oils: olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, etc
  • Pasta: regular, gluten-free, chickpea pasta, lentil pasta, etc
  • Quinoa
  • Soy sauce
  • Tahini
  • Teriyaki Sauce
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Vegetable stock
  • Whole wheat or sprouted grain bread

Pescatarian diet recipes and cookbooks:

If you're new to a pescatarian diet, you'll want to make sure you have the proper resources and tools to make the transition a smooth one. Here are a few pescatarian-friendly resources to get you off on the right foot.

Best recipes:

Best cookbooks:


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