Research consistently confirms the health benefits of plant-based diets. Studies continually emphasize the detriment of overconsumption of processed foods and animal products. A trend toward meat-reducing diets is on the rise as more people seek to alleviate ailments and illness and help the environment. The pescatarian diet offers a viable solution — the proven advantages of vegetarianism along with the nutrition of seafood.
What is the Pescatarian Diet?
The pescatarian diet is a type of semi-vegetarianism or flexitarianism. The label is based on “pesce”, the Italian word for fish. Pescatarians are primarily vegetarians who occasionally consume aquatic animal foods in their meals. They are also called pescetarians or pesco-vegetarians. These individuals have decided to eliminate beef, pork, poultry, lamb, and other land animal products from their diets, but they supplement their plant-based eating regimen with seafood. The pescatarian diet is appealing to people who desire to:
- improve health through dietary changes,
- save money by reducing meat consumption, or
- address concerns over the environmental impact of raising livestock and animal welfare.
As the label “flexitarian” implies, this fish-based diet is far from rigid. Many pesco-vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products; they are lacto-ovo-pescatarians. Pescatarianism is similar to the Mediterranean and Japanese diets that both emphasize plants and use fish as a major source of protein, fats, and micronutrients.
Easy Transition to Healthier Eating
Many dieticians recommend a pescetarian regimen to people who want to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet without going fully vegetarian or vegan. Pesco-vegetarianism is a less extreme shift toward wholesome eating that includes rich sources of protein, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial fats. With a plethora of seafood choices, pescetarians can experience countless varieties of health-promoting foods, all of which are often found at the local grocers.
Antioxidants can prevent or delay oxidative damage within the body. A pescatarian diet consists mostly of vegetables and fruits loaded with these phytonutrients. Compounds like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and other polyphenols arrest the activity of free radicals that would otherwise wreak havoc on your DNA and cells.
Following a pescatarian diet lets you fill your plate with healthy fats that can fortify your heart. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that people with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood have a 30 percent lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation, the most prevalent chronic irregular heartbeat. This condition affects many older individuals and may cause heart failure or stroke.
Folate and healthy fats help your brain cells develop and function as they should. These nutrients enhance long-term brain health from the womb, into the advanced years. Foods such as salmon, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and grains contain high amounts of folate and omega-3s. The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency advise would-be or new mothers to consume fish for their child’s cognitive development. Research also indicates that women who eat more fish have higher IQs, more advanced motor skills, and better social skills than women who eat less fish.
Colon Cancer Protection
Colorectal cancers, cancers of the colon and rectum, are the second leading causes of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American Medical Association (AMA). Diet is a primary risk factor, and the AMA suggests a strong link between vegetarian diets and lower colorectal cancer risk. A study published in 2015 noted that pesco-vegetarians particularly have a significantly lower risk than nonvegetarians.
Livestock farms hurting the environment by contributing to pollution, deforestation, and global warming is a widespread topic and point of concern for many. However, fishing and fisheries affect land and water ecosystems, too. Some wild fishing methods and overconsumption have led to depleted fish populations and damaged ocean ecosystems. In certain cases, fish farming may introduce invasive species, contaminate water ecosystems, and cause overcrowding and disease. The Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch program states that 90 percent of fisheries around the world are overexploited, completely exhausted, or collapsed. Consumer demand for ethically sustained fish can help ensure that fish populations can replenish themselves. Ask your grocer or restaurant for environmentally sustainable seafood products.
Avoiding Heavy Metals
Pollutants such as heavy metals present a global dilemma. Since mercury is in virtually all bodies of water and the atmosphere, many seafood species contain it. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that this is not a significant risk for most healthy people. As a precaution, the FDA advises women trying to conceive, pregnant and nursing mothers, and young children to avoid certain fish, including king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish. Recommended seafood with low mercury levels include canned light tuna, catfish, clams, hake, oysters, pollock, salmon, sardines, and shrimp.
Take the Plunge
Adopting a new way of eating may seem like heading out into uncharted waters. Fortunately, delving into the pescatarian lifestyle requires little planning and adjustments. Here are a few tips for smooth sailing:
- Fill up on fruits, vegetables, and grains: You will be eating plenty of plant-based foods, so explore the infinite options of dark, leafy greens, colorful peppers and squashes, flavorful legumes, luscious fruits, and filling grains.
- Stack your pantry and freezer with economical catches: Fresh foods are always ideal, but you can still obtain substantial nutrition from canned and frozen products that are often budget-friendly choices.
- Make each meal a wholesome fix: Avoid processed and deep-fried foods; prepare your vegetables, grains, and seafood by baking, grilling, sauteing, or other healthy methods.
A pescatarian diet offers boundless variety and flexibility, which make it easy to enjoy and maintain. However, dietitians advise that the regimen does not call for eating seafood at every meal. It is intended to be primarily plant-based, with a few meals per week featuring fish. Some nutritionists suggest consuming no more than 12 ounces of seafood each week. Consult a physician about any major dietary changes.