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Home » OSL Blog » What is a Pescatarian Diet and is it the Right Choice for You?

What is a Pescatarian Diet and is it the Right Choice for You?

July 26, 2019

Key Takeaways

  1. People become pescatarians for reasons such as health and better environmental sustainability.
  2. Pescatarians tend to have higher food costs, take longer to source food, and can lack key nutrients.
  3. There are various different types of pescatarian diets, and there are pros and cons to each.
  4. Ultimately, the choice is yours if you want to become a pescatarian. If you do, be sure to consult your doctor first.

There is no shortage of different diets and ways of eating today. So far, we’ve learned about:

Each diet has its pros and cons, and some might be better for one bodybuilder over another. While most bodybuilders in the Golden Era preferred to eat meat and dairy, not all ate that way.

Bill Pearl - bodybuilder
Bill Pearl is a well known pescatarian bodybuilder.

Today, we’ll learn all about the pescatarian diet.

  • What a pescatarian diet is and how it differs from others
  • The pros and cons of this way of eating
  • What you should and shouldn’t eat
  • Things to consider when choosing this diet
  • A day in the life of a pescatarian

When we’re done, you should know all about the pescatarian diet and whether it’s a good fit for you.

Ready to get started?

What is a Pescatarian Diet?

One thing that the pescatarian diet is not – an all fish diet. In Italian, the word “pesce” means fish. So that means that someone who eats a pescatarian diet eats mostly plant-based with fish as the main protein source. Another name for this way of eating is pesco-vegetarian.

There are no hard and fast rules for the pescatarian diet. Some people eat fish only, others eat all types of seafood. And while some people are strictly plant-based other than fish, others choose to eat dairy and eggs too.

pescatarian food
The pescatarian diet in general includes sea food, eggs, &dairy.

Those who eat dairy and eggs are considered lacto-ovo-pescetarians. This means they eat dairy (lacto), eggs (ovo), and fish along with a vegetarian diet.

Pollo Pescatarians

There are also those who choose to eat fish and poultry as protein sources and avoid red meat and pork. Those who eat this way are considered pollo pescatarians.

pollo pescatarian
One variation of this diet is pollo pescatarian of which poultry & fish are consumed.

There is no right or wrong here. It is purely up to you to decide what is the best way to eat. Some use this way of eating as a stepping stone towards a fully vegetarian or plant-based diet. 

People who choose to eat in this fashion also tend to be more health conscious than most. They see some of the benefits of the pescatarian diet and choose to alter their tastes. Others may do it for ethical or sustainable reasons.

Pescatarians eat this way for health, ethical, or sustainable reasons.

As always, you should consult with your doctor before you make any radical changes to your way of eating. People with certain health issues or goals may find the pescatarian diet is not the best choice for them.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of eating a pescatarian diet.

Pros of a Pescatarian Diet

When it comes to eating the pesco-vegetarian way, there are several pros worth considering.

1. Weight Loss

Some choose to use a pescatarian diet plan to lose weight. One of the reasons this diet is popular for weight loss is due to long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

People who are low in omega-3s struggle with weight gain and tend to be overweight or obese. When comparing fish oil vs flaxseed oil, we learned that fish oil is superior in providing needed omega-3s. The best way to get them is to eat fish rather than to take supplements.

fish in the ocean
Fish is rich in omega 3s, that’s why consuming fish is better than supplementing.

There have also been numerous studies done on the subject of vegetarian diets and weight control. The consensus is that vegetarian and vegan diets are better for keeping weight in control than the Standard American Diet (SAD).

Someone who eats a mainly plant-based diet tends to feel fuller longer, gets more fiber, and eats fewer calories. Adding fish gives needed protein and fats, which also help you feel full.

Standard American diet
Compared to vegetarian & vegan, it’s harder to maintain your wight on SAD.

It seems that following a pescatarian diet could be a good way to lose weight and keep it off. It also might have some other health benefits as well.

2. Balances Omega-6 with Omega-3

Another thing we learned in the article comparing fish oil and flaxseed oil is the need to balance omega-6 and omega-3. The omega-6 fatty acid is needed by the system but it is also inflammatory. 

fish oil
Fish oil is rich in omega 3 which is needed by our bodies.

Having a balance of omega-6 to omega-3 is needed to counteract the inflammation as omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory.

The Standard American Diet that most people eat includes much higher omega-6 intake. The omega-3s in fish will increase the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in your system.

This has numerous health benefits and can reduce the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases in your system. Some of the health benefits include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Arthritis
  • Some mental health illnesses
  • Some neurological diseases
  • Better hormone regulation
  • Reduces the risk of diabetes
  • Improve reproductive health
  • Lower triglyceride levels

3. Improves Mental Health

There have been lots of studies done on the usage of omega-3 and its effect on mental health. There are two types of fatty acids present in the omega-3 provided by fish:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Throughout the studies, EPA has overwhelmingly been better at contributing to mental health than DHA. For some patients, omega-3 has been added in addition to medication. In the case of others, it’s been sufficient enough to replace some medications.

mental health
EPA, a fatty acid abundant in omega 3, supports mental health.

For those who struggle with remembering to take their medication consistently, eating fish a couple of times a week works well. It’s also beneficial to those who tend to take their medication and then stop them when they feel better.

Omena-3 Benefits

Some disorders that show positive results when increasing omega-3:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Diets high in anti-inflammatories have also shown promise in reducing Alzheimer’s and dementia in some patients. Some believe that these cognitive diseases are in part due to inflammation of the brain

Omega 3 reduces depression, anxiety, ADHD, & inflammation.

Higher concentrations of omega-3 in the diet may lead to reduced inflammation in the body, including the brain.

4. Heart Health

The EPA and DHA in the fish that reduces inflammation can also reduce heart-related diseases. Specific diseases include:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Mild hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Sudden death due to a heart-related event
heart health
EPA & DHA in fish reduce heart disease due to their anti inflammatory properties.

The American Heart Association recommends 3.5 oz cooked fish twice a week for cardiovascular health.

5. May Help with Some Cancers

The same anti-inflammatory properties have also been linked to helping fight some cancers. Omega-3s boost the immune system, providing the body with more nutrients to help ward off cancer growth.

colorectal cancer
A diet rich in omega 3 decreases the risk of having colorectal cancer.

One study even suggests that people who eat a pescatarian diet have the least risk of developing colorectal cancer. It can also reduce the risk of colon and rectum cancers.

This study advises that increasing omega-3 intake while taking chemotherapy can help. Eating fish or taking fish oil can reduce inflammation and chemotoxicity in the body. It has even been found to curb tumor growth in some patients and promote apoptosis (death of cancer cells).

6. Environmental Benefits

Some people choose to eat this way for the environmental benefits. Many believe that meat consumption is too high in the Standard American Diet. It takes up too much land and the gases produced are not good for the planet.

One way to reduce the effect on the environment is to no longer eat meat or poultry. If you do choose to eat fish, make sure that it’s from a sustainable resource.

Monterey Bay aquarium in California is a sustainable source of fish.

Monterey Bay Aquarium in California offers a way to always source sustainably caught fish. You can go to their website and input the name of the fish, and they will give you ethical sources. They also have an app, which can be downloaded from the same page.

animal welfare
Animal welfare & rights is another ethical reason that leads people to adopt this diet.

Animal welfare is also something to consider. Meat and pork farmers don’t always treat their animals well, in life or death. To minimize their suffering and reduce the need for farms, some people choose to change their diets.

If you are someone who worries about the effect on fish, this study might help ease your mind. This study determines that while fish may feel stress, they lack the capacity to feel pain.

Cons of the Pescatarian Diet

While there are definitely a lot of pros for this way of eating, there are a few negatives you should consider.

1. Factory Farming

Here is one important thing to consider. There are going to be less fish in the wild as more people choose to reduce their meat intake.

fish farm
Over-farming fish had alarming consequences such as damaging the ecosystem.

Fish farming has grown in popularity for this reason. There are some negatives to fish farming to consider:

  • Can increase diseases in farmed fish
  • Some farms use wild fish to make food to feed in their farms
  • Overcrowding can reduce the quality of all the fish
  • It can be damaging to ecosystems
  • Invasive species can be mistakenly put into the wild, decimating native species
Fatory farming also

If you are going to eat fish, it’s best to get them from a sustainable wild source. Eventually, that might not be an option if more people adopt this way of eating.

2. Mercury Concerns

Mercury toxicity should be a concern to anyone who eats fish. The type of mercury present in fish is actually methylmercury (MeHg). 

Over time, MeHg can affect your central nervous system. The effects on the human body include:

  • Tingling or numbness in fingers or toes
  • Difficulty walking
  • General weakness
  • Hearing or vision impairment
  • Tremors
  • Loss of coordination or mobility
  • In severe cases, loss of consciousness could also lead to death

MeHg toxicity in pregnant women can also create neurological and developmental delays in babies.

tired male
Some of the effects of mercury toxicity are fatigue & vision impairment.

If you want to reduce the amount of MeHg you consume, here is something that can help. When creating your pescatarian meal plan, you can use this pdf from the FDA to help source fish. You input the type of fish, and the system tells you the mercury content and if it’s a good choice.

grocery shopping
Always check the mercury content of desired fish types while grocery shopping.

Some fish with the least amount of mercury are:

  • Canned tuna
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Shrimp
  • Catfish
  • Sardines
  • Flounder 
shrimp and salmon
Shrimp & salmon are seafood options with the least amount of mercury.

Fish with the highest levels of mercury that you should avoid eating are:

  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish
  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • Orange roughy

3. Lack of Vitamin B-12

People who eat a primarily or completely plant-based diet tend to lack this important micro-nutrient. Vitamin B-12 is vital to our red blood cells and neurological functions.

Most people who eat red meat don’t typically lack this micro-nutrient. It can also be found in fish, dairy, and eggs. The National Institute of Health recommends that adults get 2.4 mcg per day of vitamin B-12. 

Clams have the highest concentration of vitamin B-12. Other seafood high in this vitamin are:

  • Rainbow trout
  • Sockeye salmon
  • Light tuna
  • Haddock
Trout is a good source of B12 that you can include in your diet regularly.

Foods like nutritional yeast and fortified breakfast cereals have added B-12. They can be a good source of the micro-nutrient for those who don’t eat meat.

4. The Expense

Cost is a big factor in what type of diet people eat. If you already eat grass-fed, organic, and humanely raised meats, you know the cost is higher.

For those who choose a pescatarian diet, the cost of buying sustainably sourced, low mercury fish can be even higher. One way to keep costs down is to buy frozen sustainably sourced seafood. Or, if you are able to, catch it yourself.

Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables are ways that plant-based eaters keep costs down. Befriend farmers near you if possible, or visit local farmers markets. Consider finding ways to source inexpensive quality seafood if you are eating a pescatarian diet.

What Can I Eat on a Pescatarian Diet?

Just because you are a pescatarian, it doesn’t mean you have to eat fish every day or even every week. If you are eating fish for health reasons, eat a portion at least twice a week for the benefits.

legumes and beans
Legumes, beans, wheat, & nuts are options other than fish that’ll enrich your diet.

Here are some things to consider when deciding what to eat, your pescatarian food list:

  • Seafood – fresh, frozen, canned
  • Fruits – preferably in season to keep costs down
  • Vegetables – also in season to keep costs down
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Oats – preferably whole grain
  • Legumes
  • Beans
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Nuts
  • Nut butters
  • Milk and other dairy products (if lacto)
  • Eggs (if ovo)
  • Tofu
  • Flax seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Farro
  • Vegetable oils
fruits & vegetables
Fruits, vegetables & seeds should also be part of your food list.

Foods that should be avoided when following a pescatarian diet:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry (unless you are a pollo pescatarian)
  • Butter (unless lacto pescatarian)
  • Venison and other wild game
red meat
Red meat is the number 1 food that’s banned on a pescatarian diet.

Things to Consider on the Pescatarian Diet

Here are a couple of things to consider if you plan to try the pescatarian diet.

1. Nutrient Deficiencies

First, you will have to pay close attention to the balance of the foods you eat. It is easy to develop a nutrient imbalance when you eliminate whole food groups.

Iron deficiency & anemia are possible outcomes of a pescatarian diet.

Nutrients you could end up becoming deficient in:

  • Iron
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Protein (less likely on this diet than strictly plant-based, vegetarian or vegan)
  • Ratio imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3
  • Carbohydrate overload

The best way to know if you are deficient in any vital nutrients is to see your doctor before you switch diets. They can do nutrient testing to see where your levels are currently. Then, you can retest in six months to a year to determine if your levels have changed. 

This information can help you keep your diet balanced so that your body can function at its optimal health.

Fatigue & lightheadedness are some of the symptoms of nutrient deficiency.

Here are some symptoms of nutrient deficiency to look out for:

  • Pale or yellowed skin
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Lightheadedness
  • Poor concentration
  • Constipation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Depression
  • Chest tightening
  • Trouble catching your breath

If you experience any of these symptoms when switching to a pescatarian diet, it’s best to see your doctor. They can help rule out any nutrient deficiencies and determine what you need to change in your diet.

2. You’ll Probably Have to Cook More

Some people enjoy eating a plant-based diet because there is little to no cooking involved. If you are a pescatarian though, you’ll have to cook at least some of the time.

Sure, there’s sashimi (raw fish) that you can get at the store or a sushi restaurant. But if you plan to eat fish regularly as part of your standard diet, you’ll want to cook it right.

baked fish
Baking fish is one of the easiest cooking method that’ll save you time & effort.

Avoid frying fish. It is the least healthy way to eat fish and it reduces the number of nutrients in the food. The best way to cook fish is to:

  • Bake
  • Steam
  • Poach
  • Broil
  • Sautee
  • Grill

Most fish cook quickly and really don’t take a lot of effort once you have the basics down. Canned versions of fish are already cooked and can be eaten or added to recipes with no prep.

A Day in the Life of a Pescatarian

Are you curious what a pescatarian would eat on any given day? Some pescatarian diet recipes are harder than others, but we’ll go easy on you with this breakdown.

Here is a sample menu that includes a pescatarian breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We’ll even provide some snack ideas for you as well.

1. Breakfast

Start your day off with an egg or two cooked however you like with a small amount of high quality vegetable oil. We like avocado or grapeseed oil, but you can use whatever you like.

eggs and avocado
A breakfast of eggs & avocado toast with a bed of spinach is a great start to your day.

Saute some spinach or kale in the same pan until wilted. Add to your eggs. You can include some sprouted bread, bagel or muffin if you’d like.

If you want to start the day with some fish, consider canned sardines on some nice crusty bread.

2. Lunch

Make yourself a big, hearty salad for lunch. You can prepare it fresh or in the morning to take with you for later.

A simple salad topped with cooked fish is a tasty lunch option.

Use your favorite greens, add some seasonal vegetables and fruits (if you like). Consider some hemp seeds for a nutty flavor and added health benefits. Flavored vinegar and light oil is always a good idea for a healthy dressing.

If you didn’t get your fish in at breakfast, add some canned or pre-cooked salmon to the salad or on the side.

3. Dinner

Here is a recipe for a really delicious Indian Shrimp Curry for dinner. It might look hard, but total time for prep and cooking is only 30 minutes. Add to a bed of rice or other grain for a filling dinner.

An extravagant yet easy curry for dinner is a must.

If you’ve already had your fish for the day, here’s another dinner option for you. This recipe for Black Bean and Veggie Enchiladas comes together quick and then bake to gooey perfection.

Not eating dairy? No problem. You can skip the cheese and these would still be seriously yummy. You can change up the veggies added (and do fresh over frozen) and use canned black beans instead of refried.

The best part about the enchilada recipe is that you can increase the amount for an easy meal later on.

4. Snacks

Whether you are a snacker or not, it’s always a good idea to have some ideas on hand. You know, in case of emergency.

apple & nut butter
The famous apple & nut butter combo is one snack that’ll get you through till the next meal.
  • Nuts or seeds (pre packaged or put into individual containers yourself)
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • An apple with your favorite nut butter
  • Celery and carrots with hummus for dipping
  • Half of an avocado with some hemp or chia seeds sprinkled on top

If cooking each meal individually isn’t your think as a pescatarian, you should consider meal prep. You spend one or two days preparing and cooking (if needed) your food that will last for several days.

It is more time consuming on your prep day, but it saves you time throughout the week. Just make larger portions of food you would already be making, and divide them up. Then, stock the fridge and grab and go as needed for a quick, healthy meal in minutes.

Are you considering a pescatarian diet? Out of all the diets we’ve shared on the blog, which one do you prefer to eat? Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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