Have you ever considered going vegetarian but are concerned about missing out on vital vitamins and minerals?
If you want to commit to giving up red meat, but you still want protein, a pescatarian diet is an option.
Pescatarians eat a traditional vegetarian diet by eliminating red meat and poultry, but they eat fish and seafood too. Some also eat eggs and dairy.
Is the pescatarian diet a better option than strict vegetarianism or a carnivorous diet? We explore the ins-and-outs of the pescatarian diet in our complete guide to becoming a pescatarian.
What is the Pescatarian Diet?
A pescatarian diet is a diet that includes vegetables, grains, pulses, and fish and seafood.
In other words, it follows a vegetarian diet but still includes anything that swims including:
However, they generally avoid animal products and meat in particular.
Do Pescatarians Eat Dairy?
Some pescatarians choose to eat dairy and eggs but not all choose to do so.
A person who follows a pescatarian diet and also consumes dairy and eggs is technically a lacto-ovo-pescatarian.
However, even if those that do indulge in dairy products still avoid red meat, poultry, pork, and mutton.
Are Pescatarians Vegan?
No, pescatarians are not vegan, but some pescatarians use the diet as a stepping stone to vegetarianism or veganism.
Because pescatarian diets don’t prohibit fish and shellfish, the diet can’t be vegan, which forgoes all animal products both in food and fashion. Additionally, pescatarians don’t ban animal products like honey, which vegans would also avoid. Lacto-ovo-pescatarians also aren’t vegan because they consume fish, dairy, and eggs – none of which exist in the vegan diet.
In some cases, people ease into a vegan diet from the standard diet using a pescatarian diet, particularly if they previously ate a significant amount of meat and now need to prepare for a more restricted diet mentally.
What Are the Benefits of a Pescatarian Diet?
Becoming a pescatarian is a personal choice, and it’s popular because it includes both health, ethical, and logistical benefits.
Fish Offers a Complete Protein
For example, if you want to eliminate meat from your diet, you might find it easier to get enough protein by keeping fish in your diet. Fish is also a complete protein, which means it holds all the essential amino acids to make up a protein.
The amino acids that make up complete protein include:
Finding complete proteins in plant protein is difficult. These plants include soy, quinoa, amaranth, chia, and hempseed. Other plants do contain protein but miss out on some of the essential amino acids.
You can also get complete proteins from eggs and dairy, but fish also happens to offer another health benefit: omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish Includes Heart Healthy Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that aid heart health and help reduce the risk of people who either risk or already have cardiovascular diseases. These acids may decrease triglyceride levels and slow the growth of plaque in your blood vessels, which both contribute to heart disease.
You can find omega-3 fats in some plants, but the makeup of the fatty acid changes.
You can only find eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in fish oils, either through consuming fish or a foil oil supplement.
In plants, the oil is alpha-linolenic acid (LNA).
Although both fall under the category of omega-3, LNA is less effective because the body needs to convert it to EPA before it offers the same benefit. Your body can also convert only a small amount of LNA to EPA, and most of it oxidizes, and then your tissues absorb it. Because of this, EPA and LNA aren’t biological equivalents.
If you take any omega-3 supplement, you should check the label to see what type of acid it uses as its primary ingredient.
Pescatarian Diets Have General Health Benefits
Shifting your diet to a plant-based focus has health benefits across the board. Studies show that people who consume more plants and less meat have a lower risk of chronic disease (including obesity and cardiovascular disease) and obesity.
Pescatarians also benefit because unlike red meat and poultry, fish and seafood don’t contain high levels of saturated fat.
A Pescatarian Diet is a More Ethical One
Skipping red meat and poultry means divesting from a factory farming system that contributes to the misery and illness of animals during their lifetimes. While not all farms participate in this system, the vast majority of meat available in the supermarket comes from megafarms characterized by poor conditions for both animals and workers.
It is much easier to trace the supply chain of fish than of chicken or beef.
The ethics of choosing a pescatarian diet are numerous, but there are also some challenges to those beliefs. Let’s dive in deeper.
The Ethical Benefits Being a Pescatarian
It’s common for people to choose the pescatarian diet because they have ethical concerns about farming, eating meat and the environment.
Those concerns include:
The growth of inhumane factory practices, including factory farms, is a cause of concern for people who worry about the treatment of animals. Raising livestock to live in inhumane conditions is not only ethically wrong but a poor choice of farming practice as well.
Additionally, factory farms also encourage poor working conditions for the people who work with animals. The same conditions that make the animals’ quality of life poor also hurt human health and reduce their dignity.
Another argument for pescatarian diets is the use of land and resources to feed so many land animals. Producing grain and dedicating huge swaths of land to farming is difficult for some to stomach when world hunger remains a problem.
Finally, some pescatarians choose the diet because they oppose slaughter. Opposition to killing is a less common reason for choosing the diet because it still includes killing for food and many pescatarians still eat dairy and eggs, which are also animal products.
By eliminating red meat from their diet, pescatarians take a real step towards addressing the ethical issues that come with farming and consuming animals.
Some people don’t have an issue with consuming animals per se but instead, want to reduce their participation in the environmental costs associated with raising livestock.
Though, many people raise both ethical and environmental issues with eating meat.
However, you feel about meat, raising livestock comes with a calculable cost to the environment.
Even though we are no longer an agrarian society, farming employs 26 percent of all global workers. Those people work directly in agriculture, and the figure does not even include people who work in the supply chain from butchers to retailers to cooks and chefs.
It’s no surprise that the industry employs so many people. As recently as 2016, the world produced 317m metric tons of meat each year. The value of the market varies from $90 to $741 billion.
Meat production is huge, and it has a large impact on the environment.
Unfortunately, few measurements distinguish between livestock and crop farming or small versus industrial farms. However, the general statistics point to problems even without those distinctions. Meat production sucks up a huge amount of water: beef requires 15,415 liters per kilogram of meat compared to 322 liters per kilogram for vegetables.
Growing water constraints pose a serious issue, and a 2013 study showed that farming uses up nearly 92 percent of globally available freshwater.
In addition to using far more water than vegetable and fruit production, farming pollutes the water we have. Although both arable and livestock farming contribute, the FAO believes that livestock water pollution is critical because the industry continues to grow faster than crops.
Pollutants have huge impacts on our ecosystems. As weeds and insects die, they impact the entire food chain. Additionally, scientists continue to worry that there may be a connection between the use of antibiotics in animals and resistance in humans. Antibiotic-polluted water could be a serious issue.
Finally, and most importantly, farming impacts the quantity of greenhouse gas that heads into the atmosphere. Emissions occur from farm to force, and the UN believes agriculture and land use makes up 24 percent of total greenhouse gases. The understanding of the problems depends on the basis of measurement. However, three meat firms emitted more than the entire country of France in 2016, which demonstrates the potential scale of the problem.
Is Eating Fish Really Ethical?
Eating a pescatarian diet is healthy, eliminates some of the environmental concerns, and reduces the reliance on factory farms that damage animal welfare.
For those people, eating fish is more ethical than red meat.
But what ethics from the animal welfare perspective? After all, eating fish still requires killing the fish for food. Some people, often vegans and strict vegetarians, argue that there is no ethical way to eat fish for exactly this reason – it requires the slaughter of an innocent animal.
Still, some arguments suggest eating fish differs from eating a land mammal in ethical terms.
Fish Have Different Biology
One of the arguments for the ethical consumption of fish is that fish brains differ from mammals.
A fish’s brain looks like beans, and it’s not as sophisticated as the mammal brain. Our neocortex allows us (and all other mammals) to feel pain, and thus, animals feel pain when butchered for food consumption.
Fish, however, miss out on nociceptors, which are the sensory neurons that let you know about physical, bodily damage. Fish have them in rare cases, but in many cases, they don’t exist, particularly in predators.
Does that mean that fish don’t feel pain? Not quite.
Fish brains do notice that an injury occurred. They also flee from harm. However, their experience of pain differs from how humans and other mammals experience it because their brains operate differently.
It’s difficult to say how fish might experience pain because they can’t tell us. It’s also unlikely that fish have the self-awareness required to experience suffering, which is related to pain.
Fish do notice when they experience what should cause them pain. But their experience seems to be more “other.”
What About Overfishing?
The animals that omnivores consume are domesticated animals bred for farming over thousands of years.
Fish, by that standard, is thus the last kind of “wild food” available. But what about overfishing? Overfishing can destroy entire wild populations and species – some within our lifetime. The bluefin tuna is already on the endangered list, and it could be extinct soon as producers fail to slow down on fishing.
Overfishing is a cause for concern, but improvements in fish farms and aquaculture help offset the potential for pervasive overfishing in the future. Already, 50 percent of today’s fish comes from a farm, and by 2030, two-thirds of our fish may arrive on our plate this way.
Aquaculture can mean raising fish in open water or an old factory in Brooklyn. The industry is both new and notably imperfect, but fish still convert feed to meat more sustainably than any other livestock.
Feeding Fish Vegetarian Diets
Fish in fish farms eat a diet not dissimilar to what they enjoy in the wild.
A significant part of their diet includes “forage fish,” or small oily fish pulled from the oceans to turn into fishmeal and fish oil. Those then get fed to both farmed fish and other livestock including pigs.
However, pulling forage fish removes them from the diets of the wild fish and disrupts both the food chain and ecosystem. Fortunately, there is a solution for forage fish, too.
Researchers created a vegetarian fish feed that could halve the number of forage fish taken from the ocean while still feeding carnivorous fish like Atlantic salmon, walleye, and yellowtail. The USDA says that not only can those fish survive on vegetarian fishmeal but they can thrive.
One potential player for some fish is soy. Soybean meal offers a high-quality protein that doesn’t replace fishmeal but provides a useful alternative. Though, trout, in particular, don’t seem to tolerate soy as well as others.
Some vegetarian feeds include a mix of red algae, corn, flax, pistachio, and other plant-based ingredients. Two X Sea serves this feed to its farmed rainbow trout and ultimately produced a more delicious fish for its efforts.
How to Become a Pescatarian
Do you recognize yourself as a person who wants to eat more sustainably and healthily but isn’t ready to give up all forms of animal products?
Becoming a pescatarian is a lifestyle change, but it is not as all-encompassing as turning strict-vegetarian or vegan. You don’t need to reassess every product you buy including your clothes and shoes. You can ease in by cutting down on meat and then giving it up altogether.
Transitioning from the SAD to the Pescatarian Diet
If you eat the Standard American Diet, you might find switching to a full-blown pescatarian limiting and difficulty because it eliminates many of the foods you like to eat.
After all, meat products exist in so many places beyond the traditional hamburger.
You can choose to go cold turkey if that system works for you. If so, it means getting rid of all meat products and switching straight over to plants and fish immediately.
For many, easing into the diet is a better way to make the transition more comfortable and ensure it is something you stick to long term.
Start by eliminating obvious meat products from your diet at least a few days a week. If your whole diet focuses on meat, start by committing to Meat Free Mondays or Fridays. Work your way up, but don’t be afraid to push yourself.
When you eliminated those products, take a deeper look at other things you eat. If you buy flavored, processed food, you might be surprised to find animal products lurking in the ingredients list. The next step is to eliminate these foods from your diet.
Over time, you’ll find that you have gone weeks or months without consuming animal products without even noticing.
Learning New Recipes
Although removing animal products from your diet may sound limiting, becoming a pescatarian opens up a whole new world of food. It encourages you to try new grains and vegetables as well as embrace all the possibilities that fish and seafood have to offer.
Remember that becoming pescatarian doesn’t mean you have to leave all your favorite foods behind. You can swap ingredients to make them friendly for your diet. Do you love a cheeseburger? Why not play around with fish burgers?
Don’t forget that pescatarian diets don’t limit you to salmon or tuna. There’s a huge amount of fish and seafood varieties available. Try them all by sticking to what’s in season in your area.
Are you new to fish generally? Try the Eat Fish app. It lists seasonal fish, shares preparation skills, and includes plenty of new recipes to try out.
Make Sure You Get all the Nutrients You Need
Removing animal products from your diet also means removing vital vitamins and nutrients.
Be cautious about your calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12 numbers, and don’t feel bad about supplementing if you need to.
One way to supplement a pescatarian diet is also to consume dairy products and eggs, which offer many of these nutrients with significant density per serving.
If you become deficient in these nutrients, talk to your doctor about supplements. A consistent lack of iron can lead to health issues like anemia, which requires treatment and iron supplements.
Keep an Eye on Mercury
As you explore the wide world of fish, keep an eye on the types you consume and be sure to avoid overconsumption of fish high in mercury.
Mercury is a heavy metal that exists naturally in water (and soil and air). Because water exposes fish to mercury, eating contaminated fish can pass on the exposure. Concentrated mercury is highly toxic and causes serious health problems.
Fish to avoid eating on a regular basis because of their mercury concentrations include:
Almost all fish have some level of mercury, but some of those low in mercury include canned light tuna, shrimp, salmon, catfish, and pollock.
How to Be a Pescatarian on a Budget
Compared to poultry and red meat, fish feels like a luxury item. It’s one of the biggest criticisms of the diet: fish is expensive, particularly when the variety is out of season or when you choose responsibly farmed or caught products.
We can’t deny the cost of fish, but there are ways to stick to a pescatarian diet without going broke.
Don’t Eat Fish at Every Meal
Fish is expensive, but you don’t need to make it the centerpiece of every meal. If you transition to the diet from a meat-heavy lifestyle, then you might automatically try to do that, and attempting to consume more fish than you need (or can afford) is what trips people up rather than the price of fish itself.
Rather than eating fish at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, add it to one meal a day or eat it only a few times a week. Get creative for the rest of the week by exploring all kinds of vegetables and grains you are unfamiliar with.
If you need protein, consider adding eggs, dairy, or plant-based protein like tofu into your meal.
There’s a whole wide world of food out there to explore, so don’t be afraid to try something new.
Buy Frozen Fish
Frozen fish and seafood usually offer more bang for your buck while simultaneously preventing waste.
Frozen fish isn’t the same, you say? Yes, low-quality fish treated poorly will taste less fresh than never-frozen fish. However, if you do some research, you’ll find producers that freeze their food at precisely the right time to maintain the freshness of line caught fish.
Finally, some frozen products are almost always better than others. Shrimp, tuna, and tilapia all freeze well. Scallops and lobster are typically better fresh.
Embrace the Canned Life
Canned fish is an incredible way to get protein while saving a bundle, particularly when the grocery store sells it on offer.
The benefits of tinned fish are the long expiration dates and the ease with which you can buy in bulk.
Canned fish also make for simple meals. A quick tuna pasta bake is an easy weeknight meal that comes together in under ten minutes and costs very little.
Buy Only According to Specials, Offers, and Seasons
Saving money on fish without compromising on quality or ethical production means paying close attention to suppliers, seasons, and supermarkets.
Fish in season will also be less expensive than fish at the low point in the year.
Seasons differ according to where you live, so we put together a list for the West Coast of the United States and a second list for the East and Gulf Coasts.
West Coast Fish Calendar
If you live on or near the Pacific Coast, follow this calendar to save on fish and only buy fish during their peak season:
A few fish are available year-round for those on PST. Year-round fish include:
Fish with a dedicated season include:
East and Gulf Coast Seafood Availability
You have an incredible wealth of fish available on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but the bulk of your fish is best available during the summer months.
The list below indicates peak season for each fish. Though, it is still available at other times of the year.
These are peak seasons, but the period around peak season may still present good deals as there are still high volumes of fish.
Question: Should I Consume Dairy and Eggs as a Pescatarian?
Some vegetarians and pescatarians continue to consume dairy as part of their diet; others are wholly opposed.
Your choice will be a personal one, but we’ll try to show some of the arguments for and against dairy consumption to help enlighten your decision.
Dairy as a Complete Protein
If you were a vegetarian, you might consider keeping some dairy products in your diet for health reasons because dairy is a complete source of protein.
A complete protein is one that has all the essential amino acids that make up a protein. Most plants aren’t complete proteins, and so you’ll need to combine plant proteins carefully to get high-quality protein.
Because pescatarians eat fish, finding complete proteins isn’t a problem. Fish is a high-quality source of protein, and it offers more benefits than animal protein. The fish highest in protein include:
Dairy Includes Calcium
Finding complete protein may not be a challenge, but calcium can be.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that few get enough calcium entirely, and dairy is an important source of calcium.
Although plants contain some calcium, you’ll struggle to eat enough plants or even fish to get the calcium you need. For example, three 8-ounce glasses of milk provide enough calcium to meet your daily recommended amount, but you need 21 cups of broccoli to get the same benefit.
If dairy doesn’t appeal, you can find it in fish. Sardines in oil offer some of the highest calcium content out of all common foods with 240mg of calcium per 60g. However, you’ll need to get that much every day for the total benefit.
You may also find dairy-alternative products that are calcium enriched. These are the best source of calcium in liquid form outside of cow and sheep products themselves.
Dairy Alternatives Don’t Include Other Nutrients
You can find dairy alternatives in liquid and food form, but you’ll still miss out on other key nutrients like:
You won’t get these in leafy greens or calcium-fortified soy milk. However, eating oily fish does make up for some of these nutrients.
Doctors and dieticians tell pescatarians and vegetarians to watch out for vitamin B12 in particular.
It’s Easier to Buy Ethical Dairy and Eggs
Buying dairy and eggs from local farmers and through farmers markets is an easy way to offset the ethical issues associated with factory farms. Someone in your social circle may already be selling eggs, unpasteurized cow milk, or goat or sheep products.
Buying from animals and people you know means you get high-quality products at decent prices while also supporting your local community.
Question: How Can I Find Sustainably Sourced Fish?
The way the bulk of the country consumes fish is a hot topic because it still includes waste and negative consequences for the environment.
Still, there are ways to find and eat fish sustainably to let products know you don’t support poor fishing practices.
Start by reading up on different fish species to see what species are healthy and issues with supplies.
You can also support sustainable fishing by choosing something different. If we all stick to salmon or tuna, we put huge pressure on stocks. The same is true when we follow the crowd to the next big thing, like switching to gurnard. Switching up consumption helps protect species under threat and manages prices.
When you buy fish, look carefully at the fillet. Avoid small ones when you can because it suggests the fish was immature when caught. When fish don’t have a chance to reproduce, it negatively contributes to the stock. Ethical fishmongers also consider it negligent to eat fish that haven’t even had a chance at life and reproduction.
Buying local and seasonal goes without saying, but it is always worth reiterating. Support your local fishermen, lower your carbon footprint, and support local fishmongers. If you don’t know where to start, head to your local fishmonger or fish counter because they know where the sustainable fisheries are and what’s in season.
Finally, choose line-caught and organic whenever you can. Line caught is hard to find because poor labeling hides them away. Using a local fishmonger helps significantly when finding line caught and truly organic fish. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for vegetarian fish because they also promote sustainable fishing practices by keeping wild fish stocks healthy.
Question: What Are the Best Fish to Buy From Farms?
Fish farms come with their own set of problems even as dedicated suppliers work on solutions. Availability often depends on geographic location, but some species are usually safe to buy from aquaculture setups no matter where you are.
Question: Is Sustainable Seafood Better for My Health?
Sustainable seafood, like any other food, is almost always better for your health.
A study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment found that “unsustainable seafood items also present higher health risks (as indexed by mercury concentrations) and do not necessarily provide greater health benefits (as indexed by omega-3 fatty acid concentrations) as compared with sustainable seafood items.”
Irresponsibly farmed seafood also faces exposure to growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides, which some producers may add to the water.
Will You Become a Pescatarian?
What is a pescatarian diet? It is a diet that grants you the freedom to embrace grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and all kinds of fish and seafood.
Being a pescatarian doesn’t mean you must eat fish at every meal. It’s an opportunity to make vegetables and grains the centerpiece of your table and enjoy fish as a treat a few days a week. Doing so not only makes the lifestyle change healthier, but it also saves you a significant amount of money.
The way you approach the pescatarian diet is up to you, and there are no strict rules and no way to fail. Add foods that you love and find appropriate, and you’ll enjoy the unending health benefits of this lifestyle.