Everything You Should Know About the Pescatarian Diet


Plant-based diets are increasing in popularity. Research is proving that plant-based diets can be just as nutrient-rich and beneficial for your health as a diet that includes meat. But what if you’re not sold on cutting out animal products completely? Or you’re concerned that a plant-based diet will make it difficult to meet your nutritional needs?

If so, you might consider a modified version of the vegetarian diet – the pescatarian diet!

The word pescatarian finds its root in the Italian word “pesce”, meaning fish. By definition then, a pescatarian diet is a vegetarian diet with the addition of fish and other seafood such as shrimp, clams, crab, and lobster. It also sometimes includes dairy and eggs.

The pescatarian diet is similar to the traditional Mediterranean diet: a plant-based diet with fish serving as the primary source of animal protein. Similar to the Mediterranean diet, a healthy pescatarian diet is loaded with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.

There are no specific guidelines that determine what is a pescatarian. And there are no rules that define how often you need to eat fish in order to be a pescatarian.

variety of raw foods including fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds

A pescatarian is someone who chooses to eat a vegetarian diet, but who also eats fish and other seafood.

What do pescatarians eat?

A typical pescatarian diet is primarily vegetarian, with the addition of seafood.

What they do eat

  • Whole grains and grain products
  • Legumes such as beans and lentils
  • Soy-based products such as tofu and tempeh
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
  • Dairy, including milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Eggs

What they don’t eat

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Wild game meat

Benefits of a pescatarian diet

A pescatarian diet can be a great choice for those looking for a nutritious meal plan. Plant-based foods provide many vitamins and minerals, while the seafood provides a great dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Some of the benefits of the pescatarian diet include:

Improves heart health

Eating fish, especially fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, provides an excellent source of omega-3 fats. It’s these omega-3 fats that deliver oh mega benefits!

Research dating back to the 1970s found lower rates of heart attacks and other coronary events among Greenland Inuit and other populations that consume lots of fish. (1) Several recent studies have been consistent with these findings showing that higher consumption of fish and omega-3 fats is associated with a lower risk of heart failure, heart disease, and death from heart disease. (2)(3)

Helps in the prevention and management of diabetes

Worldwide, diabetes has increased steadily. The majority of these cases are type 2 diabetes, caused by risk factors that are modifiable, such as diet. Following a vegetarian diet (including a pescatarian diet) is most beneficial for diabetes prevention and management. (4) These diets can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by about one-half. (5)

Reduces cancer risk

The abundance of nutrients found in fish and seafood may help reduce the risk of cancer by decreasing inflammation in the body. The Adventist Health Study 2, conducted on over 70,000 people found that individuals following a pescatarian diet have a 43 percent lower risk of contracting colorectal cancer. (6) Additionally, researchers in Italy suggest that the anti-inflammatory effects of a diet high in omega-3 fats might help to improve the conditions of cancer patients. (7)

Boosts your brainpower

Consuming omega-3 fats might be a good way to keep your brain sharp as you age. Research from 2014 reported that adults who consumed 2200mg of omega-3 (about the amount you get in 1 tsp of flaxseed oil) had improved cognitive performance. (8) A higher intake of omega-3 fats has also been associated with better brain function in children too. (9) So it appears that it’s never too early to give your brainpower a boost!

Pescatarian diet meal plan

Here are some meal ideas to help you build a pescatarian diet plan:

Breakfast:

  • Oats (refrigerated overnight)
  • Scrambled eggs with toast and sauteed spinach
  • Bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon

Lunch:

  • Tuna sandwich with carrot sticks
  • Vegetarian lasagna
  • Pasta salad with tofu

Dinner:

  • Salmon with quinoa and broccoli
  • Quiche with a side salad
  • Fish tacos

Snacks:

  • Cucumber with hummus
  • Apple with peanut butter
  • Trail mix

What is the pescatarian ketogenic diet?

The idea of a keto pescatarian diet may be appealing to many who want to reduce their consumption of meat yet reap the benefits of a ketogenic diet.

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate protein and low-carb diet that has been promoted for its benefits on a number of health conditions including obesity and pediatric epilepsy.

woman sitting at her desk and eating a salad

A pescatarian diet can be a great choice for those looking for a nutritious meal plan.

Although often associated with animal foods, the keto diet can be adapted to fit a vegetarian eating style – including pescatarian diets. The pescatarian ketogenic diet is one that is free of meat and fowl flesh and restricts carbohydrates.

Here is a list of pescatarian and keto-friendly foods: (10)

  • Fish and shellfish: mackerel, salmon, sardines, shrimp, trout
  • Meat alternatives: seitan, tempeh, tofu
  • Leafy greens: arugula, kale, spinach
  • Above ground vegetables: asparagus, avocado, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower
  • High-fat dairy: butter, full-fat Greek-yogurt, hard cheeses, heavy cream
  • Eggs
  • Dairy alternatives: unsweetened coconut yogurt, coconut cream, vegan cheeses
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Berries: blackberries, raspberries, strawberries
  • Fats: avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil
  • Sweeteners: erythritol, monk fruit, stevia

The pescatarian diet integrates well into a number of other diets. Following a paleo diet? Why not try a pescatarian paleo diet. Or maybe you’re following a low-carb diet. The pescatarian diet fits well with this eating style too!

The pescatarian paleo diet

The paleo diet is meant to resemble what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago. It excludes all grains, dairy, beans and legumes, refined and processed foods, fast foods, sugar and unhealthy fats high in omega-6 fats. (11)

Staples of the paleo diet include mainly whole foods such as wild and free-range meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and some tubers. Following a pescatarian paleo diet would further exclude meat and fowl flesh.

Here is a list of pescatarian and paleo-friendly foods: (12)

  • Fish and seafood: haddock, salmon, shrimp, trout, etc. Choose wild-caught when possible
  • Fruits: apples, blueberries, oranges, pears, strawberries, etc
  • Vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, carrots, kale, onions, peppers, etc
  • Eggs: choose free-range, pastured or omega-3 enriched eggs
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc
  • Oils: olive, walnut, flax, macadamia nut, avocado, coconut

The low-carb pescatarian diet

There is no definition or standardization for a low carbohydrate diet. Usually, a diet that requires you to restrict carbohydrates is called a low-carb diet. (13) They usually encourage high consumption of protein, fat, and healthy vegetables. Conventional low-carb diets rely heavily on meat, which makes them unsuitable for vegetarians. But this doesn’t have to be the case! Even vegetarians – including pescatarians – can follow a low-carb diet.

Low-carb pescatarian foods include: (14)

  • Fish and shellfish: salmon, trout, haddock and many others
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables: leafy greens like spinach and kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and many others
  • Fruits: apples, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, oranges, and pears
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts and many others, including nut and seed butter
  • Unsweetened dairy products: plain whole milk and plain Greek yogurt
  • Oils: coconut oil, olive oil, rapeseed oil

The bottom line

Many of us are looking for a dietary pattern with maximal nutrition benefits and little sacrifice and inconvenience. With its focus on plant-based foods, the pescatarian diet delivers a serious nutrition punch. Adding fish and other seafood not only boosts the intake of heart-healthy omega-3 fats but also increases the variety of lean proteins. If you’d like to follow a plant-based diet but still retain some flexibility, it might be a great option for you.

If you are a practitioner, consider signing up to Fullscript. If you are a patient, talk to your healthcare practitioner about Fullscript!