If you’d rather eat at the local seafood restaurant than a burger stand, you may wonder if a pescetarian diet is right for you. Women who follow a pescetarian diet eat seafood, but no other meat. You can easily consume a healthy and balanced pescetarian diet, as long as you follow certain precautions.
Since fish is a meat, pescetarians are not true vegetarians, but the two diets have many similarities. Pescetarians do not necessarily eat fish every day, because they also include plant proteins, like beans, tofu, nuts and seeds in their diet. The pescetarian diet may also provide some of the same health benefits as vegetarian and vegan diets. In a study published in “Diabetes Care” in 2009, pescetarians had a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than participants who ate other meats. Another study published in 2013 by the “Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine” found that pescetarians, vegetarians and vegans had a lower risk of death from heart and kidney disease than participants who ate beef and other meats.
Benefits of Fish
Like all meats, fish is a complete source of protein, containing all the amino acids your body needs. Fish also provides beneficial omega-3 fats, heart-healthy fats that may reduce triglyceride levels in the blood. High triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that all adults consume at least two servings, approximately 8 ounces, of fish each week. Fatty fish, like salmon, tuna and trout, are excellent sources of these beneficial fatty acids.
Since women lose blood every month during menses, women of childbearing age have much higher iron needs than men. The Institute of Medicine recommends women consume 18 milligrams of iron a day. Fish contains heme iron, a form of iron that the body easily absorbs, but many fish provide less iron than other healthy meats. Three ounces of roasted turkey contain 2 grams of iron, compared to only 0.68 gram in 3 ounces of Atlantic salmon. If you follow a pescetarian diet, eat a wide range of iron-containing foods, including fish, eggs, dairy products, beans and spinach.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all fish and shellfish contain trace amounts of methylmercury, a natural metal and common waste product of pollution. Mercury can affect the development of a fetus, so pregnant women should avoid high-mercury fish, including shark, swordfish and tilefish and limit their servings of Albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week. Low-mercury fish include pollock, canned light tuna and salmon. The Food and Drug Administration also recommends that pregnant women avoid undercooked or raw fish, due to the risk of foodborne illness.
Balance is the key to a healthy, pescetarian diet. When you don’t eat fish, use vegetarian proteins, like beans, nuts, nut butters, soy and seeds to meet your protein needs. Plant proteins are excellent sources of fiber, a plant component that keeps your digestive system healthy, reduces cholesterol levels and prevents constipation. When you do eat seafood, choose baked, grilled and broiled options, instead of deep-fried and battered seafood.
- Diabetes Care: Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight, and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes.
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Vegetarians May Live Longer
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture: Eat Seafood Twice a Week
- Environmental Protection Agency: What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish
- Food and Drug Administration: Food Safety for Moms-To-Be: Safe Eats - Eating Out & Bringing In
- Centers for Disease Control: Nutrition for Everyone: Iron and Iron Deficiency
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Elements
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron
- USDA: Fish, Salmon, Atlantic, Wild, Raw
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.