Are you in beach shape yet? Rest easy. There’s a reason some refer to this as diet season. We give you the info on one of the better diets to help you decide if it’s right for you.
There are so many diets that it’s hard to keep track of them all. One diet making some waves of late is the pescetarian diet. This diet is an option for those who no longer want to eat red meat or poultry, but are still willing to keep some animal products on their menu.
There are many reasons to try pescetarianism.
That includes such things as improved health, weight loss, and flexibility in food choices.
All About The Pescetarian Diet
Pescetarians are a lot like vegetarians.
They don’t eat red meat or poultry, but they do consume fish. The word pescetarian comes from the Italian word, pesce, meaning fish. Pescetarians not only eat fresh and saltwater fish, they also consume shellfish and seafood. Of course, that goes alongside fruit and veggies, eggs, dairy, legumes, and grains.
People often opt to follow this diet for health reasons.
There are many documented health perks to adding fish to the standard diet. As well, there are benefits to reducing meat intake. Many pescetarians are health conscious and want to make drastic changes in their diet, but don’t believe committing to a fully vegetarian or vegan diet is the right choice.
With that said, some people are temporarily pescetarians and use it as a transition diet before becoming vegetarian or vegan.
What Can A Pescetarian Eat?
The pescetarian diet is primarily plant-based. That means most of the diet is made up of plant foods. Fish is the only source of animal protein but is not usually eaten every meal. Those following a pescetarian diet must be careful to include a wide range of fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, and legumes to meet their overall nutritional needs.
Some of the most popular foods in this diet include:
- All types of fresh and saltwater fish.
These foods are healthy and are a great addition to any diet – even if you don’t plan to remove any specific group of foods. For instance, shellfish are loaded with minerals. Oysters are high in zinc. Mussels contain nearly 50% of the daily recommendation of iron. Clams are high in calcium and selenium.
Some types of fish are also very high in omega-3 fatty acids. Eating two servings of fatty fish each week will make a major impact on a person’s good cholesterol levels. Of course, that leads to improved heart health. As well, fish are a lean protein source. That means you can improve your overall caloric intake, along with improving your nutrition.
White fish, such as flounder and sole, are lower in fat than nearly any other source of animal protein. In essence, fish and seafood give you a lot of bang for your buck.
For the same or far fewer calories than you’d get in red meat or chicken, you get even greater amounts of nutrients.
Many nutrition experts tout the pescetarian diet as a healthy alternative to vegetarianism.
Vegetarians fail to get the nutrients they need on a daily basis. Adding fish to an otherwise vegetarian diet improves protein intake, as well as the intake of calcium, vitamin D, and B12.
Pescetarian Diet Health Benefits
Though many health experts are reluctant to tout any kind of elimination diet, many believe the pescetarian diet provides a number of health benefits.
An analysis from the Adventist Health Study-2, reported in 2012, found that pescetarians have a lower mortality rate than non-vegetarians. That same study also found pescetarians have lower bad cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. They also tend to have a reduced risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
There isn’t much else out there in terms of the health perks of the pescetarian diet, but there’s a lot of evidence that the Mediterranean diet is healthy and the two diets are a lot alike. Along with the perks already addressed, there’s evidence those who eat a primarily plant-based diet that includes fish have a lower risk of depression and cancer.
Health experts believe this is linked to the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) found in fish that improve brain health. There’s also evidence DHA and EPA offer a number of cardiovascular benefits and reduce a person’s risk for heart disease.
Consuming fish is also believed to reduce the risk for developing dementia and might actually make you in some ways smarter. Long before there was officially a pescetarian diet, fish was known as brain food.
A UK study found that children born to women who consumed at least 12 ounces of fish each week during pregnancy had higher IQ levels and better social, motor, as well as communication skills. Another study by Chicago’s Rush Institute for Healthy Aging discovered that over a four-year period, those between the ages of 65 and 94 who ate at least one fish serving each week had a 60% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as compared with those who either rarely or never ate fish.
One of the most vital things to note about a pescetarian diet is its ability to expose people to vitamins and nutrients they might otherwise miss while consuming a vegetarian or standard American diet. Many fish are also very high in hard-to-find nutrients.
We’re talking zinc, selenium and vitamins D and B12, all of which are key to your health. You’d have to eat massive amounts of other foods with trace amounts of these to get the same perks you’d get from just a standard serving of fish.
Is It Really The Fish?
Some health experts believe the perks many people experience when switching to a pescetarian diet is about more than just the fish. People who choose this lifestyle tend to be more focused on health in general. And not only are they including fish into their diets, they are focusing a great deal of their meal planning around plant foods.
Vegetarians have been shown to have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and cancer. As a person’s diet transitions from red and processed meats to fish, and by necessity plants, their overall health improves.
Most would agree it isn’t just the fish, but the focus on foods high in omega-3 fatty acids certainly helps. In essence, the pescetarian diet is like a perfect storm for those who used to consume a standard American diet.
They’re reducing saturated fat and other bad dietary components, adding more fruits and veggies and enjoying the perks of eating more fish.
Is It Possible To Overeat Fish?
Of course, like any diet, pescetarianism isn’t perfect and there are reasons for concern when a person drastically boosts seafood intake. The most common concern is whether or not you might end up consuming too much mercury.
Fish are known to have high levels of mercury and other toxins, which can be higher or lower based on where the fish came from. In some cases, studies have shown that the perks of switching to a pescetarian diet are outweighed by the boost in mercury.
One of the best ways you can make the transition to a pescetarian diet and still stay healthy is to educate yourself about mercury and fish. Understanding the ocean’s food chain can help. For instance, predatory fish tend to be higher in mercury. It’s also important to be aware of the guidelines concerning fish.
Just because you’re pescetarian doesn’t mean you need to eat fish at every meal. Guidelines suggest no more than 8 ounces or so per week. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid certain kinds of fish. That includes such fish as shark, tilefish and king mackerel. They should also limit their intake or outright avoid albacore tuna.
Speaking of pregnancy, there’s conflicting evidence on whether pregnant women should be wary of fish. Two major studies, one from the Seychelles and the other from the UK, confirmed the idea that eating seafood during pregnancy showed no negative effects on pregnant women.
The UK study actually showed significant benefits for women who increased their fish intake during pregnancy. The results were backed up by a study out of the United States that showed eating seafood during pregnancy was linked with significant perks for the children, both in motor development and IQ.
Some of the healthiest fish, based on their EPA and DHA count and their lower mercury amounts, include trout, Pacific oysters, herring, anchovies, sardines, salmon and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel.
Don’t Forget Selenium
Fish is also high in selenium.
What is it?
It’s a mineral found in soil, water, and some foods. You only need a very small amount, but it plays an important role in metabolism. There’s also some evidence that its antioxidant properties protect cells from damage and might reduce the risk for prostate cancer. Some also believe the selenium content in fish provides natural protection against mercury poisoning.
According to a number of studies in the last five decades, selenium counteracts the negative effects of mercury found in fish. The damage that would be done to brain health by over-eating fish can be dealt with by boosting your selenium intake, which occurs automatically when you eat more fish.
Becoming A Pescetarian
So let’s say you’re sold on the idea of being a pescetarian.
Learn as much as you can about pescetarian eating and your body’s dietary needs.
Switching to a more plant-based diet is a great way for just about anyone to improve their health, but not all vegetarian diets are right for everyone. Vegetarianism, and especially veganism, might be too restrictive for your lifestyle. You might not like the thought of removing all animal foods. Or, your taste palate might not be varied enough for you to get everything your body needs from the veggies and non-animal foods you do like to eat.
Pescetarianism is a compromise. It allows you to enjoy all of the perks of vegetarianism without the downside. It’s a simpler dietary transition that people tend to have better success with. Many dieticians have seen people try to make a drastic switch to veganism or vegetarianism and fail, returning to their prior unhealthy eating habits in a short time.
The addition of fish, for many, is a key to healthy eating success.
It’s also important to include variety in your diet and get the fish oil benefits, no matter how you choose to eat. Adding fish makes this easier, especially if you were previously not eating animal protein sources and you add fish. Many of your “what should we have for dinner” worries will be over – at least a couple of nights a week.
Most people should focus on making a gradual change from their current way of eating to a pescetarian diet.
This gives you time to research the info you need to make healthy diet choices and to allow your body to adjust to the change. Like anything, it’s important to make a commitment to health and learn about how best to eat for your body. This requires time and learning.
If you’re looking for a diet that will give you the maximum nutritional perks with the minimum sacrifice and inconvenience, pescetarianism could be the answer. The diet focuses on plant-based foods, but its inclusion of fish gives your body the vitamins, phytochemicals, minerals, fiber and healthy fats it needs.
By adding fish, or subbing fish for less-healthy animal proteins, you are boosting your intake of heart-healthy long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and getting the lean protein you need for energy and satisfaction.
It might take some time to get it just right with the healthiest fish choices and to ensure you aren’t relying too much on fish as your main ingredient in too many meals. But, the time and effort you invest in improving your diet and making this transition will be well worth it in the long run.
By Kelly Brown
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