The Definitive Guide to the Pescatarian Diet
by UP Fitness, September 12, 2017
The Pescatarian Diet is on the rise right now – and for good reason.
Science suggests that eating a more fish-based diet has multiple benefits for body, brain and even longevity – not to mention lowering the risk of heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and depression.
Pescatarianism can also be very effective as a body transformation diet to make big changes to your body composition whether your goal is fat loss or muscle building.
This article looks in depth at the Pescatarian diet looking at the following areas:
- The benefits of a Pescatarian Diet
- How to Structure a Pescatarian Diet
- Foods to Eat on a Pescatarian Diet
- Pescatarian Diet and Weight Loss
- Research on Pescatarian with cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes
- Pescatarian diets and living longer
- Key nutrients in a pescatarian diet
- Pescatarian Diet vs Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
- 7 Steps To Mastering Your Pescatarian Diet
What is the pescatarian diet?
A pescatarian diet is a happy medium between being a tofu-munching vegan and a full-fledged carnivore. It’s the combination of the Italian word for fish “pesce” and “vegetarian”.
It’s essentially a modified vegetarian diet. Take a vegetarian diet and add back in some fish and seafood.
Pescatarians exclude animal and meat products from their diets, with the exception of fish and seafood.
Some pescatarians also choose to include dairy products and eggs in their diet.
The pescatarian diet is largely plant-based with a big emphasis on healthy fats, produce, whole grains, nuts, legumes, with fish and seafood being the main protein source.
Like with all diets there are many ways to go about them. There are the pescatarians who follow the above nutritional guidelines and lead very healthy lifestyles.
There will also always be those that shovel in snacks all day and throw in the occasional fish and chips.
The way you go about it is completely up to you, but if you choose the latter, you won’t be reaping the health benefits that can come along with it.
What pescatarians eat:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
What they don’t eat:
- All types of meat
- Dairy and eggs
A Brief History
While the pescatarian diet has only somewhat recently received its label as a trendy diet, it has actually been around for centuries.
You’ll notice that it has striking similarities to Mediterranean, Japanese and even Nordic diets.
They’re all diets that place a heavy emphasis on fresh foods and fish. They may contain some meat, but it’s more limited than traditional Western diets that contain more pork, chicken and red meat (and let’s be honest, carbs) than any of the other food groups combined.
These pescatarian-like diets also all have an excellent track record. It’s not coincidental that the two places with the highest life expectancies in the world have populations that rely on some form of a pescatarian diet.
The population of Acciaroli, a town on the west coast of southern Italy, is being studied heavily due to low rates of disease (especially heart disease and Alzheimer’s), and the fact that over 10% of the population is over 100 years old.
They subsist on a Mediterranean diet rich in different types of fish and olive oil.
Okinawa is a Japanese town that is famous for its population’s high life expectancy.
Five times as many Okinawans live to be over 100 years old as people from anywhere else in Japan, and Japan is the country with the highest life expectancy in the world.
The Okinawan diet in the past relied heavily on vegetables, tofu, fish, grains, and seaweed.
It includes limited fruit and meat. Unfortunately, with the westernization of diets in younger generations around the world, there has been a noticeable decrease in longevity even in these regions, which have been famous for their number of centenarians.
If the thought of living a meat-free lifestyle is daunting to you, you’re not alone. But clearly, people aren’t becoming pescatarians for the sake of it. There are three main reasons to become a pescatarian. It’s very simple:
Three reasons to become a pescatarian
- Good for health
- Good for body composition
- Good for the planet
The health benefits
One of the most compelling reasons that people trade in their juicy steaks for salmon and flounder is the health benefits associated with the pescatarian diet.
Taking one look at the inhabitants of Acciaroli and Okinawa has me convinced.
The pescatarian diet is believed to lower the risk of heart disease, dementia, diabetes and depression. Studies have shown that a pescatarian diet can actually reduce the risk of a whole host of diseases that affect us from head to toe, including erectile dysfunction…
Cholesterol and heart disease
There are two parts to the explanation as to how a fish-based diet can help lower risk of heart disease.
The first is lower intake of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Eating foods with cholesterol doesn’t necessarily mean that you will raise your blood cholesterol. Some foods like salmon and nuts contain HDL cholesterol, the “good” kind that’s heart healthy. However, meats such as beef and pork are the biggest sources of LDL. LDL cholesterol combines with other substances and builds up as plaque on artery walls (cue the heart disease).
As the buildup grows, the arteries narrow and blood flow to the heart is reduced or even blocked. In order to lower LDL, it’s recommended to limit consumption of saturated fats, which raise it, and trans fats, which both raise LDL and lower HDL.
You can find trans fats in most processed foods, and saturated fats in beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin on, as well as butter and other dairy products.
All those foods are either eliminated or limited with a pescatarian diet. While there has been less research done on the pescatarian diet in particular, meta-analysis of over 1.5 million adults in good health revealed that following a Mediterranean diet (which is largely a pescatarian diet) reduced the risk of cardiovascular mortality.
The other part of the explanation is the increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids with the pescatarian diet.
It’s well known that fish are a major source of omega-3 fatty acids.
The American Heart Association has recommended that individuals eat fish twice per week in order to increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to reduce inflammation throughout the body. And while many of us are on a constant quest to reduce inflammation for body composition purposes, inflammation throughout the body can actually damage blood vessels, which can lead to both heart disease and strokes, as well as cause a whole host of other health issues.
On top of that, omega-3 fatty acids may reduce blood clotting, irregular heartbeats, and blood pressure.
Omega-3s have also been shown to reduce triglycerides, which increase the risk of heart disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating even one to two servings of fish a week appears to reduce the risk of both heart disease as well as sudden cardiac death in particular.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s
While the role that omega-3 fatty acids play in preventing heart disease has been studied heavily, their role in mental health and brain physiology is just beginning to be explored. The limited research to date looks very promising.
An epidemiological study was conducted of more than 1,500 people in France, all aged 68 and over, all without dementia. The participants were followed over a seven-year period so the researchers could determine new incidence of dementia.
They noticed a significant trend between higher consumption of fish and seafood and decreasing incidence of dementia. Their conclusion was that elderly people who eat seafood or fish even just once per week are at a lower risk of developing dementia.
One reason that scientists believe omega-3s help lower dementia is that they provide vascular protection. Another reason goes back to the idea of inflammation. As we know, omega-3s reduce inflammation, including in the brain. This may be one reason that they help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Scientists also believe that these fatty acids play a role in both brain development and the regeneration of nerve cells. While scientists haven’t yet pinpointed exactly how omega-3s reduce the risk of developing dementia, it’s clear that they do.
It seems that every other day scientists discover another cause of cancer. One of their most recent discoveries is that eating fish actually is protective.
As part of a study conducted by Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, researchers have discovered that eating the right amount of the right fatty fish may prevent the body from developing adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinoma is a complicated way of saying cancerous tumor. The same type of cancerous tumor that rears its ugly head in the colon, pancreas, breast, prostate or the gastrointestinal tract. Scientists believe that the higher ratio of long chain omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids provides the potential anti-cancer effect.
But simply eating fish is not enough. The recommendation is to consume two servings of fatty fish per week, and the fish shouldn’t be fried or salt-preserved.
Dr. DiNicolantonio, the author of the study, pointed to Italy as another demonstration of the cancer-fighting benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. There have been numerous Italian studies showing that subjects who consumed fish a minimum of two times per week compared to those who consumed it less than once a week were at considerably lower risk of numerous cancers, including pancreatic, colonic, pharyngeal, oesophagal, gastric, endometrial, rectal and ovarian.
The University of Washington has also contributed to the evidence that fish can stave off cancer. Its researchers found that total omega-3 intake, whether directly from fish or from supplements, was associated with a 23 percent reduction in total cancer mortality.
A “healthier” vegetarian diet
Now before all the vegans and vegetarians drag out their pitchforks and torches, I’m not saying that vegetarian or vegan diets are unhealthy. However, one of the main drawbacks of a vegetarian or vegan diet, especially for those of us who spend our free time lunging, lifting and squatting, is the macronutrient profile of most meat-free menus.
It’s difficult to get a significant amount of protein as a vegetarian or vegan. Even the most protein-rich vegan/vegetarian-friendly foods leave much to be desired when it comes to protein.
Compare the 8g of protein in 100g of tofu or 9g of protein in 100g of cooked black beans with the 23g of protein in 100g of cod, or 26g of protein in 100g of salmon.
That’s not to say that it’s impossible to eat a protein-rich diet while being completely meat- and fish-free. But to do so requires a lot of planning and preparing, which requires time that many of us don’t have.
Let’s say you’re an expert planner and you’ve mastered the vegetarian diet. You manage to fit in all the protein you want and need on a daily basis. There are still some nutrients that unfortunately you just can’t get from plant sources. Thankfully, you can get them from fish.
5 nutrients only found in animal sources:
1. Vitamin B-12:
Vitamin B-12 is an essential nutrient, meaning it’s required in order for our bodies to work properly. It’s involved in the maintenance of nerves and normal brain function, and plays a part in the development of red blood cells.
Vitamin B-12 is only found in animal products such as fish, meat, eggs and dairy products.
For that reason, vegans and vegetarians are at a very high risk of being vitamin B-12 deficient. While a few plant foods such as tempeh and nori seaweed contain it, it’s in very small amounts.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition presented a study conducted by German researchers who tracked 174 seemingly healthy people in Germany and the Netherlands.
They found 92% of the vegans were vitamin B-12 deficient and two thirds of the vegetarians were vitamin B-12 deficient, but only 5% of the individuals who included meat of any sort in their diet were vitamin B-12 deficient.
Considering the side effects of B-12 deficiency are fatigue, weakness, impaired brain function as well as risk for certain neurological and psychiatric disorders, a B-12 deficiency should certainly be taken seriously.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The significant benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids were discussed above. The effects that Omega 3s have on the brain are well known. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. Both EPA and DHA omega 3 fatty acids are important for normal brain development and function, especially in children.
There is research that suggests that omega-3’s may protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. They’re also suspected to reduce the risk of heart disease as they lower triglyceride levels. Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory, and can help reduce pain and joint stiffness with arthritis.
Our bodies don’t produce Omega-3s, so we have to get them from food sources. Some of the greatest sources of Omega-3s are fish and fish oil like salmon, tuna and halibut.
It’s very important for overall health to maintain an optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of approximately 1:1. Yet in most Western diets, the ratio is more like 15:1 or even 17:1.
Some signs that you may be deficient in Omega-3s are dry skin, brittle hair and nails, difficulty concentrating and sleep issues.
3. Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3)
While the most effective way to get Vitamin D3 is outdoors, we don’t have to get the sunshine vitamin only from the sun. There are two types of vitamin D that can be found in foods. Ergocalciferol is found in plant foods. Cholecalciferol is a type of vitamin D3 found in animal sources, mainly fatty fish like halibut and mackerel as well as egg yolks.
It’s much more potent than ergocalciferol. Vitamin D deficiencies are now being linked to heart disease, depression, breast cancer, colon cancer and issues maintaining weight.
Vitamin D is also required for the body to properly absorb calcium, and deficiencies in it can cause osteoporosis, rickets and fragile bones.
4. Heme Iron
Iron deficiency (anemia) is a deficiency that commonly affects vegetarians and vegans. There are two types of iron, heme iron, and non-heme iron.
Heme iron is the type of iron found in animal sources like meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods like beans, vegetables, some fruits, seeds and nuts.
The problem is, heme iron is much more easily absorbed than non-heme iron.
Heme iron actually also increases the absorption of non-heme iron, also known as the “meat factor”.
For that reason, people with diets that exclude meat completely are much more likely to be anaemic. A study from the Journal of Nutrition and Food Science explored the nutrition status of 30 vegetarian and 30 non-vegetarian women.
Of the non-vegetarians, 47% were mildly anaemic, and 7% were moderately anaemic. Of the vegetarians, 60% were mildly anemic, and 40% were moderately anemic, meaning every single vegetarian woman was anaemic to some degree. The side effects of anaemia are less than pleasant. Extreme fatigue, chest pains, dizziness, poor appetite and weakness certainly don’t tickle my fancy.
Now, this last nutrient is not essential to get from the diet, because we actually do produce creatine in the liver. You’re all probably familiar with creatine. Even if you don’t worry about your own creatine intake, I’m sure you’ve seen gym junkies dumping scoops of creatine in their pre-workout, and with good reason.
Creatine functions as quick easy to access energy reserve for our muscle cells. It improves both strength and endurance. Studies have shown that supplementing with creatine can improve both muscle mass and strength. Not only can creatine improve physical performance, it can also improve brain function. And yes, the only food sources of creatine are animal foods. Meat and fish are both good sources of creatine.
Would you trade meat for fat loss?
Would you trade in meat for a tighter physique? Pescatarians tend to consume less saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol than meat eaters. As a result, pescatarianism can lead to better body composition.
It’s no secret that fatty cuts of meat like ribeye, skirt steak, or a few nice pieces of bacon (apart from being somewhat unhealthy when eaten in excess), also aren’t easy on the waistline. Fish is generally lower in calories than poultry and meat. Even the fattiest types of fish generally weigh in at approximately 200 calories less per 3 ounce serving than their meaty counterparts. Fish consumption is ideal for anyone who wants to lose weight or body fat.
Satiety and protein
Protein increases satiety, as shown in a May 2008 study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It helps you feel full, which keeps you from reaching for the snack drawer.
One serving of fish ranges between 19-26g of protein depending on the kind, averaging 22g of protein per serving.
The protein in fish also contains less connective tissue than meat, so it’s easier to digest.
Here’s a graph which demonstrates how a high-protein meal like salmon and eggs can help improve fullness – something which helps with dietary compliance…
Role of Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids also increase satiety, which as we know can aid fat loss. Apart from that, adding Omega-3s into a low-calorie diet can increase weight loss according to a study published in 2006 in Physiological Research.
Eating fish helps with fat loss. In 2007, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that eating three 5.3-ounce servings of fish (either lean or fatty) per week for four weeks on a low-calorie diet actually led to around 2.2 lbs more weight loss than a similar diet that excluded fish.
Another study conducted in 2009 published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases found that eating five 5.3-ounce servings of cod each week on a low-calorie diet resulted in an additional 3.8 lbs of weight loss over an eight-week period as opposed to a similar diet with no fish.
The group in the study that ate cod five times per week also lost more weight than the group that ate it only three times per week. The bottom line is consuming fish aids with weight loss. Sign me up.
What nutrients does seafood contain?
Fish contain a whole host of vitamins and minerals that make them a worthwhile addition to any diet. Whether you’re eating for health or body composition, you should be including fish on your menu.
Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are great sources of vitamin D and A, which are crucial to the development of children.
They also contain the most Omega-3 fatty acids.
White fish, like cod and sole, are excellent sources of B vitamins. All types of fish contain tons of different minerals including zinc, selenium, potassium and iodine.
Don’t forget about shellfish…
When most people think of the pescatarian diet they automatically think of fish. But shellfish have lots of nutritional benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked. There are two types of shellfish:
Like many types of fish, shellfish are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. They’re low in fat (especially saturated fat), contain a significant amount of protein, and are excellent sources of copper, vitamin B-12 and zinc. Shellfish are also usually low in mercury (with lobster having the highest mercury content).
Drawbacks of a pescatarian diet
Everything has its flaws, and the pescatarian diet is no exception. There are a few negative sides to the pescatarian diet, although they’re mostly minor.
Some people may feel bored after eliminating some major food groups. The mental feelings of deprivation shouldn’t be too strong if you do a good job of keeping your diet varied with different types of seafood and plant-based proteins.
Additionally, some may take eliminating some food groups as a pass to eat other less healthy ones like lots of carbs, which can lead to weight gain if you over-consume them. So long as you don’t substitute meat for bread and rice you should be good to go.
The biggest concern when eating a lot of fish or seafood is mercury. Mercury is toxic to both the central and peripheral nervous systems. It’s entering our oceans, rivers and streams in water runoff and rain. When bacteria convert it to methylmercury, it becomes particularly dangerous. It’s especially of concern to mothers-to-be because fetuses have nervous systems and brains that are still forming. All fish contains some mercury, which is why a lot of pregnant women are encouraged to limit their intake of seafood.
Small fish generally have low mercury levels. When bigger fish that already contain mercury then eat the smaller fish, their levels of mercury rise. That’s why larger predator fish like swordfish or sharks have high levels of mercury. The best way to ensure you’re keeping your mercury intake to a minimum is to be particular about the seafood you’re eating.
Low mercury seafood includes: shrimp, wild and Alaskan salmon, tilapia, squid, scallops, oysters, sardines, haddock, flounder, sole, pollock, crawfish, trout, catfish, crab, mullet, mackerel.
Higher mercury seafood to avoid includes: swordfish, shark, orange roughy, marlin, tuna.
That doesn’t mean you can never eat a fish from the “higher mercury” count list. But it’s better to limit your intake.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
PCBs, also called Aroclor, are industrial chemicals that have been shown to be damaging to health. They may increase risk of certain cancers as well as have a negative effect on the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.
They are also thought to cause learning disabilities. The good news is they aren’t produced anymore. They were only produced until 1979, at which point they were banned.
The bad news is their remnants can still be found in water, air and soil. Small organisms, fish and animals all take up PCBs, and they accumulate in organs like the liver and in fat.
PCBs are a major concern for pregnant women as they can transfer from mother to unborn baby and contribute to preterm delivery and low birth weight. They can also be transferred through breast milk once a baby is born.
The concern is that fish are the main dietary sources of PCBs, specifically fish that come from rivers or lakes that have been contaminated. Fish aren’t the only dietary sources. You can also find PCBs in meat, dairy products and even drinking water.
Limit consumption of these fish: Farmed Atlantic salmon, English sole, rockfish, bluefin tuna.
The Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) have also released consumption guidelines to help you navigate the PCB waters. The best way to reduce risk of PCB isn’t necessarily to eliminate certain fish, but rather to prepare them the right way.
- Avoid fried fish (especially fried fatty fish like salmon or bluefish).
- Trim off the fatty areas of the fish before cooking it (the belly, top of the back, and dark meat along the side of the fish).
- Either puncture or remove the skin before cooking it so the fat can drain as it cooks.
- Grill, broil, roast or steam fish on a rack so that the fat can drain off.
If you want to go even further, it may be a good idea to limit consumption of wild Pacific salmon, farmed Atlantic salmon, Bluefin tuna, sole and rockfish.
Even with these concerns, it’s unanimous that the benefits of eating fish and seafood outweigh the risks. Make sure that you eat a variety of fish in order to reduce your risk of contaminants.
Case Study: Kam’s Body Transformation on a Pescatarian Diet
Most people think you have to be a raging carnivore eating piles of steak and chicken to build muscle, but business owner Kamran shows that’s not the case.
He made an incredible body transformation working with his Ultimate Performance personal trainer in just 26 weeks…all while following a pescatarian diet.
His fish-based diet certainly didn’t hinder his transformation results – he built a lean and athletic physique just fine on his UP diet and training plan.
But Kamran answered a few additional question and gave some tips about getting in shape on a pescatarian diet…
1. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome with your diet?
The biggest challenges to be fair was at the start when my UP trainer asked me to start logging ALL my food and sending it to him every night. I also found it very challenging as I travel a lot and difficult especially when on the flight, to stay away from bad food choices
2. Did you have any go to meals or recipes that you really enjoyed during your transformation?
My go to meals were mostly fish based, I love salmon/tuna/swordfish so these became part of most of my meals. I also liked to make omelettes and these can be mixed up with pretty much everything that you liked, I used feta, halloumi, salmon, tuna and veg.
3. Do you have any tips for eating out on a transformation?
I loved to eat out, so before I went out I always checked the menu to make sure that I knew what it would be I would be eating and that it fitted in with my plan that day. I also learned to ask waiters what ingredients were in foods to make sure I wasn’t having to much sugar etc.
4. How did manage your meal prep with such a busy work schedule?
I meal prepped every three days and preferred all my food fresh so I got to know the local fish and veg people at the market. They would come and deliver the produce at my house making it much easier for me to prepare everything.
5. What would be your top tips for other pescatarians (or those looking to eat less meat), when it comes to eating to get lean?
Two things. First thing is to track your food when aiming for certain macros and calories. Use MyFitnessPal to understand what you are eating on a daily weekly basis.
My second tip is to prepare your own food – If you want to get lean it’s difficult to do when you are eating out every day. This also enables you to stay in control of what you are eating.
6. Do you think that there were there any times when being a pescatarian helped or hindered your progress and why?
I think it helped me to be fair. When you’re a pescatarian, bad food choices are few and far between – it’s not as if you can go out and grab a cheese burger and chips whenever you want. At times when in foreign countries fish options are not always available – so I suppose that could hinder you a little.
7 steps to get started…
So, are you ready to take the plunge? Here are 7 steps to take to get your pescatarian diet rolling.
1. Define your version of pescatarian
Before you start your pescatarian diet, it’s important to define what your diet is going to look like. Will you eat dairy? Will you include eggs? For those transitioning from a meat-heavy diet it’s often easier to include them as opposed to cutting out so many major food groups from the get-go. Regardless of what you decide, make sure you’re really clear on it before you get started.
2. Let your friends and family know
Now I’m certainly not condoning the type of behavior that you see with a large percentage of people that follow other particular diets. There’s no need for every other sentence that comes out of your mouth to be about your own particular eating habits.
However, it is beneficial to let the people that you share meals with, ONCE, that you’re following new eating patterns and there are certain foods that you do and don’t eat. It will make your transition into a pescatarian go much smoother.
The people you care about will generally support you, and it will help you avoid situations where you’re going to a relative’s house for dinner and have to sit there quietly forking lettuce and carrots because the main dish being served is a pot roast.
3. Make a list of the foods you can eat
Thinking about everything that you will no longer be eating can be depressing. Instead, make a list of all of the types of foods that you will be able to eat as a pescatarian. Maybe try new seafood proteins that you’ve never had before and would like to give a try. You’d be surprised as to the variety that you can achieve in your diet even when cutting out meat and poultry.
4. Compile recipes
If the staples in your home used to be meat-based, put some effort into finding fish and seafood-based recipes. Look up recipes with lots of good ratings, and compile them into your very own pescatarian cookbook.
You can also look for pescatarian cookbooks. There are a lot of cookbooks out there already with all sorts of delicious pescatarian recipes. Make a vow to yourself to try at least one new recipe every week. Look for interesting recipes with different spices and flavorings. With just a little bit of effort you can ensure that you’ll never get bored with your food.
5. Prepare your kitchen
Make sure that your kitchen is as ready for your new diet as you are. While it doesn’t take any special tools or ingredients to prepare fish and seafood, it’s not a bad idea to stock up on ingredients that pair well with them. Purchasing some frozen fish or seafood so that you’re already ready to go won’t hurt either.
6. Eat your fruits and veggies
The pescatarian diet is really a more flexible vegetarian diet. One of the benefits of being a vegetarian or vegan is it encourages you to get in a lot of healthy and fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy oils – full of nutrients and high in fibre.
Don’t just swap out fish for the meat that you’ve been eating. Make sure that as a whole you’re adapting a new healthier diet with all of those fresh foods as well.
Think back to why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy. It’s not only because of the foods that are left out of the diet, but also because of the foods that are the crux of the diet. If you switch over from meat to seafood but are still living off tons of processed foods you aren’t doing yourself any favours.
7. Include plant-based proteins
There are lots of plant-based and vegetarian protein options that will help keep your diet interesting. Just because plant-based protein sources don’t pack as much protein as fish or seafood doesn’t mean you should leave them out of your diet completely. Incorporating foods like tempeh, tofu, and seitan occasionally will diversify your menu, and fit into your pescatarian diet perfectly.
How to purchase fish and seafood
1. Find your fishmonger
Find a knowledgeable person or store to make your seafood purchases. You’ll want to find a trustworthy supermarket where you know you’re in good hands and the seafood you’re purchasing is fresh. A good fishmonger will be able to give you all the information you need on what you’re purchasing including if the fish or seafood is sustainable, if it’s wild or farmed and if it was previously frozen.
2. Research sustainable seafood
Especially if environmental issues are one of the reasons you’re becoming a pescatarian, it’s important that you do your research on sustainable seafood. You want to make sure that you’re purchasing ethically raised or farmed products.
Make sure to include shellfish and fish that aren’t overfished. Overfishing is a huge problem with many different species of fish. Allowing fish species to reach too low of a level affects the environment as well as the food chain. You can find more information on sustainability on websites like Fish Watch or Seafood Watch. Some examples of sustainable fish include mahi-mahi, halibut, rainbow trout, sole, and Alaskan cod.
3. Know what to look for
There’s nothing worse than seafood that’s gone bad. Know what to look for in the seafood you’re getting to ensure it’s still in good condition:
- Whole fish: If you’re purchasing whole fish, you’re going to want to take a close look at the eyes. If the fish is fresh, the eyes should be relatively clear and bright. As the fish gets older the eyes will develop more of a cloudy appearance.
- Fish fillets: The meat of fish fillets should be elastic and firm. You don’t want the flesh of the fish to be too soft or supple. Filets should be somewhat shiny as well.
- Shrimps and Prawns: Shrimps and prawns should be translucent and have a rather mild smell. If they smell very strong, they’re no good.
- Mollusks: Mollusks are often sold alive. Pay attention that their shells are closed, or at least close when tapped. Throw away and mollusks that have broken or damaged shells.
- Scallops: Scallops are generally rather odorless. If anything, they smell a little sweet. If there’s a bad or fishy smell coming from your scallops, send them to the bin. Their color should be milky and white.
- Crabs or lobster: These are usually sold live. Look for anything shiny, and avoid overly fishy smells.
*Store your shellfish in the bottom of your refrigerator covered with a damp cloth. You can keep it in your fridge for a few days before shellfish go bad.
How to structure the diet
Structuring a pescatarian diet couldn’t be simpler. With 228,450 marine species worldwide you certainly won’t be stuck with a lack of options to choose from (although you’ll probably be keeping sperm whale off your menus).
1. Eat a different type of fish/seafood every day: this way you’ll reap the benefits that each individual species has to offer, and you’ll avoid the contaminants we went over.
2. Separate fish and seafood species into categories: Make a list of the high fat and low fat seafood options. That way planning your meals if you’re counting macros will be a breeze.
3. Incorporate cold-water fish 2-3 times per week: cold-water fish like mackerel, salmon and tuna are chock full of the Omega-3 fatty acids. Make sure you include these 2-3 times per week at least.
With other macros
When it comes to fish and seafood, there are fatty and lean options just like with meat. In fact, with seafood, you can get much leaner than you can even with plain chicken breast. When you transition to a pescatarian diet you can keep your menu the same, and just swap out the meat options for their fishy counterparts.
Higher fat meats: Lamb, beef, pork, chicken thigh
Higher fat seafood: Chilean sea bass, salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, carp, anchovies, eel, sablefish, shad, pompano
Lower fat meats: chicken breast, turkey
Lower fat seafood: catfish, bass, cod, flounder, bluefish, mahi-mahi, monkfish, grouper, haddock, lingcod, rockfish, pike, perch, tilapia, snapper, sole, swordfish, tuna, trout, shark, crab, lobster, oysters, mussels, prawns
Evidently, there are tons of low fat fish and seafood options. Don’t despair. If your current diet is engorged with a copious amount of fats, add them back in.
If you need even more fats after accounting for the new macros of your protein choice, drizzle olive oil, cover with almond butter, add avocado wherever you can.
It’s pretty enjoyable to be able to add different sources of fats. For those on a low fat, higher carb diet, you’ll end up with an even more picturesque situation. Endless protein possibilities with hardly any of them clashing with your rice or potatoes. Sheer macro bliss.
There’s no reason to swim against the current when it comes to the pescatarian diet. Pescatarianism is the pragmatic diet.
It’s for those who care about the environment, but also prioritize their own health; for people who want to be lean and look good, and want to live a good long time to be able to enjoy it.
It’s a logical, unemotional, fact- and science-backed diet that would do any one of us some good.
Even if you’re not ready to dive into the pescatarian pool deep-end, try implementing a pescatarian way of life gradually by cutting down on your consumption of meat and increasing your consumption of anything slimy or with gills.
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