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The good news for people who want to center their diet on vegetables but love fish too is that there is a diet perfect for you. It’s called the pescetarian diet, and the term is a combination of “pesce,” which is Italian for fish, and vegetarianism. Put simply, a pescetarian diet combines vegetarianism with eating fish and other types of seafood.
A Pescatarian Diet is a Healthy Compromise
Following a pescetarian diet gives you the best of both worlds—your health will benefit from eating plenty of fresh vegetables, but you’ll also be sure you are consuming sufficient protein and getting enough of the healthy omega-3 fats that have been associated with better cardiovascular health and a lower risk for diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, among others. And of course, going mainly vegetarian means you won’t be consuming any of the red meat that is high in saturated fat and is linked to a greater risk for poor health. Studies suggest that women following a pescetarian diet gain less weight over one year than women who eat meat, while other research found that people who ate a pescetarian diet had a 4.8 percent risk of developing diabetes compared with a 7.6 percent diabetes risk among people who included meat in their diet.
The Environment Could Benefit Too
Environmental concerns also loom large for many people who follow a pescetarian diet. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, global livestock farming contributes 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle farming is the biggest culprit, producing about 65 percent of livestock emissions. A 2014 study (Climactic Change, June 11, 2014) relating greenhouse gas emissions to a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet found that the mean values of dietary greenhouse gas emissions for meat-eaters was about 46 percent higher than for fish-eaters, about 50 percent higher than for vegetarians, and about 99 percent higher than for vegans.
A Pescatarian Diet is Nutritionally Sound
A pescetarian diet is similar to the well-known Mediterranean diet, which studies show can hugely benefit heart health. If you are already eating a Mediterranean-style diet, gradually switching to a pescetarian diet shouldn’t be a problem for you. And be prepared for variety: there is a multitude of fish, both fresh and saltwater, and shellfish for you to incorporate into your pescetarian diet. All types of fish are packed with nutrients, including vitamins D and B2 (riboflavin), and the minerals iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. Fish is also rich in calcium and phosphorus, which are important for bone health. Where zinc is concerned, look to oysters, which are one of the best sources of zinc you can find: a 4-ounce serving of oysters provides about seven times the recommended daily amount of zinc. Mussels are a great source of selenium and iron, while clams are also rich in selenium, along with about one-quarter the daily amount of calcium you need.
The nutrients that fish can add to a vegetable-based diet can help make up for the health issues that can accompany vegetarianism for some people. For example, “fussy” vegetarians can miss out on B vitamins, and vegetarianism also raises the risk for iron deficiency, which can result in anemia. Vegetarians sometimes don’t consume sufficient protein either (particularly if they don’t eat eggs), but fish is a great protein source.
Focus on Sustainable Seafood
While a pescetarian diet can benefit the environment, you also may want to ensure you are consuming ethically farmed fish. The Seafood Watch program sponsored by Monterey Bay Aquarium can help you make better fish choices when it comes to your pescetarian diet. You can download its handy app from the website, and the site also offers downloadable consumer guides and recipes.
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This article was originally published in 2018. It is regularly updated.