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Who Is A Pescatarian? Benefits Of A Pescatarian Diet, Its Drawbacks, What To Eat And Other Details

In many countries, people have shifted to a diet that includes reduced consumption of meat, mainly due to concerns related to ethics, environment and health. In fact, individuals who put themselves in the category of 'vegetarian', further divide themselves into sub-categories depending on the type of dietary regimens they follow.

For example, lacto-ovo vegetarians consider themselves as vegetarians who consume only animal-derived eggs and dairy, but not meat and fish, while there are some who are ovo-vegetarian, meaning they only allow eggs but not fish, meat or dairy.

Pescatarians are vegetarians who consume fish and seafood, and not meat products. But why do they only prefer fish and seafood and what are their benefits and drawbacks? Let's get to the details of the pescatarian diet.

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Who Is A Pescatarian?

Pescatarian or pesco-vegetarian are people who come under one of the subtypes of vegetarians. They are those who prefer eating vegetarian foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and dairy along with fish and seafood, but not meats like red meat and poultry like eggs.

A study has shown that the prevalence of pescatarians has increased from 0.3 to 1.1 per cent and they are more likely to be women. [1] The study also says that people who belong to any vegetarian diet type that includes less or no consumption of meat have low BMI and are at lower risk of hypertension and cholesterol.

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Why Do People Choose To Be A Pescatarian?

There are many reasons why people choose to become a pescatarian and follow a pescatarian diet. Some of the main reasons include:

1. For proteins

According to a study, healthy adults require around 60 g of protein a day, and 50 per cent of the amount could be supplied from 150 g of fish. Seafood and fish are great sources of high-quality proteins. Vegans or people who only eat plant-based foods need to consume a slightly higher amount of proteins from plant sources like beans, chickpeas, tofu and lentils if they want to meet the daily recommended amount.

This is why vegetarians prefer adding fish and seafood in their diet as they are a good source of protein, and are also less in saturated fats (unlike meats) that may disturb the cholesterol levels, glucose and body weight [2]

2. For omega-3 fatty acids

Seafood and fish, especially oily fish are a great source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids like DHA and EPA, two of the three good fats which play an essential role in promoting health and preventing a range of diseases.

Meats also contain a small amount of omega 3, but along with that, they also contain high amounts of saturated and monounsaturated fats which tend to increase cholesterol and risk of heart diseases, diabetes and obesity. As fish and seafood are rich in good quality fats, their consumption is prioritised by pesco-vegetarians. [3]

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3. Weight management

In a study, it was found that vegans are underweight compared to vegetarians and pescatarians, while omnivores are overweight and obese compared to vegetarians and pescatarians again. Therefore, pesco-vegetarians come under the category of people with average weight due to their dietary habits, compared to people who eat only plant-based diets and mainly meat products. [4]

Pescatarian diet helps in weight management by excluding the unhealthy fats from meats and providing vital nutrients from fish and seafood.

4. Low risk of diabetes

A study has shown that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is the least in vegans (3.1%) and highest in non-vegetarians (8.2%), with pesco-vegetarians being in the intermediate. Also, after adjusting age, sex, physical activity, sleep habits, alcohol use, body weight and other factors, vegans, along with pescatarians, lacto-ovo vegetarians and semi-vegetarians are at a lower risk of diabetes compared to nonvegetarians.[5]

This could be because pescatarians are less likely to be obese or overweight, which is a major risk factor for obstruction in insulin production and glucose metabolism, that results in diabetes.

5. Low risk of heart disease

The relation between pescatarian diet and heart disease is controversial. Studies say that a vegan diet, though associated with lower BMI, cholesterol, inflammation and blood pressure, can increase the risk of heart diseases due to nutritional deficiencies like omega-3, selenium, zinc and vitamin B12. [6] Also, excess meat consumption in omnivores diets can increase the same risk due to cholesterol build-up and narrowing of arteries. [7]

Pescatarian diet does not allow deficiency of nutrients such as omega- 3 which is needed for the proper functioning of the heart, and the low unhealthy fats in the diet also prevent the risk of heart diseases such as ischaemic heart disease. [8]

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6. Environmental reason

Providing a nutritious diet along with less environmental damage can be challenging. Raising different livestock has different environmental costs. For example, animal-sourced products require the highest greenhouse gas, freshwater and nitrogen footprint, compared to other food products like vegetables, fruits and seafood.

Fish and seafood though require more freshwater footprint, have a lower greenhouse, carbon and nitrogen footprint. This shows that consumption of seafood or its production does not cause much harm to the environment, compared to meat products. [9]

7. Concerns related to ethics

Some of the ethical reasons why people choose to be vegetarians are because they are:

  • Opposition to animal slaughter.
  • Refusal to support farms that raise livestock such as chicken and pork in inhumane conditions.
  • Their religion does not allow the consumption of other living beings.
  • Pescatarians also consider these as major reasons for rejecting meat products. Though they eliminate land animals from their diet, they consider seafood and fish, which are caught and farmed in ethical ways, as appropriate and healthy food.

    To note: The reasons for eliminating meat products and including fish and seafood in diet may differ from person to person depending on their concerns related to ethics, environment and health.

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Downsides Of Being A Pescatarian

1. Deficiency of vitamin B12

According to a study, missing out on animal-sourced food items can make a person deficient in micronutrients like vitamin B12, calcium and choline. [10] Vitamin B12 is an important component for making blood, nerve cells and manufacturing genetic material, while calcium is needed for healthy bones and teeth and choline for the synthesis of many enzymes and for metabolism.

2. Deficiency of iodine

Another study tells that pescatarians, including vegans and vegetarians, are at greater risk of iodine deficiency, which is vital for thyroid function, reproduction functions and maintaining normal physiological functions of the body. [11]

3. Deficiency of iron

Pescatarians are also found to be deficient in iron in a study, compared to people who consume meat products. [12]

4. High levels of mercury

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), mercury-rich fish such as tilefish, shark, king mackerel and swordfish should be avoided, especially young children, women of childbearing age (16-49 years old) and breastfeeding women.

What To Eat In A Pescatarian Diet

  • Whole grains and grain products
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes like beans and lentils
  • Tofu and hummus
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Seeds like flax seeds, chia and hemp seeds
  • Fish like salmon, tuna or trout and seafood like shrimps, and oysters.
  • Remember: An ideal pescatarian meal consists of 50 per cent of vegetables, 25 per cent of seafood or fish and 25 per cent of whole grains or other complex carbohydrates.

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    What Not To Eat In A Pescatarian Diet

    • Lamb
    • Pork
    • Turkey
    • Beef
    • Chicken, including lean chicken meat.
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Tips To Follow In A Pescatarian Diet

  • When preparing fish, the best cooking method is to grill or broil fish with healthy cooking oils. This is because unhealthy oils may also contribute to a high risk of heart diseases.
  • You can also steam the fish but avoid frying it.
  • Avoid fishes with higher mercury levels such as shark, bigeye tuna and swordfish and consume fish such as trout, herring, lobster and scallops.
  • Use fresh fish and seafood to get most of the nutrients.
  • Incorporate rainbow-coloured fruits and vegetables like dark leafy greens, yellow and red bell peppers, oranges, blueberries, purple eggplant and mushrooms.
  • Pair fish with dark green leafy veggies like spinach, kale, and broccoli to increase the intake of iron. This is because compared to meat products, fish has a low level of iron and completely omitting meat from your diet can make you deficient in essential micronutrients like iron. This can be maintained by including green leafy vegetables.
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    To Conclude

    If you are planning to follow this diet, ensure that your diet is healthy, balanced and provide you with the nutrition you require. It is always good to consult a medical expert or a dietician before starting on a pescatarian diet for its benefits and drawbacks, considering your health conditions.