What is a Pescatarian Diet?

Greg Salgueiro, MS, RD, LDN, CIC and Katie Lester, MS, RD, LDN, CIC
What is a pescatarian diet?

The benefits of a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet for disease prevention and management are well known. At the Lifespan Lifestyle Medicine Center, we promote this approach to our patients.

This may be interpreted as meaning you need to be a complete vegan or vegetarian.  Many do in fact follow a vegan lifestyle after they see the benefits of a WFPB diet.  However, that is not our intention.  

The goal is to replace some of the highly processed food most people consume every day with minimally processed, whole foods that come from plant sources.  In comparison to the standard American diet (SAD), a WFPB diet is nutrient dense, adding more fiber, vitamins, phytonutrients, and minerals that the body needs for good health.

The leap from SAD to WFPB can seem daunting to many and that is where a pescatarian approach often fits perfectly.  A pescatarian diet still focuses on a plant-strong eating style, but also includes some seafood and possibly dairy and eggs.  

The foundation of a pescatarian diet is whole (minimally processed) grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, and legumes.  Much like the Mediterranean diet or the recommendations in the Blue Zones, fish is included two to three times per week; up to three whole eggs are consumed per week; and some cheeses may be added occasionally.

So many options

Concerns have been raised about mercury in fish.  Mercury exposure in humans mainly occurs through the consumption of fish and shellfish contaminated with methylmercury. In high quantities, methylmercury can be harmful to the brain and nervous system if a person is exposed to too much over time. Those at greatest health risk are:
•    women who are or might become pregnant
•    breastfeeding mothers
•    young children 

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends at least eight ounces of seafood (less for young children) per week.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consume no more than 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week.  

There are many options for lower mercury seafood, including:
•    black sea bass
•    cod
•    crab
•    haddock
•    salmon
•    sardines
•    scallops
•    shrimp

You can help limit your exposure by avoiding high-mercury fish, such as:
•    king mackerel
•    marlin
•    shark
•    swordfish
•    tilefish

The source

Where your seafood comes from is another factor to consider while following a pescatarian diet.  The nutrition composition of a fish depends on what it eats.  Wild fish eat a natural diet and tend to be slightly lower in saturated fat.  Farmed fish can sometimes be higher in omega-3 fatty acids.  This is likely due to their fortified diet.  However, some studies have shown that farm-raised fish can also contain higher amounts of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins, bacteria, pesticides, artificial coloring, antibiotics, and parasites.

Individual food choices are constantly changing.  We are surrounded by new foods and we should enjoy the foods we select on a regular basis.  If you are interested in preventing or managing chronic disease, selecting a pescatarian eating style can be a step in the right direction.  

Not sure how to start?  Find a qualified registered dietitian in your area who can help guide you to a healthy lifestyle. Learn more about the Lifespan Lifestyle Medicine Center and how we can help you.

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