What is a pescatarian diet?
What is a pescatarian diet and does it provide all the nutrients you need? A dietitian explains, and suggests recipes to try.
What is a pescatarian diet?
A pescatarian diet typically includes vegetables, grains and pulses, alongside fish and other seafood, but excludes meat and sometimes dairy. Read on to discover the health benefits of a pescatarian diet, the nutrients you may be lacking, and how to ensure your diet is healthy and balanced.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides, and read more about popular diets, such as the flexitarian diet and pioppi diet. Also, check out our delicious pescatarian recipes, from fish tacos and baked sea bass with lemon caper dressing, to a classic fish pie.
What are the benefits of the pescatarian diet?
The pescatarian diet is widely accepted as being a nutritious choice due to the known benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle coupled with high-protein, lean white fish and the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and fresh tuna. Eating this way may reduce the risk of developing conditions such as type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Furthermore, a 2016 study showed that omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a lower risk of fatal heart attacks.
A balanced pescatarian diet also mirrors the Mediterranean diet, as it is loaded with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and pulses. Rich in the monounsaturated fat found in olives, avocados and sesame oils – and lower in the saturated fat that's in butter, lard, cream, cheese and fatty meats such as lamb – the Mediterranean diet has increasing evidence to support its health benefits.
Research has linked a pescatarian diet with positive impacts on chronic disease and lower mortality rates, in comparison to diets that include meat. The study also showed that those following a pescatarian diet had lower levels of blood cholesterol and lower blood pressure, and a reduced risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome compared to non-vegetarians.
Which nutrients may be lacking in a pescatarian diet?
Like all diets, a pescatarian diet needs to be balanced and varied in order to be healthy. The lack of red meat means iron intakes could be sub-optimal. It is therefore important to include plant-based sources of iron, such as spinach and broccoli, and opt for low-sugar breakfast cereals, as these are fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Some pescatarians do not consume eggs or dairy, which can mean they may be lacking in essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12 and zinc. Therefore, if you are planning to embark on this dietary change, it is important to ensure you eat a healthy, balanced diet and that it provides all the nutrition you need.
Read more about how to eat a balanced diet.
Should I be worried about mercury levels in fish?
All fish contain varying amounts of mercury – a pollutant that can be highly toxic to our nervous system. We’re all advised to include at least two portions of fish per week, with at least one being an oily variety such as salmon – a portion is 140g (cooked weight).
However, for certain types of fish, there are recommendations for the maximum you should eat, too. In this regard, the NHS advises that the general population eat no more than four portions of oily fish per week. Women who are planning to conceive or are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to eat no more than two portions of oily fish per week, as mercury can affect the nervous system and may cause development delays in infants exposed to it in the womb.
Shark, swordfish and marlin contain concentrated sources of mercury, so it is recommended that they should be avoided by women who are planning to conceive or are pregnant or breastfeeding, and by all children.
You can safely eat as many portions of white fish per week as you like, except for the following, which may contain similar levels of pollutants as oily fish:
- Sea bream
- Sea bass
- Rock salmon (also known as dog fish)
As a pescatarian, you’re likely to eat a lot of fish, so be aware that these five fish and brown meat from crab shouldn’t be eaten too often.
Read more from the NHS on how much fish is safe to eat.
Recipes for a pescatarian diet
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Are you following a pescatarian diet? Tell us your experiences or ask us any questions in the comments below.
Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London's top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.
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