What is a pescatarian diet?

Is a pescatarian diet based around fish and veg healthy and balanced, and how can you make sure you get all the nutrients you need? A dietitian explains...

Salmon, broccoli and pomegranate salad on a couscous bed

A pescatarian diet typically includes vegetables, grains and pulses along with fish and other seafood, but generally excludes meat and sometimes dairy. Read on to discover the health benefits of a pescatarian diet, the nutrients that may be lacking, and how to make sure that your diet is healthy and balanced.

We asked dietitian Emer Delaney for her view…

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 omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish including salmon, mackerel, herring and fresh tuna. This style of eating has shown a reduced risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. In addition, a 2016 study showed that omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a lower risk of fatal heart attacks.

Three fish on baking parchment

A balanced pescatarian diet also mirrors the Mediterranean diet as it is loaded with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and pulses. Rich in monounsaturated fat found in olive, safflower and sesame oils and lower in saturated fat that comes from butter, lard, cream, cheese and fatty meat such as lamb, the Mediterranean diet has increasing evidence to support its health benefits.

Read more about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

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 those on a pescatarian diet had lower levels of blood cholesterol and blood pressure and a lower risk of diabetes, blood pressure and metabolic syndrome, compared with non-vegetarians.

Haddock with cannellini beans & artichokes wrapped in baking parchment

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 really 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 lifestyle change, it is important to ensure your diet is healthy, balanced and provides you with 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 systems. The NHS advises that the general population eat no more than four portions of oily fish per week. Women who are planning to conceive, 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 mercury 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, pregnant or breastfeeding and by all children.

Read more from the NHS on how much fish is safe to eat.

Cod with an orange & dill crumb and hasselback potato on a plate

Recipes for a pescatarian diet:

Haddock with cannellini beans & artichokes
Cod with an orange & dill crumb and hasselback potato
Thai-style steamed fish
Superhealthy salmon salad

Enjoyed this? Now read...

Why are Mediterranean diets so healthy?
How to eat a balanced diet
Spotlight on...low fat diets
What is a flexitarian diet?

This article was last reviewed on 6th November 2018 by Kerry Torrens.

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.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Are you following a pescatarian diet? Tell us your experiences or ask us any questions in the comments below...

Comments, questions and tips

Sign in or create your My Good Food account to join the discussion.
2nd Sep, 2017
If by "All fish contain varying amounts of mercury – a natural element they process into a toxic substance called methylmercury" the author means that "natural element" implies harmless, she's wrong. Mercury in all its forms is toxic, but the bioavailability varies. Metallic mercury can pass through the human gut unchanged and unabsorbed, but methyl mercury or ethyl mercury are easily absorbed even through the skin or lungs and are acutely neurotoxic. And if by "they" she means that fish make methyl mercury, she's wrong again. No vertebrates make methyl mercury. But they do accumulate methy mercury that's made by microorganisms.
Be the first to ask a question about this recipe...Unsure about the cooking time or want to swap an ingredient? Ask us your questions and we’ll try and help you as soon as possible. Or if you want to offer a solution to another user’s question, feel free to get involved...
Be the first to suggest a tip for this recipe...Got your own twist on this recipe? Or do you have suggestions for possible swaps and additions? We’d love to hear your ideas.