In the pescatarian diet, a person’s main source of animal protein comes from fish and other seafood, such as shrimp.

Eating a diet consisting mainly of plant-based foods has a variety of health benefits, which the addition of fish and fish products may enhance.

In this article, we look at the potential health benefits of a pescatarian diet and what people can eat on this kind of diet.

A person following a pescatarian diet eats a shrimp tacoShare on Pinterest
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The pescatarian diet has many health benefits. Below, we cover some of these benefits.

Heart health

Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, herring, and trout, are concentrated in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are fats that are essential to health and are involved in critical processes including regulating inflammation in the body.

Research shows that regularly consuming fish may help reduce the risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and stroke.

Apart from fish, the pescatarian diet consists mainly of plant foods. According to one 2017 analysis, people who consume a diet high in vegetables and other plant foods have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

The study authors say that the heart health benefits of a plant-based diet include improved blood lipids and lower blood pressure.

The same research concludes that a vegetarian diet could reverse atherosclerotic plaques when combined with exercise and stress management.

Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries. This causes the arteries to harden, narrow, and restrict the blood flow.

Cancer

A pescatarian diet may also protect people against colorectal cancers, or cancers that affect the colon and rectum.

According to a 2015 study, colorectal cancers are the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

The study used data from a cohort of over 77,650 people and found that the pescatarian diet had a strong protective effect against colorectal cancers.

Diabetes and inflammation

Following a plant-based diet may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions, including insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and obesity.

The omega-3 fats found in fish have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and may benefit health in many ways when consumed in large doses.

Plant-based diets are high in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents, such as flavonoids. These are natural compounds present in plants. Flavonoids have a range of anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic properties.

A 2016 study, again looking at different dietary patterns among more than 77,000 people in the U.S., found that people following a pescatarian diet had the highest flavonoid intake of all those taking part.

Listed below are some suggestions for sources of fish that a person on a pescatarian diet can eat:

  • canned sardines
  • canned salmon
  • canned tuna
  • fish sticks
  • frozen salmon, trout, and herring
  • frozen shrimp
  • fresh fish, such as cod, salmon, pollock, catfish, and sardines
  • fresh shellfish, such as shrimp, clams, and scallops

Other foods to include are:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • cereals and whole grains, including oats, bulgar wheat, amaranth, corn, and rice
  • pseudo grains, such as quinoa and buckwheat, which are gluten-free
  • legumes, including kidney beans, pinto beans, and peas
  • legume products, including tofu and hummus
  • nuts and nut butters
  • seeds, such as flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia
  • eggs and dairy, if lacto-ovo-vegetarian

Although it’s possible for a person following a vegetarian diet to consume all of the nutrients they need through the foods they eat, any diet that restricts a large number of foods could lead to suboptimal intake of one or more nutrients.

For example, if a person avoids dairy products, they must be sure to consume other foods rich in calcium ike certain vegetables, nuts and seeds, and beans.

Here, we give examples of recipes for meals that a person might consider when choosing a pescatarian diet:

Breakfast

Sardines on crostini

Sardines are an excellent source of omega-3s. Using spinach to make a pesto spread on the crostini provides a source of vitamin C and vitamin A. The vitamin C helps increase the amount of iron a person absorbs.

This recipe uses canned sardines, but it is also possible to use fresh sardines or anchovies. Starting the day with protein increases the feeling of fullness, and the pesto adds healthful greens that are a source of iron.

Lunch

Classic baked falafel

Tahini is good source of plant protein and omega-3s. Chickpeas are also a good source of plant protein and fiber. Add a healthful Mediterranean salad to this recipe to create a filling lunch.

Dinner

Roasted salmon with shallot grapefruit sauce

Salmon provides omega-3s essential fatty acids.

Strong-flavored fish go very well with citrus fruits such as grapefruit. The addition of grapefruit to this recipe also adds vitamin C and fiber, and it counts toward the 2 servings of fruit that a person should eat per day.

Most pescatarians only have seafood once a day or a few times a week, not multiple times per day. Another option for a one-day meal plan could be:

Breakfast: Oatmeal made with coconut milk topped with fresh berries, chia seeds, and almond butter

Lunch: A grain bowl made with quinoa, sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas.

Dinner: Grilled salmon and lemony asparagus served with a baked potato and a side salad

Heavy metal and pollutants in marine fish is a global issue. With 92 percent of fish consumed by humans being marine fish, mostly from coastal fisheries, there is a risk of contamination.

Mercury is present in the atmosphere and bodies of water and, because of this, nearly all fish may be a source of mercury. However, most fish contain very low levels of mercury and only some are known to be concentrated sources of mercury.

For most people, the mercury present in fish is not a risk, explains the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, they advise women considering becoming pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children not to eat specific fish.

Fish to avoid include:

  • shark
  • sword fish
  • king mackerel
  • tilefish

Fish low in mercury include:

  • canned light tuna
  • salmon
  • pollock
  • shrimp
  • catfish

A pescatarian diet may be healthful and carries health benefits, as long as people avoid fish with high levels of mercury.

People may find that canned tuna and sardines, as well as smoked fish, are the easiest foods to obtain and eat. These are full-flavored options, but frozen white fish and fish sticks are more delicately flavored options.

Where possible, people may wish to try to buy fresh fish from sustainable sources. A useful website that can help is Seafood Watch.