Pescatarian Diet: Pros, Cons, and Food List

Updated on February 25th, 2020
Pescatarian Diet

Several healthy diets feature fish as the core ingredient. A pescatarian diet is one where fish and seafood are the primary sources of protein. It is also known as the pesco-vegetarian diet and is considered to lay on the vegetarianism spectrum. Some pescatarians also consume eggs and dairy; however, it depends on the individual’s preference.

It is largely a plant-based diet with stress on whole grains, legumes, nuts, etc. The individual forgoes meat of any kind but eats fish and seafood. It offers the balanced benefits of the healthiness of a plant-based diet with the heart-healthy advantages of fish.

According to global market research firm Mintel, nearly 5% of Americans follow a pescatarian (or flexitarian) diet. This fact points towards a small but growing population of individuals who are moving towards the pescatarian diet trend.

Some of the main reasons for this shift include:

Health Benefits

Plant-based diets offer an array of health benefits like lower obesity risk and reduced chances of developing chronic diseases like diabetes or heart problems. Hence, sticking to a pescatarian diet offers the same health benefits.

A study(1) discovered that women who followed a pescatarian diet gained lesser weight by 1.1 kg each year when compared to the women who ate meat. The same study also discovered that those consuming animal meat gain most weight over time.

Another study drew the conclusion that pescatarians were less likely (4.8%) to develop diabetes(2) than omnivores (7.6%). Similarly, another study highlighted that pescatarians or those consuming meat rarely were 22% less likely to die from heart diseases(3).

Environmental Concerns

Livestock rearing has a deep impact on the environment. According to the UN’s report “Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock,” about 15% of human-made carbon emissions(4) are made through livestock raising.

As a contrast, fish and seafood production leaves behind a lower carbon footprint than animal meats and cheese. A study conducted in 2014 brought to light how pescatarians caused 46% less greenhouse gas emissions(5) than animal meat-eaters.

[ Read: 8 Hour Diet Benefits ]

Ethical Reasons

Several individuals are switching to a vegetarian diet due to ethical reasons. Some of the ethical reasons cited by pescatarians include:

  • Opposition to animal slaughter
  • Inhuman livestock and factory practices
  • Poor labor conditions at factories
  • Humanitarian reasons

While eliminating land animal meat from the diet addresses the ethical concerns, overfishing and exploitation in aquaculture continue to remain a grave problem.

Foods to Eat Foods to Avoid
Whole-grain foods and products
Chicken and poultry products
Nuts and nut butter Beef
Legumes and their products Pork
Seeds Turkey
Dairy and dairy products (optional) Lamb
Fruits Bacon
Vegetables Deli meat
Fish and shellfish Wild game
Eggs (optional)

If you are following a low carb pescatarian diet, you should also skip high-carb food items that are high in gluten or lactose.

Benefits of the Pescatarian Diet

Some of the major pescatarian diet benefits are:

1. Omega-3 Boost

omega 3 rich food
Source: ShutterStock

Fish is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids(6). While plant-based food items like walnuts and flaxseeds do contain traces of a type of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), converting it to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is rather tough for the body. Fish, on the other hand, have readily available EPA and DHA, which helps in the functioning of the brain (and mood) while also maintaining heart health.

2. Increased Protein Intake

Human beings need 0.8 grams of protein per 1 kg of their body weight. Supplementing this protein requirement can be tough for those on a strictly plant-based diet. Fish and seafood are excellent receptacles of lean protein. A high-protein diet can also help burn fat(7), which means that the pescatarian diet can help with weight loss.

[ Read: Cheap Protein Sources ]

3. Added Nutrients

The pescatarian diet is perfect for those depending on plants primarily. Vegans and vegetarians often find it hard to source vital nutrients like vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, and calcium. Foods like oysters, mussels, cod, and flounder can deliver more than the RDI required by your body for these vital nutrients.

4. Aids Weight Loss

lose weight

As the pescatarian diet focuses on nutrient-dense, high-fiber, low-calorie foods, it has the potential to help you lose weight. Further, fish and seafood add variety to those on diets like the keto diet, which has led to the popularity of the pescatarian keto diet.

[ Read: Keto Diet for Weight Loss ]

Risks of the Pescatarian Diet

While there are no major health limitations of the pescatarian diet, it could cause the following issues:

  • Certain people are allergic to shellfish and have issues with a high intake of fish.
  • Fish (especially large fish) and seafood are susceptible to high concentrations of heavy metals like mercury and other toxins.
  • Since the diet is majorly plant-based, you may find yourself binging on high-carb low-nutrition foods.
  • Undercooking and overcooking fish can kill the nutritional value.

Women and children are advised to avoid foods like the shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish as they are reported to contain the highest concentration of contaminants.

[ Read: Benefits of GM Diet ]

Meal Plan

Here are a few pescatarian diet recipes and meal plans that you can follow:

Breakfast Options

  • Avocado baked eggs
  • Spanish egg muffins with smoked salmon
  • Sauteed mushrooms and avocado toast
  • Fresh sardine fillets with toast
  • Blueberry and lemon muffins

[ Read: High Protein Breakfast ]

Lunch Options

  • Sweet potato skins with buttered salmon
  • Mackerel and green bean salad
  • Udon noodle soup with prawns
  • Lemon and cilantro shrimp salad
  • Thai Massaman curry

Dinner Options

  • Baked Tilapia with a parmesan crust
  • Oyster Teriyaki stir fry
  • Fish fillet in brown bread
  • Tuna pesto pasta
  • Sweet and sticky salmon kebabs

Snacks Options

  • Baked chickpeas or chickpea salad
  • Roasted tomato soup
  • Chocolate, peanut butter, and granola bomb
  • Cucumber hummus cups
  • Lentil soup

[ Read: SIBO Diet ]

Closing Thoughts

The pescatarian diet is loaded with health benefits and allows you to make conscious and sustainable choices. Further, it is an upgrade to the standard vegetarian diet and offers more nutritional value and proteins. However, do bear in mind to avoid fish that contains high mercury levels. Given the easy availability of canned and smoked fish, sticking to a pescatarian diet is not only easy but also tasty.


1. Is seafood healthier than meat?

Unlike red meat, seafood is lean meat that contains a host of healthy, unsaturated fats and nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. Thus, seafood reduces the risk of developing heart diseases, strokes, and other chronic diseases. They are also low on calories, high in good fats, and comparable protein content, making it a healthier alternative.

2. Why do pescatarians eat fish?

Pescatarians consume fish for several reasons, such as health benefits, ethical beliefs, and environmental concerns.

3. Is it healthier to be vegetarian or pescatarian?

Following a pescatarian diet is healthier than a vegetarian diet due to the added nutritional and health benefits of fish and seafood. It is more effective in maintaining weight and adds flexibility to your meal plans.

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