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What Is a Pescatarian Diet?

Helena Ricketts loves cooking from scratch and sharing her recipes with anyone who wants to try something new in the world of food.

A pescatarian diet is like a vegetarian diet, but with fish.

A pescatarian diet is like a vegetarian diet, but with fish.

The Short Version of What a Pescatarian Diet Is

A pescatarian diet does not contain any meat from land animals. Fish and aquatic animals are still eaten, but land animal meat like beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and lamb are not consumed. Dairy products like cheese and yogurt are still able to be eaten on this diet, and eggs are also considered part of a pescatarian diet.

Why Do People Become Pescatarian?

Everyone is different, so the reason or reasons that someone would choose this way of eating is personal to each individual. Some of the more common reasons that I have heard over the years for changing to this way of eating are:

  • It is said that not eating land animal meat can improve your health.
  • It can be a stepping stone to vegetarianism, a whole food plant-based diet, or a vegan lifestyle.
  • Ethics or personal disdain for killing animals that have a sense of self-awareness and mortality for food.
  • To help reduce the environmental impact that CAFO operations create on the planet.

Each individual that chooses to eat this way has their own reasons for taking this step.

Seafood and vegetables on a grill

Seafood and vegetables on a grill

Mercury in Seafood

Mercury and reaching nutritional needs are common concerns with this diet. Certain species of wild-caught fish have higher concentrations of mercury in their meat than others, so it is important to keep the consumption of those fish to a minimum.

Fish that are high in mercury include:

  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • Tilefish
  • King Mackerel
  • Ahi Tuna

Safer seafood options that have a lower amount of mercury in them are:

  • Salmon
  • Catfish
  • Canned light tuna
  • Pollock
  • Shrimp
  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Tilapia
  • Anchovies

The general rule is that if a fish is lower in mercury content, it is safe for most people without any health concerns to eat two to three servings of that fish per week, for a total of 12 ounces per week. This means that a person consuming the pescatarian diet will have the majority of their meals with no meat at all in order to avoid high levels of mercury entering their bodies through the seafood that they are consuming.

These are ahi tuna steaks waiting to go on the grill.

These are ahi tuna steaks waiting to go on the grill.

Tweaking the Diet to Fit Your Food Philosophy and Needs

Not all pescatarians eat the exact same things. This type of diet has many options that a lot of people take advantage of. The only thing set in stone in defining this diet is that land animals' meat is not eaten.

The main thing to remember is that if you choose to eat seafood, even if it is in moderation, you are still eating a pescatarian diet. There is no such thing as a vegan or vegetarian that eats fish on occasion.

Some people choose this diet as a stepping stone to plant-based, whole-food diets, veganism, or vegetarianism. It can be tweaked and combined with aspects of other types of diets that do not include land animal meats. The great thing about this diet is that it gives you many freedoms to tailor it to your specific needs, wants, and beliefs.

Tips for How to Handle Criticism

The food that you put into your body is a very personal decision, but for some reason, when people change their diet from what most of the population deems normal, criticism can follow. Some people simply do not understand why anyone would choose to limit their diet by choice.

In the western world, most of us are lucky enough to be able to choose what types of food we put into our bodies. We are told from the beginning of our lives what we should be eating to remain healthy, productive members of society. Not everyone will view this way of eating as logical or safe, and they will voice their opinion to you. The important thing is to try not to take it personally even though it may feel like it is.

Simply talk to the person. Tell them your reasoning for choosing to eat this way. Stay away from attacking the way they choose to eat because that will guarantee an argument where no one wins. Explain it, present your evidence on why and simply leave it at that.

I have found that this is one of the easiest and less confrontational ways to handle anyone that criticizes your food choices. Unfortunately, not everyone will leave it alone, but depending on who it is coming from, just remember that they still believe what they have been taught their whole life, and they are, in fact doing it out of concern for your well-being.

Final Tips for New Pescitarians

When you start this diet, there are a few important tips to remember.

  • Keep a close eye on the amount of fish that you consume each week and the mercury content of each type.
  • Some people will feel the need to criticize you for your dietary choice.
  • Always remember the reasons why you chose to eat this way.
  • Remember that being a pescatarian means you are still consuming animal products and the differences between this diet and the conventional diet that western individuals are raised on are minimally different.

Resources Used for This Article

Avoiding Mercury in Fish: Topic Overview WebMD

Washington State Department of Health Healthy Fish Guide

© 2017 Helena Ricketts