Is A Pescatarian Diet Really Healthier? This Is Everything You Need To Know About Making The Switch

Jun 08, 2018 by apost team

Are you someone looking for a dramatic change in your dietary choices in order to put yourself on a new road to healthier eating habits? You may have contemplated going to a more plant-based alternative in your eating regimen, but you fall short after just a few weeks and devour a hamburger. 

You also love meat and can’t really commit to completely removing it from your diet. Until you decide on the best alternative, you may want to consider the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a pescatarian before you commit to changing your eating habits for good:

Pescatarian Diet: What is it Exactly? 

If you are a lover of a variety of fish entrees, then this may be the dietary choice that you’ve been looking for. Pescatarian diets, (the word “pesce” means fish in Italian) have a foundation of fruits and vegetables with the additional component of fish and other seafood. You can decide to include dairy products in one version of a pescatarian diet (making you a lacto-ove-pescatarian), or you can omit them entirely from your daily intake of food. 

Pros and Cons to Consider Before You Begin Your Pescatarian Diet 

A diet without meat can vary greatly, but the majority of people who choose to eat only vegetables and other plant-based foods tend to be healthier than most people. Studies have shown some of the following benefits have resulted from removing meat from your daily diet: 

  • Individuals who switched to a pescatarian diet, on average, gained nearly 3 pounds less per year 
  • Pescatarians run a far lower risk of developing heart disease (22%) and diabetes (nearly 5%) than meat-eaters 

What can be a risk for anyone choosing a pescatarian diet is a marked reduction in vitamin B12 in the body. This vitamin is present only in meat products and is needed to maintain a body’s metabolism and nervous system functions. It also contributes to bone density and muscle development. 

There is also a risk of consuming the wrong kind of foods that lead to the improper levels of protein in your system. This can result in a severe deficiency in protein as well as the amino acids that help to build up a body’s level of healthy protein. There is also a risk of a higher level of fatty acids like Omega-6 and Omega-3 at the cost of losing iron in the blood, leading to chronic anemia over time. 

So, you need to be knowledgeable about complete proteins such as the type found in meat products that give us our important amino acids, and the incomplete proteins found in the majority of plant-based foods that do not provide us with the amino acids that we need to stay healthy. 

But there is a happy medium between eating plants and finding the proteins you need in your day-to-day food intake. Eating protein-rich plant foods like legumes and rice and combining this with a complete protein food like fish will help towards giving you the complete nutrients you are looking for. 

Fish is a great protein booster as well as high in the essential Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats. In fact, a pescatarian diet may be an even healthier alternative to a meat-based diet since most people consume far too much Omega-6 when they choose to eat animal products on a regular basis. This fatty acid actually promotes inflammation as opposed to the Omega-3 which has anti-inflammatory components. This means that an overconsumption of foods with Omega-6 can result in achy joints, water retention, and other factors associated with inflammation. 

A balance of both these fatty acids is very important to avoid this from happening. A pescatarian will give themselves a healthy balance of these when they consume seafood such as salmon, tuna, and shrimp instead of meat. 

Overall Health – Does a Pescatarian Diet Help? 

This balance of fatty acids and healthy protein levels in your body associated with a pescatarian diet can show results, over time, in lowering cholesterol levels, reducing high blood pressure, improving cognitive ability associated with Alzheimer’s, and even preventing heart attacks and strokes. 

Even though these are potentially positive results from becoming a pescatarian, it is still something that anyone choosing this lifestyle needs to be conscientious about to ensure the all the necessary nutritional components that the body needs are being consumed through the right foods and the right amounts. 

Our bodies do not absorb plant-based foods as readily as meat. This means the particular type of Omega-3 acids called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid, (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) need to be consumed through fish and other seafood in properly balanced amounts to make up for what we don’t get when we refrain from eating meat and dairy products. They may be found in some nuts and oils, but that is not enough to give a pescatarian the healthy amounts of each that they need. 

The other deficiency that pescatarians need to be extremely cautious to not create is that of iron. This means having to consume leafy vegetables in great quantities to make up for the iron that you lose in not eating meat as well as dairy products if that is also your choice. 

Choline deficiency is also a concern when going pescatarian since this macronutrient helps to maintain a healthy metabolism as well as brain development, liver function, and adequate energy levels, and for productive lactation in new mothers, to name a few. There will also be deficiencies that may result in removing dairy products that are high in calcium which lead to stronger bones and avoiding osteoporosis in later years. 

Can a Pescatarian Diet Become a Chore? 

When people make the decision to drastically change their eating habits and remove entire food groups from their diet, it can result in feeling left out of the common mix of eating activities with others. Depending on what your daily routine may be, finding food to eat could become a real struggle. Special events and visiting friends for a barbeque could turn into feeling like you are putting an extra burden on friends to accommodate your eating habits. 

You can also start to become bored with the same old choices, and your body may even react to your repetitive eating habits resulting in weight gain, weakness, and a variety of vitamin deficiencies. It is extremely important to be mindful of always eating a variety of foods including different seasonings, ways of preparing plants and fish products, and mixing ingredients together that you may not have tried before to deter these negative aspects of a limited diet from occurring. 

The Mercury Question: Is Too Much Fish Dangerous? 

Many people, especially pregnant women, are usually alerted to the dangers of potential elements of mercury in fish and seafood. Mercury, an obvious toxic substance, has been found in high levels in some cases in over 50% of fish that are consumed. 

So, it is important to keep this in mind and that mercury build-up in fish occurs up the food chain in the lakes and oceans. So, the larger the fish the more likely it will have higher levels of mercury. If you balance your seafood and fish intake between mostly smaller fish like sardines and salmon and then have an occasional larger fish like swordfish, then you will probably be consuming a safe level. 

You should also consider buying wild-caught fish as opposed to those raised on a farm because they tend to have a lower toxicity level without the use of chemicals to raise them in a farm environment which lowers their level of EPA and DHA acids that the body needs. 

If you are still considering trying a pescatarian diet, then you are ready to consume fish at least three times a week with the proper amount of vegetables to complement your meal and give you the vitamins and nutrients need to live a healthy life. 

And when you go on your new dietary journey, consider describing your experience to others so that they can consider their own lifestyle changes into the pescatarian lifestyle, or simply give us your opinion about this change in eating habits. 

Our content is created to the best of our knowledge, yet it is of general nature and cannot in any way substitute an individual consultation with your doctor. Your health is important to us!