What is a pescatarian diet?
A pescatarian diet involves eating fish, as a main source of protein, alongside vegetables and other plant-based foods. Learn more about the health benefits of this diet, its environmental impact, and potential risks. We also highlight the best types of fish …
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.
However, some types of fish may absorb mercury from their environment, so certain people may need to limit their intake.
In this article, we look at the potential health benefits of a pescatarian diet and what people can eat on this kind of diet.
Health benefits of the pescatarian diet
The pescatarian diet has many health benefits. Below, we cover some of these benefits.
Eating fish provides omega-3 fatty acids, some of which are integral for healthy living.
Eating fish, especially fatty fish, provides increased long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake. An omega-3 fatty acid is an unsaturated fat that can be beneficial to people, and some omega-3s are integral for healthy living.
People who eat fish have lower blood pressure, a lower risk of abnormal heart rhythms, and fewer fatal heart attacks than those who do not include fish in their diet.
Apart from fish, the pescatarian diet consists mainly of plant foods. According to one 2017 analysis, people who have 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.
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 can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome includes conditions such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and obesity.
There is also evidence that omega-3s present in fatty fish may reduce inflammation, though this evidence comes from trials of supplements.
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.
Environmental and animal welfare benefits
Some people choose vegetarian diets because they disagree with factory farming practices or killing animals for food.
For people concerned about animal welfare, the pescatarian diet may be a little more suitable. This is because some scientists argue that fish cannot feel pain. A 2015 study concluded that although fish can experience psychological stress, they lack the neural network necessary to experience pain.
The pescatarian diet may also appeal to those who want to eat foods from what they perceive to be sustainable farming practices.
Is a pescatarian diet sustainable?
While some see farming fish as a solution to over-fishing, it can still damage water ecosystems.
The pescatarian diet is more sustainable than factory farming of mammals or birds, but it does have some environmental issues.
Some people believe that the farming of pigs and ruminants, such as cattle, sheep, and goats, can harm the environment. Both groups emit greenhouse gases, with ruminants producing methane gas and pigs producing ammonia.
On a global scale, these gases contribute to global warming. Also, large-scale deforestation for grazing and agriculture makes the greenhouse gas issue worse.
Although fish do not produce greenhouse gases, fishing and fisheries represent a challenge to water ecosystems.
For example, eating wild line-caught fish is not necessarily better for the environment than eating farmed fish, and the trawlers used to catch trawler-caught fish can affect ocean ecosystems in many ways.
Some people see farming fish as a solution to over-fishing and depleted fish stocks, and the practice has grown rapidly over the past few years.
However, in certain circumstances, fish farming can:
- damage water ecosystems
- introduce invasive species
- use wild fish for feed
- cause overcrowding
- cause disease
The pescatarian diet may also be expensive or difficult to maintain when people live some distance from coastlines or fresh waterways. Some people may also find it hard to access sustainably sourced tinned fish.