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Pescetarian Diet Pros and Cons: Is the Seafood Diet the One for You?

You’ve likely heard of all the fad diets — keto, paleo, low-carb, raw. The pescetarian diet is something else, often considered a feel-good lifestyle transformation. It’s similar to veganism or vegetarianism, except you don’t have to cut out all animal-based foods.

Pescetarians avoid red meat and poultry, including chicken, beef, turkey and pork. Instead, they eat all sorts of seafood, like shrimp, clams, fish and scallops. Their diet is primarily plant-based, with protein options like nuts, legumes, produce and whole grains. Some also eat dairy, including milk and eggs.

An important point to remember is that a pescetarian diet isn’t necessarily a healthy one. You can fill your meals with junk food like potato chips and deep-fried fish sticks. It’s up to you to make healthy, nutritious choices that will benefit your body.

For example, say you decide to try out a healthy pescetarian diet. For the first day, breakfast might include fresh or canned sardines on a slice of crostini bread. Lunch offers classic falafel made with chickpeas and chopped onion. To round out the day, try salmon with mandarin sauce for dinner.

Pescetarian Diet Pros

Fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids and is great for your heart. People who eat more seafood, like many pescetarians, have lower blood pressure and fewer heart attacks than those who don’t. Eating fish once a week can reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death in healthy adults by 42 to 50%.

A pescetarian diet is high in flavonoids, a natural compound with a range of anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties. According to one study, people who follow this type of meal plan have a higher flavonoid intake compared to other diets. These compounds reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which includes conditions like obesity and high blood pressure.

A lack of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is linked to mental decline in old age, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A steady intake, on the other hand, can boost brain function and stop the deterioration. It can also work as a natural aid for ADHD, anxiety and depression.

Vegans and vegetarians are at risk of certain vitamin deficiencies, including vitamins D, K, B12 and iron. While taking supplements can fill this need, it’s harder for those following these diets to maintain proper health. B12 is mostly found in red meats, though fish is an ideal alternative. A pescetarian diet can also supplement an iron deficiency.

Pescetarian Diet Cons

When compared to the factory farming of mammals or birds — like cows, sheep, chickens, etc. — a pescetarian diet is more sustainable. However, it does come with some challenges. Eating fish poses a risk. A wild-caught fish using a trawler can affect the ocean ecosystems. Farmed fish are considered a sustainable alternative, though farming can cause disease, overcrowding and other concerns.

Another con to the pescetarian diet is the potential to consume high amounts of mercury. Nearly all fish contain traces of mercury, but for most people, eating it is not a concern. However, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children should avoid fish.

If you want to try a pescetarian diet, eat fish that is low in mercury, such as:

  • shrimp
  • catfish
  • salmon
  • pollock

Avoid fish with high amounts of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. While canned light tuna is safe to eat, try to avoid its masquerading cousin, albacore “white” tuna, which contains more mercury.

Many people choose a pescetarian diet because they oppose slaughter, inhumane practices and poor labor conditions. However, increasing demand for seafood leads to overfishing, which is also problematic. Today, fish ranks as one of the most traded commodities in the food and fuel industries, a $362 billion global market.

There are several benefits that come with a pescetarian diet, including healthy nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids. There are also some drawbacks, such as ecological risks and mercury consumption. Whether a pescetarian diet fits into your lifestyle is entirely up to you.