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Pescatarian Diet Guide: Pros, Cons + What You Can Eat

Our nutrition coach analyzes the seafood-centric diet benefits.

The pescatarian diet plan can be one of the healthiest diets for weight loss or weight management as well as overall health.

This plant-based lifestyle diet is full of healthy, natural, unprocessed foods, providing a great number of important health benefits.

In this guide, we will discuss what a pescatarian diet means, the differences between a vegetarian diet and a pescatarian diet, the benefits of a pescatarian diet, and what you are and aren’t allowed to eat.

Let’s dive in! 

Pescatarian diet foods such as fish, vegetables and grains.

What Is a Pescatarian Diet?

A pescatarian diet can be considered a step down from the strictness of a vegetarian diet in that it allows for the consumption of fish and seafood.

If you are considering the various types of popular plant-based diets on a continuum from strictest to most lax, veganism would be the most restrictive as it eliminates all animal products.

The ovo-lacto vegetarian diet comes next because eggs and dairy are allowed, but still no animal flesh. Then follows the pescatarian diet.

The pescatarian diet is sometimes called a pesco vegetarian diet. 

As with the other plant-based diets, there are no other restrictions with a pescatarian meal plan in terms of how many calories you need to eat, how many meals or snacks you can have in a day, or even what foods you have to eat every day.

Furthermore, there aren’t any guidelines or rules surrounding how often, how much, or what types of fish and seafood you need to eat to be considered a pescatarian rather than a vegetarian.

Pescatarian diet foods such as fish, vegetables, eggs and grains.

Some pescatarians only have fish occasionally, But otherwise, they almost always follow a strict vegetarian diet with only plant-based foods.

Some pescatarians are actually vegan pescatarians in that they don’t eat any dairy or eggs, but they do have some type of aquatic animal, fish, or seafood either frequently or sporadically.

Then, there are pescatarians who have fish or seafood almost every day or even numerous times per day.

Ultimately, there is complete flexibility in terms of how often you consume fish versus only plant-based foods.

The distinguishing feature that differentiates a pescatarian from an omnivorous diet is solely in the fact that a pescatarian will only eat fish or seafood in terms of animal flesh, whereas an omnivore will also include poultry such as chicken and turkey, pork, beef, and other red meat.

Most of the time, the Mediterranean diet plan falls under the category of a pescatarian diet, as long as you do not have any red meat or poultry.

However, the Mediterranean diet plan is a specific pescatarian diet in these cases.

This is because there are certain foods that are supposed to be central in the Mediterranean diet vs the pescatarian diet, wherein you have more flexibility in terms of any foods that you want to eat so long as they do not contain animal flesh other than fish or seafood.

Pescatarian diet foods such as fish, vegetables, eggs and grains.

How Do You Follow a Pescatarian Diet Plan?

As mentioned, there aren’t any rules about how to follow a pescatarian diet in terms of the timing, pescatarian foods, pescatarian calories, or number of meals in a pescatarian diet plan.

The pescatarian diet is more of a dietary lifestyle than a specific weight loss diet. Theoretically, there is no start or stop date like a crash diet, weight loss program, or defined diet plan like the Whole30 Diet.

You can have fish, seafood, and all plant-based foods as often or as infrequently as you would like, and there doesn’t have to be any consistency to how you consume these pescatarian diet foods.

Each individual can also decide if they wish to include eggs and dairy, but this would be part of an ovo-lactose diet.

Some people follow a pescatarian diet for weight loss, in which case, they would strive to be in a caloric deficit.

This means that the pescatarian meal plan will need to provide fewer calories per day that than you are burning.

Other people follow a pescatarian meal plan for general health and weight maintenance.

This would involve following a healthy pescatarian diet plan that provides ample calories that are in balance with your total daily energy expenditure or the number of calories you are burning per day.

Finally, you can also follow a pescatarian meal plan to gain weight by having high-calorie plant-based meals and fish and consuming more total calories than you are burning on a consistent basis.

A vegetable and fish bowl

What Can You Eat On a Pescatarian Diet Plan?

For a standard pescatarian diet plan, you can eat all foods except animal flesh and animal products other than fish or seafood.

Pescatarian Diet Food List

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Legumes: Beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, soy (tofu, tempeh)
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Seeds
  • Fish: Salmon, tuna, trout, halibut, anchovies, bass, sardines, mackerel, cod, sushi, fish sticks, etc.
  • Seafood & Shellfish: Clams, mussels, shrimp, lobsters, scallops, eel, crab, etc.
  • Foods with fish products such as Worcestershire sauce or sauces with anchovy paste, fish stock, sushi, etc.
  • Healthy fats and oils
  • Herbs and spices

You do not need to count calories to follow the pescatarian diet, though if you are trying to lose or gain weight, it can be helpful to count calories and watch your servings.

However, the goal of a healthy pescatarian diet plan should be to focus on consuming the most natural, unprocessed foods and minimizing processed foods, foods with added sugar, refined grains, hydrogenated oils, excess salt, artificial and chemical ingredients, etc. 

This means that even though you can eat things like fish sticks, French fries, Oreos, and soda while still following pescatarian diet-compatible foods, you should try to limit these types of processed foods for overall health.

Pescatarian diet foods such as fish, vegetables, eggs and grains.

What Can’t You Eat On a Pescatarian Diet?

Here are the types of foods to avoid on a pescatarian diet plan:

  • Beef: Steak, hamburger, roast beef, ground beef, etc.
  • Pork: Ham, bacon, pork chops, ribs
  • Poultry: Chicken, turkey, duck, quail, capon, goose, squab, chicken nuggets, turkey bacon, etc.
  • Lamb, mutton, goat, bison, antelope, alligator, rabbit, game meats
  • Foods With Animal Ingredients: Canned soups made with beef stock, chicken stock, etc.; split pea soup with ham, jello (or products with gelatin derived from animal hooves), pizza with pepperoni or meat, pasta with meat sauce, etc.

Again, eggs and dairy would be up to the individual if they choose to consume them but are not on a strict pescatarian diet.

What Are the Benefits of the Pescatarian Diet?

There are several potential health benefits of plant-based diets that incorporate some fish.

Plant-based diets, in general, have been associated with numerous health benefits, and the addition of healthy fish can add additional benefits.

To reap the pescatarian diet health benefits, the emphasis of your diet should be on eating plant-based whole foods, such as legumes, soy, whole grains, veggies, nuts, seeds, nutritional yeast, and seitan.

A person eating a plate of fish and veggies.

Also include fatty fish like salmon and sardines, lean fish such as cod and halibut, and seafood such as scallops, clams, and mussels.

However, it is also possible to follow an unhealthy pescatarian diet by eating lots of processed vegan and vegetarian foods high in sugar, and unhealthy fats, such as saturated fat and sodium. 

Just because you are avoiding animal products other than fish does not mean that your diet is going to be healthy; you still need to make nutritious choices and minimize processed and refined foods.1Satija, A., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Spiegelman, D., Chiuve, S. E., Manson, J. E., Willett, W., Rexrode, K. M., Rimm, E. B., & Hu, F. B. (2017). Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology70(4), 411–422. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047

‌Some of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet meal plan with plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and other high-fiber, antioxidant-rich foods are similar to the Mediterranean diet benefits since there is a lot of overlap in these eating plans.

A cooked whole fish

Following a Pescatarian diet may help in:

  • Reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, which are two major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.2Wang, F., Zheng, J., Yang, B., Jiang, J., Fu, Y., & Li, D. (2015). Effects of Vegetarian Diets on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association4(10). https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.115.002408
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease3Tong, T. Y. N., Appleby, P. N., Bradbury, K. E., Perez-Cornago, A., Travis, R. C., Clarke, R., & Key, T. J. (2019). Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMJ366(8212), l4897. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4897and cardiovascular disease.4Estruch, R., Ros, E., Salas-Salvadó, J., Covas, M.-I., Corella, D., Arós, F., Gómez-Gracia, E., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., Fiol, M., Lapetra, J., Lamuela-Raventos, R. M., Serra-Majem, L., Pintó, X., Basora, J., Muñoz, M. A., Sorlí, J. V., Martínez, J. A., & Martínez-González, M. A. (2013). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. New England Journal of Medicine368(14), 1279–1290. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejmoa1200303
  • Potentially supporting better adherence than a vegan diet or vegetarian diet due to more flexibility.5Gibson, A., & Sainsbury, A. (2017). Strategies to Improve Adherence to Dietary Weight Loss Interventions in Research and Real-World Settings. Behavioral Sciences7(4), 44. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs7030044
  • Reducing the risk of nutritional deficiencies compared to a vegan diet. This is not to say that pescatarians are “immune” from these nutritional deficiencies, depending on what you eat on your plant-based meal plan and any specific health conditions you might have.6R, P., Sj, P., S, R., D, C.-D., & D, L. (2013, February 1). How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians? Nutrition Reviews. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23356638/
A person eating a bowl.

Is a Pescatarian Diet Good for Weight Loss?

Many plant-based foods are lower in calories yet quite filling due to the high water and high fiber content of vegetables, legumes, and plant-based proteins.

Fish also tends to be either a great lean source of protein or one that includes heart-healthy fats, both of which make fish filling and nutrient-dense but not super high in calories.

This can make it possible to feel satiated on fewer calories on pescatarian foods so that you can lose weight.

Several research studies have found that people who follow a plant-based diet may lose more weight than those following an omnivorous diet.7Huang, R.-Y., Huang, C.-C., Hu, F. B., & Chavarro, J. E. (2016). Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of General Internal Medicine31(1), 109–116. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7

However, as with any diet, you have to create a caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than you are burning) to lose weight following a pescatarian diet and maintain the caloric deficit.

Consider working with a registered dietitian, nutritionist, or healthcare professional to develop the best meal plan for your needs.

If you are shopping around for healthy lifestyle diets to improve your wellness and have a lower risk of adverse health effects, check out our full guide on the Mediterranean diet!

References

  • 1
    Satija, A., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Spiegelman, D., Chiuve, S. E., Manson, J. E., Willett, W., Rexrode, K. M., Rimm, E. B., & Hu, F. B. (2017). Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology70(4), 411–422. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047
  • 2
    Wang, F., Zheng, J., Yang, B., Jiang, J., Fu, Y., & Li, D. (2015). Effects of Vegetarian Diets on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association4(10). https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.115.002408
  • 3
    Tong, T. Y. N., Appleby, P. N., Bradbury, K. E., Perez-Cornago, A., Travis, R. C., Clarke, R., & Key, T. J. (2019). Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMJ366(8212), l4897. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4897
  • 4
    Estruch, R., Ros, E., Salas-Salvadó, J., Covas, M.-I., Corella, D., Arós, F., Gómez-Gracia, E., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., Fiol, M., Lapetra, J., Lamuela-Raventos, R. M., Serra-Majem, L., Pintó, X., Basora, J., Muñoz, M. A., Sorlí, J. V., Martínez, J. A., & Martínez-González, M. A. (2013). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. New England Journal of Medicine368(14), 1279–1290. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejmoa1200303
  • 5
    Gibson, A., & Sainsbury, A. (2017). Strategies to Improve Adherence to Dietary Weight Loss Interventions in Research and Real-World Settings. Behavioral Sciences7(4), 44. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs7030044
  • 6
    R, P., Sj, P., S, R., D, C.-D., & D, L. (2013, February 1). How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians? Nutrition Reviews. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23356638/
  • 7
    Huang, R.-Y., Huang, C.-C., Hu, F. B., & Chavarro, J. E. (2016). Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of General Internal Medicine31(1), 109–116. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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