What Is a Pescatarian?

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 26, 2021

Looking for a healthier diet? The benefits of being a pescatarian might get you hooked.

Pescatarians have a lot in common with vegetarians. They eat fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, eggs, and dairy, and stay away from meat and poultry. But there's one way they part company from vegetarians: Pescatarians eat fish and other seafood.

Some pescatarians believe a meat-based diet is bad for the environment. They feel that land animals raised for food use too many natural resources and add to pollution. Many people, though, choose this fish-based plan for their health.

A diet that puts an emphasis on plant-based foods, fish, and seafood may provide health benefits. Fish, like meat, is a good source of protein. Yet, unlike red meat, it's low in saturated fat and often rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Studies show that eating less red meat, or none at all, lowers your chances of getting heart disease and high blood pressure. At the same time, two servings of fish a week may help your heart.

The omega-3 acids in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel help lessen plaque that builds up in arteries and lower your odds of getting an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). Omega-3s also lower triglyceride levels in your blood, another bonus for heart health. The healthy fats may even have a positive effect on blood pressure.

Limiting red meat or cutting it out of our diet completely may also lower your chances of getting cancer.

One study shows that pescatarians live longer than people who follow a diet that includes red meat and poultry.

As with many things in life, you can sometimes have too much of a good thing. Fish and seafood are no exception. For instance, some types of fish, like tuna, swordfish, and tilefish, have moderate to high levels of mercury.

Mercury is a heavy metal that can cause health problems, especially for babies and children. That's why the government recommends that young children, along with women of childbearing age or who are pregnant or breastfeeding, mostly eat fish that's low in mercury. If you go pescatarian, consider choosing lower-mercury types of fish, like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and lake trout.

Getting rid of red meat from your diet may rob you of iron, especially if you're a woman who's menstruating. You can get iron from other sources, like dark leafy greens, tofu, and lentils. Manufacturers also add it to some foods, like cereal. But it's always good to talk to your doctor before starting a new diet to make sure you cover all your nutritional bases.

Keep in mind that food that's labeled "meat-free" or "vegetarian" isn't automatically healthy. It can still be high in sugar and fat, especially if it's processed. That's why eating unprocessed foods as often as possible is the best way to go -- no matter what type of diet you follow.

Show Sources


Mayo Clinic: "Vegetarian Diet: How to Get the Best Nutrition."

Ohio Health: "Vegetarian Vs. Vegan Vs. Pescatarian Vs. Flexitarian."

American Heart Association: "Fish and omega-3 fatty acids."

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Food groups and risk of all-cause mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies."

David Katz, MD, founding director, Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Yale University; author, The Truth About Food.

Nutrients: "Comparison of Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet."

American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "Blue Zones: Lessons From the World's Longest Lived." 

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