Should You Try a Pescatarian Diet?

10 minute read

Carnivores eat meat, omnivores eat meat and vegetables, vegetarians eat vegetables, and pescatarians eat fish. Apparently, there is a name for every possible diet. Unlike vegans, who avoid all animal products, pescatarians eat fish, often eggs and dairy, but no meat. This diet has been popular in Asia and the Mediterranean for thousands of years and is considered to be very healthy.  

Fish and seafood are the best sources of natural protein and fatty acids in the world, bursting with essential vitamins and nutrients. It is not surprising that a pescatarian diet boosts health and longevity.

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For the most part, diets that focus on plant based foods are extremely healthy but there are some problems associated with the lack of protein. For example, vegetarians often suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency, protein deficiency, and inadequate levels of fatty acids, as well as anemia and a tendency to overeat refined carbohydrates.  

The Importance of Protein

Protein is vital to life because it is the building block of every part of the body; muscles, tissues and cells. Protein can also serve as a source of energy. Typically, carbohydrates are the energy source for most people but proteins can be converted to glucose when needed.

Plants do contain some protein but it is important to remember that the protein sources from animal products such as meat are complete and therefore, more beneficial.

Proteins are made up of amino acid chains and each of these amino acids is either essential or nonessential. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body so we need to get those from our food. Our body can synthesize the nonessential variety from essential ones so they are not as much of a concern.

A complete source of protein like fish contains each of the essential amino acids. Without them, we can suffer from severe protein deficiency. Given the intense nutritional value of these complete proteins, it is not always wise to completely cut animal-sourced protein from your diet.  

Vegetarians Are Healthy....Aren't They?

Plant based diets are extremely heart healthy; heavy meat consumption has been linked to serious heart conditions and health problems. When it comes to these facts, it is important to remember that these health problems were associated with red meat intake and not leaner meats such as poultry or fish.

This is not to say that plant-based diets are not healthy because they certainly do lower cholesterol and risk of obesity. That being said, meat does contain vital nutrients and essential amino acids. A strictly vegetarian diet can, therefore, have poor health consequences.  

Vegetarians argue that because they include legumes, grains, seeds and nuts in their diet, they are getting adequate protein levels. However, these foods are incomplete sources which mean they are missing one or two essential amino acids. Additionally, these foods contain antinutrients like phytates and difficult to digest proteins, such as gluten, which interfere with healthy absorption of nutrients.

For example, beans actually decrease protein absorption because of nutrient-blocking enzymes they contain. When you think of it this way, the amount of protein you take in doesn't matter if you are not able to properly digest and absorb the amino acids.  

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Animal products contain vitamin B12, which is critical to our health and, in fact, our lives. If vegans and vegetarians avoid all animal products, they need to take B12 supplements. Vegetarians can also increase egg consumption to get protein but they are still missing out on omega-3 fatty acids.  

Additionally, vitamin A, choline, inc and copper are all lacking from plant-based diets, which means supplements are needed. At this point, you have to ask yourself if you are eating more food or capsules.

The Benefits of a Pescatarian Diet

1. Get those omega-3s

One of the primary reasons fish is so good for us is because of omega-3 fatty acids. People regularly consume excess omega-6 (found in vegetable oils, plant foods and farm raised animal products) so an increase in omega-3 intake is necessary. Unbalanced fatty acid rations with high omega-6 levels cause inflammation.

Omega-3 is the only way to counterbalance this and to reduce unnecessary inflammation. Numerous serious diseases are linked to inflammation. A reduction in inflammation is a major benefit of including fish in your diet.

Mediterranean diets have always included high fish intake as well as omega-3 fatty acids and people following this exhibit many health benefits:

♦ enhanced mental health

♦ improved cardiovascular health

♦ better hormonal control

♦ lower triglyceride levels

♦ improved reproductive health

♦ lower risk for diabetes

The omega-3 fatty acid chains consist of essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot make; the most important being EPA and DHA. These have to come from our diets and people are mistaken when they believe nuts, seeds and flax oil are adequate substitutions. While our bodies can convert some of these, it is not a very efficient process. To get the true benefits of DHA and EPA, we need to consume the foods that contain them.  

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2. Get rid of inflammation

The fatty acids in fish are able to control inflammatory conditions that can lead to cancer, arthritis and asthma. Omega-6 fatty acids can actually cause inflammation, so an adequate intake of omega-3 is necessary to keep the balance.

Inflammation is linked to so many serious diseases that lower levels are necessary for longevity. The best and most natural way to lower inflammation is with increased fish intake.

Packaged and processed foods, as well as seeds, nuts, and certain vegetable oils are high in omega-6. Given that these are the foods vegetarians stock up on to increase protein intake, they may be doing more harm than good because of the increased risk of inflammation.

3. Make your heart happy again

Because EPA and DHA control inflammation, they are essential to heart health. Our immune system produces an inflammatory response as a means of fighting bacteria and infections by increasing the number of white blood cells to the infected area.

Inflammation can cause plaque accumulation in arterial walls, which may lead to coronary heart disease. EPA and DHA supplements have been shown to be more effective than prescribed drugs at reducing risk for heart disease. Along with the essential fatty acids, fish also contains several nutrients related to the reduction of blood pressure and cholesterol levels. both of which contribute to a healthy heart.

4. Lower cancer risk

The nutrients and fatty acids in fish support the immune system by also suppressing inflammation, which benefits us in the fight against cancer. Plant-based diets have also been shown to naturally lower the risk of certain cancers but research shows that the pescatarian diet provides even more protection.

Inflammation is the driving force behind tumor growth and progression. The anti-inflammatory powers of omega-3 are clearly the right defense against such a force. Not only can does a pescatarian diet have the potential to stall the growth of tumors but can additionally help people undergoing chemotherapy. Cancer compromises muscle mass and the inflammatory response; the increased omega-3 intake helps to preserve muscle mass and control inflammation.

5. Save your brain

There is a reason that every single infant formula and supplement is loaded with DHA; it is essential for healthy brain development. Lower levels of omega-3 in elderly patients are linked to multiple markers of impaired brain function like dementia. Increased intake of omega-3 can naturally treat and prevent the progression of Alzheimer's disease, as well as other cognitive impairments associated with aging.

6. Get a more positive outlook

We know that fish and seafood deliver a powerful omega-3 punch. The focus has been on the amazing anti-inflammatory properties of this fatty acid but it is not those attributes that will help your mood. Omega-3 is also an antioxidant, which means it fights oxidative stress that can decrease cognitive function, as well as cause anxiety and depression. A pescatarian diet may very well be the natural answer to treating depression and anxiety disorders. This means all those medications with potentially dangerous side effects can be left on the pharmacy shelf.

7. You feel better, so now it’s time to look better

Plant-based diets tend to involve increased intake of carbohydrates with calories are coming from sugars instead of healthy fats and protein. Increases sugar levels can cause numerous health concerns, as well as weight gain. Healthy proteins and fats help you to feel full so you are less likely to have cravings and to binge eat. The nutrients in fish can help to curb cravings and so long as your pescatarian diet also includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, you can maintain a healthy weight.  

The Bottom Line

While plant-based diets may provide health benefits, vegetarian and vegan diets may be deficient in protein, amino acids, and certain nutrients, as well as promote an imbalance of omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which causes inflammation.

Adding fish and seafood to your diet provides essential amino acids, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other nutrients. Healthy diets such as the Mediterranean Diet and Asian diets include fish and seafood. Accompany your seafood choices a clinically-studied krill oil supplement and plenty of vegetables and fruit for increased wellness and health.

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