When people look into different types of diets, they often don’t think too hard about what foods they will and won’t be able to eat. Instead, the only thing clicking in their minds is how the diet will help them shed pounds. Unfortunately, diets do not work for many, mainly because they don’t think about how it will fit into their life long-term. Perhaps you are thinking about starting a vegetarian diet, but love seafood. Can vegetarians eat fish? This has become a common question for people wondering what foods vegetarians can and cannot eat. This article will discuss the foods vegetarians can and cannot eat. Let’s take a look!
What Is A Vegetarian Diet?
A vegetarian diet refers to a plant-based diet that excludes meat, seafood, and sometimes other animal products like eggs and dairy (5). There is an assumption that this diet does not pack your body with all nutrients, mainly because of excluding meat.
However, Medical News Today acknowledges that a meat-free diet does not mean fewer nutrients because you can still get them from various plant-based foods. Again, a diet that excludes meat has been shown to have certain health benefits (5).
These benefits include:
Many plant-based foods are low in calories. As we all know, the foundation of weight loss is consuming fewer calories than our body is burning. So, consuming such foods can help you create and maintain a calorie deficit for weight loss.
Similarly, most plant-based foods have high fiber content (5). Fiber is vital for weight loss for several reasons.
Fiber helps increase satiety, which prevents an individual from overeating, saving them extra and unwanted calories This can help you eat less over time, resulting in weight loss, lower blood pressure, and improved insulin response (2). Talk to your doctor if you are interested in following this eating plan for weight loss purposes. They must assess you because the vegetarian diet is not for everyone. Even so, remember that dieting alone will not help you shed pounds as fast as you may want.
You may also want to (5):
- Move more and start a weight loss exercise program
- Drink more water
- Get enough rest
- Reduce stress through interventions like meditation, yoga, counseling, and deep breathing
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle
- Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption
Reduced Cancer And Cardiovascular Disease Risk
A vegetarian or vegan diet has also been found effective in reducing heart disease risk and several types of cancer (5). The rationale behind this is that following a non-meat diet helps in reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is an umbrella of conditions that increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases (5). Plant foods are also rich in phytochemicals that may help prevent chronic diseases in various ways, including by fighting oxidative damage.
Reduced Diabetes Risk
Individuals following a vegetarian diet are less likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes. Medical News Today argues that the lower risk arises from the high consumption of fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and healthy fats (5).
Again, following a plant-based diet also helps in reducing cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels have been linked to high blood pressure and diabetes (5). It is also tied to coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke (5).
Improved Overall Health
A vegetarian diet has also been linked to improved overall health because it is associated with several health benefits. They range from improved heart health, protection against various cancers, and helping to maintain a healthy weight (5).
Can Vegetarians Eat Fish?
Every eating plan has a list of foods it recommends and forbids. The same case applies to this eating plan. As mentioned earlier, a vegetarian diet mainly focuses on consuming plant-based foods, minus any animal product.
- Whole Grains. Whole grain products like brown rice and whole wheat bread are vital in a vegetarian diet as they provide B vitamins (5).
- Soy Products. These products are very rich in protein, which you may be lacking because of ditching animal protein sources like meat and eggs (1). These work pretty well as meat substitutes and can be used to prepare many different foods (1).
- Vegetables. Vegetables like broccoli and many others are essential in this diet as they contain antioxidants like lutein that prevent cancer (1).
- Fruits. You can also have fruits when following a vegetarian diet as they are packed with plenty of nutrients and help you reap numerous health benefits (1). Aim for two cups of fruit every day.
- Healthy Fats. You also need to consume healthy fats from food sources like avocados, seeds, and nuts. Again, remember to eat enough that matches your calorie requirements. For example, if your daily calorie needs are 2000 calories, your total fat intake should be between 44 and 78 grams per day (3).
- Supplements. If need be, your doctor may recommend taking supplements such as vitamin B-12 to help you get essential nutrients (5).
Therefore, fish counts as an animal product and is forbidden when following a vegetarian diet plan. However, you need to note that there are several types of vegetarians under the general vegetarian diet.
They include (5):
- Lacto-vegetarians. Individuals in this category can consume plant-based foods and dairy products like milk but no eggs (5).
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians. These types of vegetarians consume plant-based foods and some animal products like eggs and dairy (5).
- Ovo-vegetarians. Such people consume eggs and plant-based foods but no dairy products (5).
Despite the different types of vegetarians, there is still no mention of fish consumption. So, can vegetarians eat fish? The answer is no. Eating fish when following this diet changes everything. You immediately stop being a vegetarian and are now known to be following a pescatarian diet. Let us now compare the vegetarian vs. pescatarian diet.
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What Is A Pescatarian Diet?
This is a plant-based diet that also happens to incorporate fish and seafood like shrimp (4). This is the main source of animal protein for individuals following this eating plan. Consuming a diet that combines plant-based foods and seafood is beneficial to an individual’s health. It has been associated with the following health benefits (4):
Improved Heart Health
Fatty fish contains long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have unsaturated fats that are very beneficial to heart health. According to Medical News Today, eating such fish helps lower blood pressure, which reduces heart disease risk (4).
Studies also reveal that people who eat fish tend to have fewer fatal heart attacks than people who don’t (4). Besides fish, this eating plan also includes plant-based foods like vegetables.
Plant foods like fruits and vegetables can also help reduce risk of coronary heart disease (4). Other studies also acknowledge that consuming a plant-based diet improves blood lipids and may reverse atherosclerotic plaques if one also upholds exercise and stress management (4).
Atherosclerosis is a condition that occurs when plaque forms in the arteries, causing them to harden and narrow and eventually restricting blood flow (4).
Reduced Cancer Risk
Following a pescatarian diet can also protect an individual against cancers like colorectal, colon, and rectum cancers (4). Colorectal cancers were discovered to be the second leading cause of cancer deaths in America from a 2015 study (4). So, following this eating plan may help reduce colorectal cancer risk and perhaps reduce this high rate.
Reduced Diabetes And Metabolic Syndrome Risk
A pescatarian diet can also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of health conditions that increase the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Such conditions include high blood pressure, excess body fat, high blood sugar, and insulin resistance (4).
Research also indicates that omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish may help in reducing inflammation (4). Plant-based diets also have high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents like flavonoids that reduce inflammation (4).
Flavonoids have also been found to have anti-diabetic properties that help with diabetes management (4). In addition, a 2016 study discovered that individuals who followed this eating plan had the highest flavonoid levels of all the participants in the research (4).
How To Ease Your Way To A Vegetarian Diet?
After learning that fish and other types of meat are forbidden in this eating plan, you may be thinking twice about following it. We urge you to choose a healthy eating pattern that includes the foods you love so that you can stick with it long-term.
Remember the end goal and stay motivated, especially if you follow this diet plan to promote weight loss.
Here are some interventions experts have passed to help anyone struggling with transitioning to this diet plan (3):
Making Small Changes At A Time
You do not have to cut all types of meat at a go. However, it can be hard to keep up, and down the line, you may find yourself going back to eating meat, breaking the diet rules. Instead of such an approach, experts suggest you gradually cut meat from your diet (3).
So, every week, aim to increase the number of meatless dishes you are having. Find interesting ways of preparing dishes that do not include meat. Even if you don’t transition all the way to a vegetarian diet, eating less meat and more plant-based meals will have health benefits and may help you lose weight.
Having Fun With It
Yes, you heard it right. Sometimes, the thing that is holding you back is your mentality. You may view this diet as a punishment and only follow it because you want to lose pounds. However, this is not motivating enough.
At one point down the line, you will find yourself where you started. To avoid slipping and constantly starting over, experts recommend having fun with the new change (3). Choose a diet plan in the first place that includes foods you enjoy and that you can have fun with.
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You can also ease into this diet plan by substituting various foods. For example, instead of having chili with ground beef, you can have it with black beans or lentils (3). Testing the waters this way may help you discover nothing weird or wrong with having meatless dishes.
You will be surprised at the number of dishes you may enjoy and even decide to follow this eating plan religiously. Feel free to ask for ideas on what to substitute from your nutritionist. It will save you from a headache and the wrong decisions.
Another way you can transition smoothly to this eating plan is by putting yourself out there and branching out (3). Go to vegetarian restaurants and try some of their dishes. Sample their specials and other cuisines that interest you.
If not, you can download a vegetarian recipe online and prepare it for lunch or dinner. The more variety you bring to your diet, the easier it will be to transition to the vegetarian diet (3). You can always seek support from your friend or family member if you fear branching out alone.
The Bottom Line
Can vegetarians eat fish? No, they cannot. The vegetarian diet forbids consuming any animal flesh and only emphasizes plant-based foods. Therefore, eating fish when following a plant-based diet will make you pescatarian and not vegetarian.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Becoming a Vegetarian (2020, webmd.com)
- Making one change-getting more fiber-can help with weight loss (2015, health harvard.edu)
- Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- What is a pescatarian diet? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What to know about the vegetarian diet (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)