The question of which diet is best for you can be answered in one phrase: it depends. It depends on your goals, preferences, circumstances, and culture. In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between these two popular diets and how they affect your health, nutrition, and wellbeing.
The word ‘pescatarian’ is a hybrid of the words ‘pesce’ (Italian for fish) and ‘vegetarian‘. So what does a pescatarian eat? Pescatarians follow a diet that includes seafood but no other meat. This means they may still consume other products derived from animals such as dairy, honey, and possibly gelatin (21).
Nutritionally speaking, a pescetarian diet can be healthy if you choose nutrient-dense foods over empty calories. However, it’s important to pay attention to which fish you eat. For example, wild salmon typically provides more heart-healthy omega-3s and fewer contaminants than farmed salmon (5).
A vegetarian eats no meat (including seafood) or byproducts of animals, but typically still consumes dairy products and/or eggs.
Nutritionally speaking, vegetarians enjoy a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Eating dairy and eggs makes it easier for vegetarians to meet their recommended daily intake of calcium, iron, and zinc than vegans. However many vegans experience low B12 levels which can lead to anemia and potentially increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease(10). Vegans should consider taking a vegan supplement (or fortified foods) to ensure they meet their daily intake.
Let’s take an in-depth look at both diets, which include both the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Is The Pescatarian Diet For You?
Pescatarians are vegetarians that also eat fish and other types of seafood in place of meat. They are considered more environmentally friendly than traditional carnivores because they have no need for livestock, which require more land and water resources compared to fishing (21).
The Pros Of Being A Pescatarian
Here are the health benefits of a pescatarian diet:
Improved Heart Health
Pescatarians generally have lower risks of heart disease compared to meat-eaters. This may be partly due to the fact that fish and other seafood contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which protect against inflammation, blood clotting, and hardening of the arteries, all of which can lead to stroke or heart attack (17). Not eating meat limits their saturated fat intake as well, and research shows that replacing some saturated fat in the diet with unsaturated fats has benefits for heart health.
Reduced Risk Of Diabetes And Metabolic Syndrome
Studies have shown that a pescatarian diet is linked to lower levels of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. These health conditions can lead to serious illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and even death if left untreated (18).
Improved Mental Health And Brain Function
Eating fish may result in a boost in one’s brain function and improved mood. This is likely due to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, which are essential for healthy nerve cells, brain cell membranes, and neurotransmitter activity (15).
Consuming Less Toxins
The biggest benefit to becoming a pescatarian is that it eliminates the high risk of consuming unhealthy quantities of saturated fats, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals, and other toxins potentially found in meat products (21).
Another key benefit to eating seafood while eliminating land-based meats is that it naturally lowers your intake of saturated and omega-6 fatty acids. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is 1:1 to 2:1. However, the typical American diet includes 14 – 25 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. This imbalance contributes to chronic inflammation which has been linked to heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer (15).
Animal And Environmental Welfare
Concern for animals is one of the main reasons why people turn to a pescatarian diet. Many feel that eating meat causes unnecessary suffering to animals, especially when they are being raised in large numbers or kept in crowded conditions with poor air circulation and little space to move around. Pescatarians also have a lesser impact on the environment than carnivores because fish require less water and land inputs compared to livestock (9).
Decreased Symptoms Of Arthritis
Pescatarians may have lower risks of arthritis compared to meat-eaters because they consume more omega-3 fatty acids that can fight inflammation and reduce joint pain and swelling (3).
The Cons Of Being A Pescatarian
There are some downsides associated with following a pescatarian diet:
Fish does not contain high levels of iron unless it has been cooked using an iron skillet. Without this essential mineral, your body cannot transport oxygen efficiently, leading to fatigue, and other symptoms. Pescatarians must make sure they eat enough protein as well as iron because their bodies cannot produce these nutrients on their own. This is especially important for menstruating women who need iron to prevent anemia (4).
Low Levels Of Vitamin B12
Because pescatarians do not eat meat, they often have lower levels of vitamin B12 which can cause fatigue, poor concentration, and even nerve damage if left untreated. You can easily add more vitamin B12 into your diet through dairy products such as cheese or milk which contain high amounts of the nutrient. If you don’t like fish or seafood, you can also get a vitamin B12 injection from a doctor or take a supplement to boost your levels (20). Nutritional yeast is a vegan source of vitamin B12 that can be helpful. You can make sure the fish or other seafood you are eating is sustainably caught or raised by visiting.
Potential Harm To The Environment
Fish farming also causes harm to sea life by contaminating natural habitats with pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and other toxins used to prevent diseases from spreading throughout the stock. The fishing industry has also been cited for mistreating marine life through overfishing, which can lead to population decline if not properly managed (10).
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Is The Vegetarian Diet For You?
The vegetarian diet is often considered to be healthier than an omnivorous diet. There are many reasons for this. One of these reasons is that vegetarians tend to consume more vitamins and fiber than those who eat meat. Another reason is that vegetarians tend to have lower cholesterol levels because they avoid animal fats which can lead to high cholesterol levels (8). But with all the benefits come some risks too. So here are some things you should know before making your decision on becoming a vegetarian!
What Is A Vegetarian Diet?
A vegetarian diet is one that excludes meat, fish, and poultry. While some individuals may be Lacto-vegetarians (meaning they exclude all animal products except dairy) or lacto-ovo vegetarians (in which case dairy products are allowed and eggs too), the term “vegetarian” as such usually implies a person who consumes no animal flesh of any kind.
The Pros Of Being A Vegetarian
Here is a list of the advantages of being a vegetarian:
Lower Cholesterol And Triglyceride Levels
Generally speaking, vegetarians tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than those who eat meat. Plant-based foods contain little saturated fat and no cholesterol. They also contain soluble fiber that helps slow the absorption of cholesterol and reduce the amount the liver produces. People on a plant-based diet will generally consume less fat overall (good news for those watching their weight) (8).
Many studies show that vegetarians (and vegans) tend to be healthier than individuals on an omnivorous diet because they consume more vitamins and fiber; some vitamins and minerals and other beneficial compounds are present in lower quantities or not at all in animal flesh (19).
Besides avoiding saturated fats by limiting dietary meat intake, vegetarians also consume a higher amount of fiber which reduces their risk for colon cancer. In fact, vegetarians or others who eat a lot of fiber-rich foods may enjoy up to a 25% lower risk of developing breast cancer and a 10% lower risk of colon cancer l (6).
The low fat nature of many vegetarian diets is beneficial when it comes to weight loss; however, certain types of fish and tofu-based dishes can be high in calories depending on how they are prepared so make sure you watch your caloric intake if you are trying to lose weight (1).
Avoiding Exposure To Hormones And Antibiotics
Many people who go on a vegetarian diet do so with the aim of avoiding exposure to hormones and antibiotics used in mass production processes involving meat products (14).
Lower Risk Of Heart Disease
Individuals who eat more fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes (dried beans, peas, lentils) and nuts have a lower risk of heart disease. These foods are rich in fiber which makes them excellent dietary choices for those concerned with weight management, cholesterol levels and digestion too (16).
Reduce Risk Of Diabetes And Metabolic Syndrome
According to this research, vegetarians have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome (a condition that affects insulin regulation). Not only does this mean that they may enjoy increased energy levels but it also means there is less likely to be long-term health consequences like blindness or kidney damage stemming from high blood pressure (which can occur as a result of uncontrolled diabetes) over time (12).
Age-Related Conditions Prevented By Vegetarian Diets
The consumption of plant-based foods may protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts (2).
Improve Overall Mood
Various nutrient deficiencies can have effects on our energy levels and mood. Vegetarians who eat a balanced diet and meet all their nutritional needs may experience better health and a mood boost that comes with it (2). Some people even report feeling happier after changing their dietary habits.
The Cons Of Being A Vegetarian
Here is a list of the disadvantages of being a vegetarian:
Lower Calcium Levels
A diet that includes dairy products ensures that we meet our daily requirement for calcium and other vital nutrients; while you can get this same amount of calcium from dark leafy greens, some people find it challenging to eat enough of these foods to get the required daily value (DV). With a lower dietary intake of milk and milk-based products, there is also an increased risk of developing osteoporosis over time since bones ultimately depend on calcium to maintain their density (17).
Increased Risk For Nutrient Deficiencies
Certain nutrients such as Vitamin B12 (which helps the body form red blood cells), Vitamin D (which assists with bone growth) and Omega-3 fatty acids (which are anti-inflammatory) are difficult to obtain through plant-based, fiber rich foods. It is recommended that vegetarians eat lots of nuts, seeds and legumes (dried beans, peas, lentils) in addition to eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day. These foods will help ensure an adequate intake for these important nutrients (11). Vitamin B12 in particular can be difficult to get from plant foods, so talk to your dietitian about ways to ensure you get enough.
Decreased Iron Absorption
Iron found in plant sources is absorbed less efficiently than iron found in meat products; this means that strict vegetarians should make sure they consume plenty of iron-rich foods like spinach and eat them together with foods containing Vitamin C since it helps the body absorb non-heme iron which comes from plant products. If you have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, a health care provider may recommend a supplement to help you meet your daily iron requirement (7).
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How To Eat Like A Vegetarian
In order to make the switch from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian one, there are some common-sense things you should remember:
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Calories
As mentioned above, vegetarians need to work harder to get enough calories than they would on an omnivorous diet because of the lower fat nature of their diets which means that it’s crucial that they don’t limit calorie intake too much. Plant-based fat sources such as nuts, avocado, and olive oil can help increase your calorie intake in a heart-healthy way.
Ditch Processed Foods In Favor Of Whole Foods
The typical Westernized diet is full of processed foods which have been stripped from many of their nutrients during the manufacturing/canning process, so try to stick with whole foods instead. They contain higher amounts of fiber which helps you feel fuller for longer after eating, too!
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Iron
Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells and transporting oxygen throughout your body; without enough iron, you can experience dizziness, fatigue or shortness of breath (7). To avoid these symptoms it’s crucial that vegetarians consume plenty of leafy greens, beans, and peas. If you are vegan be sure to eat seeds like sesame, poppy seed, and chia because soybeans (which many vegetarians include as a protein source) do not contain high levels of iron naturally as some other plant-based foods do.
Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Calcium
Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are great sources of calcium but if you decide to cut them out of your diet in favor of a plant-based way of eating there are plenty of other calcium sources available too. These include nuts (almonds in particular), dark leafy greens (collard greens, kale, etc.), and legumes like black beans or soybeans with the pods removed.
Get Enough Protein Without Meat Products
Women need at least 46 grams of protein per day while men need at least 56 grams (6). Depending on individual factors, you may need more than that for optimal functioning. This is why it’s crucial that vegetarians get enough protein if they don’t want to put their health at risk over time.
Watch Out For Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
B-12 is a vitamin which helps maintain healthy nerve cells and contributes to the production of DNA, so it’s pretty important (20)! This is why people who choose not to eat animal products need to rely on other sources for getting the nutrients they need – primarily from fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, or from supplements of B-12 alone or combined with folic acid/folate.
Diet Restrictions Don’t Stop You From Enjoying A Variety Of Tasty
Vegetarianism isn’t just about what you can’t have – it’s also about what you can have! There are plenty of plant-based foods that contribute to a balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, seeds like flax seed and chia seed, whole grains (like quinoa or brown rice), nuts (Brazil nuts are the best plant source of selenium) and green leafy vegetables (kale is more flavorful as a rule). There’s no need to worry about eating healthy as a vegetarian because there are plenty of great foods that you can choose from.
The difference between a pescatarian and vegetarian diet comes down to the inclusion of seafood in the former and the exclusion of all animal flesh (including seafood) in the latter. However, for most people, we believe that both diets can be healthy and enjoyable if well planned and balanced. For example, you could follow a pescatarian diet but include high-quality animal products such as organic eggs and wild-caught fish. These types of food will not only provide additional nutrients but may also help support sustainable farming practices.
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 to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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- Dietary Approaches that Delay Age-Related Diseases (2006, nih.gov)
- Do vegan or vegetarian diets help reduce arthritis inflammation? (n.d., arthritis.org)
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- Fish faceoff: wild salmon vs farmed salmon (2020, clinic.org)
- How plant-based foods help fight cancer (2019, mayoclinic.org)
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- Lowering cholesterol with a plant based diet (2021, pcrm.com)
- Multiple health and environmental impacts of food (2019, pnas.org)
- Overfishing puts more than one-third of all sharks rays and chimaeras at risk of extinction( 2021,wildlife.org)
- Plant-based diet: Nuts, seeds, and legumes can help get you there (2014, harvard.edu)
- Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diet (2009, pubmed.gov)
- Protein: Are you getting enough? (2020, webmd.com)
- Safer food for a healthier you (n.d., webmd.com)
- The omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio: health implications (2010, journal.org)
- Vegetarian and pescetarian diets linked to lower risk of coronary heart disease, says study ( 2019, Oxford.uk)
- Vegetarian and vegan diets and risks of total and site-specific fractures: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study (2020, biomedcentral.com)
- Vegetarian diet as a possible therapeutic approach to patients with metabolic syndrome (2020,nih.gov)
- Vegetarians are healthier than meat lovers- regardless of how much they drink or smoke (2021,finds.org)
- Vitamin B12 in health and diseases (2010.nih.gov)
- What is a pescatarian? (2016,webmd.com)