What is the pescatarian diet? Everything you need to know

Find out the health benefits and how to do it.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
4 min read

Seafood, like salmon, is a staple in the pescatarian diet.

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There's a war raging in the health and wellness world that doesn't look like it will end anytime soon. The fight over whether meat or animal-based food products are actually good for you or not has been a long one. But given that the science and expert advice on the topic is so mixed, you might be interested in an eating style that gives you the best of both worlds and allows some non-plant based, but also non-meat protein sources. Enter the pescatarian diet.

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What is a pescatarian diet?

A pescatarian diet is an eating style that looks similar to a vegetarian diet, except most pescatarians eat fish. "Pescatarianism is essentially veganism, or in other words, an entirely plant-based approach, but the only animal protein consumed is fish," Kylene Bogden, Registered Dietician and Wellness Advisor for Love Wellness tells CNET. However, some also include dairy and eggs, but it depends on the person's preference.

The pescatarian diet is appealing to many people since one of the main concerns surrounding veganism and vegetarian diets is that you often can't get enough complete protein from plants. Most plants do not contain the nine essential amino acids that are found in animal protein and seafood that constitute a "complete" protein. So the pescatarian diet excludes all forms of meat including red meat, chicken, turkey and pork but you can include any type of seafood, such as salmon, tilapia, shrimp or oysters. 

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What are the health benefits?

In general, adding more plants and less processed foods into your diet provides many benefits like less inflammation and a lower risk for chronic health conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure

Seafood and heart health

Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids which health experts say support heart health, among other benefits. According to an American Heart Association science advisory including as little as 1-2 meals with seafood per week can reduce your risk for congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, stroke and sudden cardiac death. They also stress that these benefits can occur when replacing less healthy meals with fish or seafood.


Studies show that diets with more seafood can have a positive effect on heart health.

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Omega-3s and mental health

Studies also show that people who consume more omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, can experience less depression and anxiety. According to Harvard Health, this may be because the human brain contains a high amount of fatty acids. So researchers guess that when the brain has less of those fats available, it may result in health issues that affect the brain like anxiety, depression or even Parkinson's Disease.


A diet rich in fruits, veggies, and seafood is shown to help lower the risk for diabetes.

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Lower risk of diabetes

Plant-based, vegetarian and pescatarian diets were shown to protect people against obesity and type 2 diabetes in one study published in Diabetes Care. In the study, researchers measured BMI of vegetarians, vegetarians that eat eggs and pescatarians. They found that vegetarians had the lowest risk for diabetes and a lower body mass index (BMI). Pescatarian's BMI were also lower than their meat-eating counterparts. 

No matter what your health goals, some people simply feel better when they eat more plants and less meat and rely on seafood as their main protein source."Many individuals feel well eating an abundance of plants with a small amount of animal protein that is easily digested such as fish hence why many choose the approach," Bogden says. 

How to do it

One benefit of the pescatarian diet is that it's really flexible and you can adapt it to your tastes and preferences. There are no "rules" or guidelines other than the kinds of protein you eat and it's up to you if you'd like to include dairy products like cheese or yogurt and eggs. 

If you have other goals, like losing weight or gaining muscle for example, you may need to consult a nutritionist on the exact amounts of food and macronutrient ratios that will help you reach those goals.

Types of food you can eat on the pescatarian diet:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Grains
  • Beans
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Fish including salmon, tuna and tilapia
  • Shellfish, including oysters, shrimp, mussels and scallops

Depending on your preference:

  • Dairy products like cheese, milk and yogurt 
  • Eggs 

Certain types of fish are more likely to have high levels of mercury than others.

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Mercury content in seafood

When adopting a diet rich in fish and seafood, some people are concerned about consuming the mercury that is found in some fish. Too much mercury in someone's diet can result in mercury toxicity, although the risk is considered low. "Mercury toxicity is a very real issue, but at the same time, is only an issue if an abundance of poor quality, farm raised fish is consumed," Bogden says.

Luckily, not all fish contain the same amount of mercury -- just be mindful of what you're eating to reduce your exposure to it. Here are the guidelines for reducing risk according to Seafood Health Facts:

Fish with high levels of mercury to avoid:

  • Shark 
  • Swordfish 
  • King Mackerel
  • Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico 

Commonly eaten seafood low in mercury:

  • Shrimp
  • Canned light tuna -- albacore or white tuna has more mercury than light tuna 
  • Salmon 
  • Pollock 
  • Catfish
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.