Pescetarian Lifestyle: Pescetarian is a vegetarian who eats fish and seafood.

A pescetarian is someone who follows a diet that excludes meat and other animal flesh but allows for fish and other seafood. This lifestyle is not quite the same as vegetarianism – which excludes all animal meat, including fish – but more and more people are choosing this type of diet, usually for health reasons or as a step on the path to vegetarianism or veganism.

Those who follow pescetarianism often feel that consuming omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish and fish oils, lead to a healthier lifestyle than vegetarianism can provide, although vegetarian alternatives, like flax seed oil, are available as part of the diet. In addition to fish and other forms of seafood, a pescetarian diet also includes dairy and plant-based foods.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Seafood

Our bodies require a lot of vitamins, minerals and nutrients in order to function properly and maintain an optimal level of health, and omega-3 fatty acids play an important role. They are an essential part of human health, but our bodies don’t naturally make them; these fatty acids can only be obtained through food consumption.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and play a critical role in not only your body’s normal growth and development, but brain health, too. Research has shown that a diet, which includes omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of certain diseases like heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer, and are important for both cognitive and behavioural function. The brain depends on omega-3’s for memory and high performance; without it, you are at risk for vision or nerve-related problems.

Symptoms of an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include:

  • Mood swings
  • Heart problems
  • Fatigue
  • Poor memory
  • Dry skin
  • Poor circulation
  • Depression

These essential fatty acids have been proven to reduce inflammation, which helps those suffering from arthritis or other joint issues. Seafood is a good source of omega-3 acids.

There are some types of fish that contain higher levels of this essential nutrient than others:

  • Wild Alaskan Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Pacific mackerel
  • Rainbow trout
  • Bluefin or white albacore tuna
  • Halibut
  • Black cod
  • Whitefish

There are currently no guidelines established that detail just how much omega-3 fatty acid a person should consume on a daily basis, but research has shown that there are many health benefits from consuming 2 to 3 grams of omega-3 per day.

Sources of Omega-3: Seafood vs. Plants

While seafood remains the main source for obtaining omega-3 fatty acids naturally, without taking a daily supplement, it is not the only source. Certain plants can contain high levels of omega-3’s, which makes them a great choice for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, or for pescetarians that want to incorporate a wider range of foods into their diet.

Some of the best plant-based foods for omega-3 are:

  • Nuts ­– pecans, almonds, walnuts and pistachios
  • Seeds – hemp, flax and chia
  • Beans – black and kidney
  • Wild rice
  • Soy

Flax oil and flaxseeds are the best choices for plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, and have been known to help in the fight against prostate cancer. The chia seed is a great source of omega-3’s and has also been shown to have high amounts of calcium and really good hydrating properties.

Seafood vs. Meat

Pescetarians often hold the belief that eating seafood is safer than the meat of other animals, and is some ways, it is. Both meat and seafood are good sources of vitamins, minerals and protein when eaten in moderation. However, seafood usually has higher amounts of good fats, called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, while meat tends to be higher is saturated fat. Saturated fat is a harmful fat that raises the body’s LDL, or bad cholesterol, and increases your chance of developing heart disease.

Salmon, for example, contains around 5 grams of fat per 3-ounce portion, compared to beef sirloin of the same amount, which weighs in at over 8 grams of fat. Approximately 80% of the calories from fat in salmon come from the heart-healthy fats, while beef only contains about 50% of its calories from these fats. Both seafood and meat contain comparable levels of protein, while meat has more iron overall.

Wild vs. Farmed

It’s easy to conclude, from a nutritional point of view, that wild fish and seafood must be better for you, simply because it was allowed to roam free before ending up in your grocery store’s freezer section, but is that really the case?

When comparing rainbow trout, for example, the differences between the wild and farmed varieties are small – both contain nearly identical amounts of calories, protein and most other nutrients, but wild trout has higher levels of iron and calcium. On the other hand, farmed fish tend to have higher amounts of vitamin A and selenium, as well as more omega-3 fatty acids when compared to the wild varieties.

The United States has regulations in place that prohibit the use of antibiotics and hormones to promote growth of farmed fish, according to Linda O’Dierno of the National Aquaculture Association. And when it comes to fearing high levels of mercury in the seafood, most farmed fish contain very low levels of this harmful chemical. The fish with the highest mercury content are the wild, larger and longer-living predatory fish (swordfish, tilefish, Chilean seabass, king mackerel and some types of tuna). As smaller fish are eaten up by larger ones, contaminants are concentrated and accumulated.

Aside from the nutritional facts, there is the ethical dilemma of eating wild vs. farmed. It is no different than when choosing to eat meat. However, the difference is in the negligible availability of organic and ethically raised animals. If choosing to eat fish and other seafood, it is important to support sustainable wild species instead of farmed, even if simply for the fact that they exist in their natural habitat prior to being fished.