A Healthy Pesco-Vegetarian Diet

People who follow a pesco-vegetarian diet, otherwise called pescatarianism, eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts, along with fish and seafood. They don't eat dairy products, eggs or meat. The eating plan is similar to the Mediterranean diet, which is plant-based and includes fish.

A pesco vegetarian diet combines vegetables, fruits, and fish. (Image: Kanawa_Studio/iStock/GettyImages)

Harvard Health Publishing lists the five types of vegetarian diets:

  • Vegan consists solely of plant foods.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian includes dairy products and eggs but no meat.
  • Lacto vegetarian includes dairy products.
  • Ovo vegetarian includes eggs.
  • Partial vegetarian can be either pesco-vegetarian, which includes fish, or pollo vegetarian, which includes chicken.

Pesco-Vegetarian Diet Benefits

Plant-based diets are recognized as a means of improving health, says Harvard Health Publishing. Compared to meat eaters, vegetarians of all types eat less saturated fat and have a higher intake of an array of vitamins and minerals. In addition, they have lower body mass index and blood pressure, as well as healthier cholesterol levels. All these positive effects are tied to longevity and a reduced risk of many chronic diseases.

Research indicates that vegetarian diets offer protection against cancer risk in general. A study featured in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in February 2013 stated that dietary factors account for 30 percent of all cancers. After comparing the overall cancer risk of vegetarians with nonvegetarians, it discovered the former diets help prevent malignancies.

Of all the varieties of vegetarian diets, it's possible that the pescatarian diet plan may provide the most protection against colorectal cancer. A study published in the May 2015 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine compared the effects of four types of vegetarian diets and a nonvegetarian diet on colorectal cancer incidence.

Data showed the vegetarian diets were linked to a lower likelihood of colon and colorectal cancer than nonvegetarian diets, but the pesco-vegetarian eating plan was associated with a particularly lower risk.

A study published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases in May 2018 notes that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death, and nutrition can play a major role in reducing the likelihood. It concludes that well-planned vegetarian diets help prevent and reverse atherosclerosis, which is the accumulation of fat in the arteries.

The Fish Difference

The factor that distinguishes the pesco-vegetarian diet from the other vegetarian eating plans is the inclusion of fish and seafood. Fatty fish varieties, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, namely, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), says the Cleveland Clinic.

Research links these nutrients to less inflammation and lower triglycerides, notes the Cleveland Clinic. It also associates them with an array of cardiovascular benefits, including decreased risk of blood clots, reduced plaque formation in the arteries and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and ensuing death.

The American Heart Association advocates eating at least two servings of fish, especially fatty fish, per week. One serving is about a 3/4 cup of flaked fish.

Eat Fruits and Vegetables

The pescatarian diet plan is rich in fruits and vegetables, which supply vitamins, minerals, fiber and many phytochemicals beneficial for wellness. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states that no single fruit or vegetable has all the nutrients your body needs, so choose a wide variety and eat a large quantity.

Diets plentiful in these foods prevent some types of cancer, lower your blood pressure, improve blood sugar and suppress appetite. They also reduce the risk of eye and digestive disorders, as well as heart attacks and strokes.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day for women and 2 1/2 to 3 cups per day for men. It advocates 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit daily for women and 2 cups daily for men.

Eat Whole Grains

Another major part of the pesco-vegetarian diet is whole grains. These complex carbohydrates are plentiful in fiber, B vitamins, folate, selenium, iron, magnesium and potassium, notes the Mayo Clinic. Examples include brown rice, oats, barley, bulgur and millet, along with bread and baked goods made of 100 percent whole wheat or whole grains.

These foods satisfy the appetite and promote weight management. They are also linked to a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and other health problems.

Although whole grains are linked to health benefits, refined grains are linked to negative health effects. This category of foods includes white rice, white bread and baked goods made with white flour such as crackers, cookies, donuts, cakes and pastries.

Research increasingly indicates that eating whole grains and limiting refined grains improves health in many ways, states the T.H. Chan School. The USDA recommends 5- to 6-ounce equivalents of grains per day for women and 6- to 8-ounce equivalents per day for men.

To get more whole grains in your diet, eat oatmeal instead of a pastry for breakfast and choose brown rice over white rice. Choose breads made completely of whole-wheat flour or some type of whole-grain flour.

Pesco-Vegetarian Diet Tips

Aside from fatty fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you can include nuts, seeds, beans and healthy oils like olive oil in the pescatarian meal plan, says the Mayo Clinic. To transition to a vegetarian diet from the typical American diet, gradually decrease your meat intake while increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables. Browse through vegetarian cookbooks or recipe websites on the internet to get ideas for meatless meals.

Take your favorite recipes and substitute beans, vegetables or grains for meat. To illustrate, when making chili, replace meat with black beans; and when making lasagna, substitute vegetables for meat and whole-grain pasta for white-flour pasta. In taco soup, brown rice is a good replacement for ground beef. If you include plenty of spices in a dish, you won't miss the meat.

When eating at restaurants, most places can make vegetarian alterations to menu items, says the USDA. Ask your server about vegetarian options.

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