Are you someone who could become a pescatarian? Maybe you are wondering what the heck is a pescatarian? As vegans and vegetarians, a pescatarian is a person who omits specific food groups from their diet. Being pescatarian means they only eat fish and seafood as their single source of meat.
Pescatarians, however, have a similar diet to vegetarians where some eat eggs and dairy and others take more of a vegan path and do not. Taking on a pescatarian diet is pretty healthy and delivers amazing macronutrients in the form of high quality protein and healthy fats. When coupled with whole raw vegetables and low sugar fruits such as berries, it can be a very healthy nutrition plan. An excellent example of a healthy pescatarian culture is in Japan with some of the healthiest and longest life expectancies in the world.
There are two primary downsides to a pescatarian diet. The first is cost — and when you live inland off the coast, affordable seafood and individual fish can be costly to eat every day. The second downside to eating fish and seafood daily is exposure to low levels of certain pollutants such as methylmercury. Even eating freshly caught freshwater fish can over time lead to a build-up of toxins in your body. The risks associated with a high fish and seafood diet can result in increases in your risk of cancer, diabetes and thyroid disease. Toxins from fish and seafood should not be taken lightly or dismissed as it can lead to real problems.
If you are still curious about taking on a pescatarian diet, let’s look at fish commonly found in grocery stores and restaurants. Most of the fish found in local markets come from fish farms. The most common farm-raised fish species are salmon, carp, tilapia, sea bass and catfish. Stores and fine dining establishments tout “farm-raised fish” in the same way organic foods are presented, leading you to believe it is healthy and superior in quality.
Before we get too excited about “farm-raised fish,” we need to take a closer look. There are various types of aquaculture or fish farming methods. Almost always, fish raised in tightly packed tanks, pens or cages with fish counts in the thousands have been fed everything from farm waste to high-quality fishmeal. With a high-density population of fish in tanks, pens and cages, this tends to lead to disease and parasites which then requires the fish to receive treatment with antibiotics and fungicides. When you consume fish treated with antibiotics and fungicides, it exposes you to the same chemicals. Research has shown some fish like tilapia can promote inflammation in the body and farmed raised salmon can have high levels of organic pollutants from animal waste mixed with their feed. The best approach is to consider buying wild-caught fish when you can.
The other aspect of eating fish is it is a great source of protein. For example, a 3-ounce serving of salmon, tuna or halibut has 22 grams of protein. The nutritional value of fish is exceptionally loaded with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and D, phosphorus and magnesium, and saltwater fish are a great source of iodine.
Although all fish, wild or farm grown, can have toxins and contamination, the benefits of eating fish is essential to a well-rounded nutrition plan, so be cautious, but don’t exclude all fish from your diet.
Here are a few great seafood and fish choices to consider regardless if you only eat them once in awhile or in a pescatarian diet:
• Salmon (wild-caught) — Alaska’s wild-caught salmon are very healthy, a great source of protein and full of omega-3s and low in contaminants.
• Albacore Tuna (pole-caught) — Albacore Tuna from the waters off Washington or British Columbia tend to be low in contaminants as long as you select “troll- or pole-caught” from the waters off the Pacific Northwest coast. Younger pole-caught fish typically have less mercury and contaminants.
• Pacific Halibut (wild-caught) — Pacific Halibut from North Alaska is tender, low in contaminants, and rich in various nutrients such as selenium, magnesium, phosphorus potassium, vitamin B12, niacin, vitamin B6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
• Rainbow Trout (farmed) — Most trout found in local grocery stores are farmed rainbow trout. Farmed rainbow trout are usually grown in freshwater ponds and freshwater fish raceways where contaminants are filtered, and the fish are fed high-grade fishmeal. Trout is high in omega-3 and only contains 6 grams of total fat. The fact that trout are low-fat and low in cholesterol, plus high protein makes it a good substitute for meats like beef in your nutrition plan.
• Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed) — Freshwater farmed coho salmon is another excellent choice for healthy farmed fish. Coho salmon farms in the U.S. usually raise their fish in closed filtered freshwater pens, very much like farmed trout and, like trout, they are high in protein and omega-3 with a bit more fat content.
There is no doubt that eating fish on a regular basis is beneficial to your nutrition. It is also fair to say that when you select fish in the local market, be informed and understand where the fish comes from and how was it caught.
Here is an excellent resource regarding seafood consumption. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a reference website called “Seafood Watch:” www.seafoodwatch.org.
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Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.